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Custer's Last Stand 

Follow General George Armstrong Custer from his memorable, wild charge at Gettysburg to his lonely, untimely death on the windswept Plains of the West. On June 26, 1876, Custer, a ... See full summary »

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Jennifer Lee Andrews
Gerard Baker ...
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Louise Barnett ...
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John Barrows
Richard L. Bickel
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Robert Old Coyote Jr.
John E. Dahl
Philip J. Deloria ...
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Michael A. Elliott ...
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Paul A. Hutton ...
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Burdick Two Leggins
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Follow General George Armstrong Custer from his memorable, wild charge at Gettysburg to his lonely, untimely death on the windswept Plains of the West. On June 26, 1876, Custer, a reputation for fearless and often reckless courage ordered his soldiers to drive back a large army of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. By day's end, Custer and nearly a third of his army were dead. Written by Anonymous

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17 January 2012 (USA)  »

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Rise, Fall, Then Rise Again.
11 May 2017 | by See all my reviews

George Armstrong Custer is variously portrayed in the media as hero, cultural broker, and villain. And he was those things, except for cultural broker. A mischievous charming kid from Michigan his father wangled him an appointment to West Point, where he seemed to enjoy himself by partying and playing cards. He was graduated at the bottom of his class. He married an attractive young woman, Elizabeth "Libby" Bacon, from a prominent Michigan family and apparently they were devoted to one another thereafter, although their marriage didn't put an end to Custer's gambling and philandering.

When the Civil War began in 1861 Custer, of course, fought with the Union in the cavalry and gained the fame and glory that he constantly sought when he clashed with Jeb Stuart's cavalry behind the front lines at Gettysburg, earning him a promotion to brevet General. There followed the usual ups and downs that are properties of any human life, only in his case with greater frequency and amplitude. He was court marshaled and left the Army to become a civilian nonentity, pretty gloomy at having cavalry turned into calvary.

With the war over, the nation turned its attention to westward expansion. Cavalryman Philip Sheridan was certain there was still a place in the army for the adventurous Custer and Custer took the offer. There was the gratuitous Mexican-American War, which nobody likes to talk about. And then there were Indians. The early American conception of Indians had been romanticized in the East, peaceful savages out of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, placidly paddling their canoes along rivers under a full moon. My ancient grandmother, born while Custer still roamed the plains, kept a such a large, framed portrait on her kitchen wall.

But THESE Indians -- the Indians of the high plains, the Sioux, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, and Blackfeet -- were just in the way. The government under president U.S. Grant signed a treaty with the Sioux, giving them a very generous and inviolable reservation that included much of southwestern South Dakota, including the Black Hills.

The news of gold in the Black Hills put a crimp into the treaty and white families and prospectors from all over began flooding in. The federal government offered the Indians six million dollars for the land. The charismatic leader of the Sioux was Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull preferred the old way of life and, moreover, the Black Hills was sacred to the Indians.

It really WAS sacred, and it still is. Harney Peak (now Black Elk Peak) in the Black Hills was the center of the universe. There are sacred spots scattered throughout the area, well off the tourist trails. They may be a spring, a lone tree, or a circle of rocks but they're treated reverently and decorated with colored ribbons or little bundles of tobacco. There are still sun dances and medicine men. It was a different universe that Custer and the prospectors were stumbling into.

Custer, faded hero of the Civil War, now in his mid-30s and no longer a charming kid, gained glory again by wiping out a village of Cheyenne -- men, women, and children -- at the Battle of the Washita. It wasn't much of a battle; more of a slaughter. Then he had the misfortune to rush his 200 odd troops into battle against a large Sioux village at the Little Bighorn River in Montana.

I was living with the Cheyenne at Lame Deer on one of the anniversaries of the battle and the Indians, under the watchful but polite eyes of armed Rangers of the National Park Service, left a gnarled and angry iron plaque at the 7th Cavalry troopers' memorial, to commemorate the many Indians who died in the battle. Some of the bitterness remains although the plains Indians are hardly operatic about it. As a anthropologist I had the opportunity to interview Austin Two Moons, a descendant of one of the few Cheyenne -- seven actually -- who fought Custer at the Little Bighorn.

Custer himself became an icon after his death and the Army took its revenge at Wounded Knee -- not mentioned in the film. His widow, Libby, kept Custer alive through her many books about him and about the life of a cavalry officer. She was a pretty good writer too. (She died in 1933.)

But his image in the popular mind accommodated itself to changing American values. If Custer was a selfless hero at the turn of the century, he was a vainglorious lunatic by the time "Little Big Man" was released in 1970, a time of iconoclasm. One of Custer's favorite plays was Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." A relative acted in it and Custer attended more than thirty performances. Marc Antony's lines might well apply to the subject of this film: "the elements so mixed in him, that nature might stand up and say to all the world, This was a man." "Man," not in the sense of "What a man!" but in the sense of "upright hominid."


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