Custer and the Little Bighorn

Custer and the Little Bighorn: The Man, The Mystery, The Myth

Jim Donovan
Foreword by Richard S. Wheeler
Voyageur Press, 2001. Dust jacket. $35.00

On June 25, 1876, George Armstrong Custer and his famed U.S. Seventh Cavalry attacked an encampment of Lakota and Cheyenne Indians. By the close of the day, the Battle of the Little Bighorn was over and Civil War hero Custer was dead, along with more than 200 of his men. It was a shocking, unexpected defeat for the dashing one-time Boy General and a magnificent victory for Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and their warriors - although it became a last gasp for the Indians' way of life.

The battle is over, but even now, 125 years later, Custer's Last Stand still fascinates and horrifies us, continuing to stir controversy and spark vigorous debate.

Custer and the Little Bighorn is the first major illustrated book to examine the life of this complex figure and this equally complex battle. Besides being lavishly illustrated - and the first true photographic history of Custer, his Civil War exploits, and his Last Stand - this detailed narrative includes the latest groundbreaking research and analysis of the most fiercely debated battle in our nation's history.

Jim Donovan also examines Custer's life in full, from his childhood and days at West Point through his glorious Civil War achievements and Indian fighting career to his death at the Little Bighorn.

Little Bighorn Remembered

Little Bighorn Remembered: The Untold Indian Story of Custer's Last Stand
By Herman J. Viola
Times Books,1999. 1st edition. Illus. 240 pages. $45.00


On the morning of June 25, 1876, soldiers of the elite U.S. Seventh Cavalry led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer attacked a large Indian encampment on the banks of the Little Bighorn River. By day’s end, Custer and more than two hundred of his men lay dead. It was a shocking defeat - or magnificent victory, depending on your point of view - and more than a century later it is still the object of controversy, debate, and fascination.

What really happened on that fateful day? Now, thanks to the work of Herman J. Viola, Curator Emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution, we are much closer to answering that question. Dr. Viola, a leader in the preservation of Native American culture and history, has collected here dozens of dramatic, never-before-published accounts by Indians who participated in the battle - accounts that have been handed down to the present day, often secretly and accompanied by oaths of silence, from one generation to the next. These remarkable eyewitness recollections provide a direct link to that day’s events; together they constitute an unprecedented oral history of the battle from the Native American point of view and the most comprehensive eyewitness description of Little Bighorn we have ever had.

Here are the dramatic stories of the Cheyenne and Lakota warriors who rode into battle against Custer, the yellow-haired Son of the Morning Star, an adversary whose valor they admired - but who became a mortal enemy after breaking his peace-pipe oath, a scene described vividly in these pages. Here in their own words are the stories of the Crow scouts, allies of Custer, who advised against attacking Sitting Bull’s village on the little Bighorn. Here are tales of valor told by the Arikara scouts who fought side by side with Custer’s men against the Lakota and Cheyennes, although the Great Father in Washington rewarded their heroism with silence, it is celebrated to this day in tribal stories and sons that come to us from beyond the grave with hair- raising immediacy and power.

Lavishly illustrated with more than two hundred maps, photographs, reproductions, and drawings, this remarkable book also includes:

In short, this landmark book takes us much closer to knowing what really happened on that June day in 1876 when Custer died and a legend was born.


Custer's Last Fight

Custer's Last Fight: The Story of the Battle of the Little Big Horn
By David C. Evans.
Upton and Sons. 604p. $85.00. Photos, maps. Battle of the Little Big Horn Series, vol. 1.


Admire him or despise him, George Armstrong Custer stands as the dominant figure of Little Big Horn and the principle architect of its appeal, dominating every work on the campaign. Perhaps this is fitting for, with his death, he achieved immortality not only for himself but his regiment. He and his regiment have become more than fallen heroes of the republic, they have become symbolic of the Indian fighting army, with Custer the archetypical Indian hating frontier soldier. The irony that Custer was often in outspoken opposition to the very policies he has come to symbolize has been lost in much of the present literature.

The controversies started almost immediately and touched on every facet of the conflict imaginable. Had Custer disobeyed his orders, rushing headlong to disaster? Did Reno show the white feather in the valley fight? Did Benteen dawdle which his comrades, awaiting the precious ammunition he was ordered to bring, were being annihilated? Did Custer attempt to cross at Medicine Tail Coulee? Was Custer killed early at the river, or was he the last to fall? Could Custer and his regiment have won? Could they have been saved? Rather than subsiding with the passage of time, the controversies increased both in number and vehemence in the succeeding years.

In Custer's Last Fight the author attempts to reconstruct the events surrounding this last great struggle between two competing cultures.

Mere description of the events as we know them, or pure speculation no matter how imaginative, would result in a sterile and incomplete narrative. David Evans has included many personal anecdotes to remind us that these were flesh and blood individuals with much the same fears and desires as ourselves.

To complete the narrative, Evans has included a brief epilogue summarizing the end of the campaign and subsequent fate of its major participants. An appendix containing selected biographies has also been included. Sufficient footnotes are provided to enable the serious student to further his research and identify alternate points of view.

