It was 135 years ago on June 25, 1876, that the famous Battle of the Little Big Horn took place on the plains of eastern Montana, a battle in which the forces of General George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Calvary were overwhelmed by Native American fighters who had formed a large alliance from several tribes to battle the US troops. 268 troops were killed including Custer and several of his kinsman.
Through the years it has come to be known as Custer’s Last Stand and it’s historical perspective, along with the view of Custer himself, has always been changing and controversial.
In the years following the battle, there was a great psuh to portray Custer as a glorious hero. His wife wrote a glowing book and extensively toured for years, speaking to civic organizations. I came across a newsclipping from a newspaper in the Adirondacks from the 1890’s, nearly 20 years after the battle, that spoke of such an engagement.
His legend was also enhanced by a bit of advertising art from Anheuser Busch who issued a print heroically depicting the battle in a way that most historians agree is extemely erroneous. The print hung in saloons all through the states for decades and just added to the mythic quality of the man and the battle.
Hollywood weighed in as well. The portrayal of Custer by Errol Flynn inThey Died With Their Boots On was one of a noble hero with hardly a flaw. A bit too perfect. Years later, the view of our historic treatment of Native Americans was under scrutiny and the view of Custer had changed. IinLittle Big Man, Richard Mulligan as Custer (shown above) was the absolute antithesis of Flynn’s Custer. His Custer was a comic caricature that took all of of the man’s known quirks to the extreme, showing him as fool. Equally as inaccurate as Flynn’s shining hero. The real man is no doubt somewhere in the middle, neither hero nor fool.
There is a lot that could be said about Custer, the Battle of the Little Big Horn, our shameful treatment of the native Americans and how we view all of it at any given moment. There is a ton of available information out there, too much to go into on this quiet Saturday morning. So for now, I’m going to try to think how it must have been on this date, 135 years ago.