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Killing Custer: The Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Fate of the… (1994)

by James Welch

Other authors: Paul Jeffrey Stekler

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367361,802 (3.83)4
Custer's ill-fated attack on June 25, 1876, has gone down as the American military's most catastrophic defeat. This historic and personal work tells the Native American side, poignant revealing how disastrous the encounter was for the "victors," the last great gathering of Plains Indians under the leadership of Sitting Bull. Telling of the pride and desperation of a people systematically stripped of their treaty rights, hounded from their ancestral hunting grounds, and herded into wretched reservations, Killing Custer reveals how this defining moment in American history was no more a "Last Stand" than a final celebration of waning power and freedom.… (more)
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Showing 3 of 3
Somewhat pleasantly surprising. Author James Welch was primarily a novelist, and Blackfeet/Gros Ventre. I guiltily admit I had expected an AIM-style polemic; instead this is an insightful history and personal essay. Welch was hired as a screenwriter for a documentary film on the Battle of the Little Bighorn; the first and last thirds of the book narrate that project. Welch and filmmaker Paul Stekler have some difficulty getting Native Americans around Little Bighorn National Monument to cooperate with the filming, and Welch isn’t shy about calling one of them a con artist trying to extort money. However he also isn’t shy about pointing out that past films at the site promised compensation for native’s time and land and never delivered. Film maker Paul Stekler gets a short section at the end and is rather more circumspect in discussing Native American relations than Welch.


Welch is also even-handed in discussing Native American relations with settlers and the United States Army. He makes some of the same points raised by Andrew Isenberg in the recently reviewed The Destruction of the Bison; bison and natives hunting them on horseback are both relatively recent phenomena. He also notes that Plains Indian treatment of captives wasn’t up to Hague Convention standards – but neither were US Army tactics against villages full of women and children.


The centerpiece is, of course, the battle; Welch gives one of the best and clearest descriptions I’ve read, with an excellent map. Surrounding the battle section Welch gives the lives of the major players – Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and George Armstrong Custer. Welch, of course, isn’t very enthusiastic about Custer but he doesn’t demonize him either; Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse do get hagiographic treatment. Sitting Bull comes across as almost the stereotypical wise Indian leader; Crazy Horse gets praise, but also seems to be about a quarter bubble off level. Welch isn’t afraid to note that the deaths of both Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull were at least half the result of Native American politics and perfidy rather than being solely white treachery.


An easy read. Photographs of the participants when available, and ledger drawings of the battle. Page notes (i.e., a note section with page numbers but no in-line note numbers. No bibliography but sources are given in the page notes. As mentioned, one of the best maps of the battle I’ve seen. ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 14, 2017 |
The book has a higher level of mastery of English than one usually finds in a book with such a sensational title. It is less about the battle of Greasy Grass (the winners get to name the battle!) than about the fate of the tribes of the plains in the following fifteen years. USA's Indian policy was a short sighted, violent exercise, and it's compelling/horrifying reading. One should couple this with watching the film "Cheyenne Autumn". ( )
  DinadansFriend | Sep 30, 2013 |
Beautiful, sad and fortunately (or unfortunately ? ) both an objective and personal perspective.
  3kdze | Feb 28, 2008 |
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Welch, JamesAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stekler, Paul Jeffreysecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Custer's ill-fated attack on June 25, 1876, has gone down as the American military's most catastrophic defeat. This historic and personal work tells the Native American side, poignant revealing how disastrous the encounter was for the "victors," the last great gathering of Plains Indians under the leadership of Sitting Bull. Telling of the pride and desperation of a people systematically stripped of their treaty rights, hounded from their ancestral hunting grounds, and herded into wretched reservations, Killing Custer reveals how this defining moment in American history was no more a "Last Stand" than a final celebration of waning power and freedom.

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W.W. Norton

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