It would be rash indeed for anyone to claim they know with absolute certainty all that transpired that fateful June day, especially when speculating on the motivation of key individuals. Perhaps on this point we may all agree: legends are part of great events and insofar as they preserve the memories of gallantry and self-sacrifice they serve their purpose.

Marching to Valhalla A Road We Do Not Know
Marching to Valhalla A Road We Do Not Know

Marching to Valhalla - A Novel of Custer's Last Days

by Michael Blake, (1996) 288 pages, $23.00

No contemporary author portrays the Old West with the vibrancy, authenticity, and drama of Michael Blake. As he demonstraed with his international bestselling novel Dances With Wolves (which was the basis for the Oscar-winning film by Kevin Costner), Blake transforms the American frontier into a saga as original as it is unforgettable.

Now, in Marching to Valhalla, Blake turns his storyteller's eye on George Armstrong Custer, West Pointer, youngest Union general of the Civil War, horseman, passionate lover, explorer, ardent husband, and, most famously, Indian hunter. In Blake's pages, Custer emerges as a dashing, driven soldier, suspicious of his friends, respectful of his enemies, and ever unable to feel quite alive in the civilian world.

Composed in the form of Custer's journal, Marching to Valhalla is an impeccable merging of fact and fiction, a powerful evocation of our bloody past, and a tribute to the endurance of a human heart facing adversity and disaster. A masterpiece of the Old West, Michael Blake's novel is a tragic romance that reveals a Custer never before imagined, and lets us finally contemplate the twisting, unchartered paths to glory and doom.

A Road We Do Not Know - A Novel of Custer at the Little Bighorn

by Frederick J. Chiaventone, (1996) 333 pages, $24.00

The Battle of the Little Bighorn is one of the most famous and controversial events in American history. In A Road We do Not Know, Frederick Chiaventone's deeply felt and vividly written first novel, the battle and its participants are presented with the narrative power that derives from profound understanding and extraordinary research. Also, Chiaventone is the first writer to give equal emphasis to the Seventh Cavalry and their Sioux opponents.

Combining the intensity of truth and historical fact with the dramatic range of fiction, this memorable novel takes us, along with Custer, Sitting Bull, Reno, Crazy Horse, Benteen, Gall, and the many other fighters on both sides, down A Road We Do Not Know.

Harold Coyle said in praise, "Before they were legends, they were men. Not since Killer Angels has a writer taken us inside the hearts and souls of the men of both sides like Chiaventone does in this epic story. A rousing must read for all partisans of the American West."


The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer



Custer - The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer

by Jeffry D. Wert, (1996) 462 pages,

George Armstrong Custer has been so heavily mythologized that the human being has all but been lost. Now, Jeffry Wert reexamines the life of the famous soldier to give us Custer in all his complexity.

Although remembered today as the loser at Little Big Horn, Custer was the victor of many cavalry engagements in the Civil War. He played an important role in several battles in the Virginia theater of the war, including the Shennandoah Campaign. Renowned for his fearlessness in battle, he was always in front of his troops, leading the charge. His men were fiercely loyal to him, and he was highly regarded by Sheridan and Grant as well.

But after the Civil War, when he was assigned to the Indian Wars on the Plains, life changed drastically for Custer. No longer was he in command of soldiers bound together by a cause they believed in. Discipline problems were rampant, and Custer's response earned him a Court-Martial. There were long lulls in the fighting, during which time Custer turned his attention elsewhere, often to his devoted wife Libby.

Wert carefully examines the events around the defeat at the Little Big Horn, drawing from recent archeological finding and the latest scholarship. His evenhanded account of the dramatic battle puts Custer's performance, and that of his subordinates into proper perspective.

From beginning to end this masterful biography peels off the layers of the legend to reveal the real George Armstrong Custer.



Touched By Fire : The Life, Death and Mythic Afterlife of George Armstrong Custer
by Louise Barnett, New York

For more than a century, Americans have been captivated by the legend of General George Armstrong Custer. Since the end of the long afternoon of June 25, 1876, when his small band of 267 men faced some 3,000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors in a remote corner of Montana, Custer has held a place in the pantheon of America's great figures, and the Last Stand has endured as one of the primary images of American expansion into the western frontier. Alternately invoked as the personification of absolute folly and pure bravery, Custer resonates in our national imagination yet eludes simple definition - each generation recasts the man and his death according to its need for a particular vision of America.

Touched By Fire undertakes the search for, as one historian put it " the man waiting to be discovered" between the extremes of his experience. Renowned for his love of pranks at West Point, where he graduated last in his class, Custer had a flair for heroic achievement that brought him phenomenal glory in the Civil War as one of the Union's youngest generals, but left him mostly frustrated on the lonely plains. Author Louise Barnett traces a the complexities of his erratic personality, fully incorporating into her account his wife, Elizabeth Bacon Custer - "Libbie" - whose unusual spousal devotion endured through fifty-seven years of widowhood.

Bringing a new racial perspective to Custer's legend and including new material that surfaced in archeological excavations of the battlefields in the 1980's, Barnett attempts to understand how a man famed for brilliant military performance came to wage an impossible attack near the Little Big Horn. Beyond transfixing the moment of the Last Stand, Barnett shows us another Custer who equally seizes the imagination.



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