The Custer Myth: Sources

What was Custer really like?

"Outnumbering him (Custer)as we did, we had him at our mercy. The smoke and dust was so great that foe could not be distinguished from friend."Tashunkewitko (Crazy Horse)

Custer's Last Stand by Edgar S Paxson, 1899

Custer's Last Stand by Edgar S Paxson, 1899

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Battle of the Little Big Horn

The Custer Myth: Sources

What was Custer really like?

George Armstrong Custer: Changing Views of an American Legend, Louis Kraft (June 2006)
“From the beginning, he exhibited his desire for action while showing no fear against the enemy. If a task needed to be accomplished, Custer was the man. His attitude brought him to the attention of his superiors, and in May 1863 Custer became aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, commander of the 1st Division of the Union Cavalry Corps.”

Custer Victorious: Civil War Battles of General George Armstrong Custer, G.J.W. Urwin (1997)
“he made himself conspicuous on purpose deliberately courted danger to allay his soldiers' fears and to always let them know where he was in a fight." Custer article in the New York Herald 1875 “The success of the reservation system depends on the government keeping its promises…The Indians have a strong attachment to the lands containing the bones of their ancestors and dislike to leave it. Love of the country is almost a religion with them. It is not the value of the land that they consider: but there is a strong local attachment that the white man does not feel and consequently does not respect…. He (the Indian) keenly feels the injustice that has been done to him and, being of a proud and haughty nature, he resents it.”

Custer’s response to a scout saying that there were enough Lakota to keep fighting for two or three days. June 1876
“I guess we will get through them in one day”

Tashunkewitko (Crazy Horse), last words spoken to Indian Agent Jesse M. Lee September 5,1877,
“We preferred our own way of living. We were no expense to the government. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone. Soldiers were sent out in the winter, who destroyed our villages. Then ‘Long Hair’ (Custer) came in the same way. They say we massacred him, but he would have done the same to us had we not defended ourselves and fought to the last. Our first impulse was to escape with our squaws and papooses, but we were so hemmed in that we had to fight. “

Chicago Tribune July 7 1876, just 13 days after the battle
"Custer ... was a brave, brilliant soldier, handsome and dashing, but he was reckless, hasty and impulsive, preferring to make a dare-devil rush and take risks rather than to move slower and with more certainty, and it was his own mad-cap haste, rashness and love of fame that cost the service the loss of many brave officers and gallant men. No account seems to have been taken of the numbers or leadership of the Sioux,... no account was taken of the fact that General Gibbon was coming to the Little Big Horn with re-enforcements, only a day's march behind, although General [sic] Custer was aware of it. He preferred to make a reckless dash and take the consequences, in the hope of making a personal victory and adding to the glory of another charge, rather than wait for the sufficiently-powerful force to make the fight successful and share the glory with others. He took the risk, and he lost."

Ohiyesa (Charles Eastman), after sharing a pipe with Rain In the Face spoke with him in July 1905 two months before the bedridden old warrior’s death.
“It was decided to go out and meet Three Stars [General Crook] at a safe distance from our camp. "We met him on the Little Rosebud. I believe that if we had waited and allowed him to make the attack, he would have fared no better than Custer. He was too strongly fortified where he was, and I think, too, that he was saved partly by his Indian allies, for the scouts discovered us first and fought us first, thus giving him time to make his preparations……….

Our runners had discovered that Crook had retraced his trail to Goose Creek, and we did not suppose that the white men would care to follow us farther into the rough country. "Suddenly the Long-Haired Chief appeared with his men! It was a surprise." "What part of the camp were you in when the soldiers attacked the lower end?" I asked. "I had been invited to a feast at one of the young men's lodges [a sort of club]. There was a certain warrior who was making preparations to go against the Crows, and I had decided to go also," he said. "While I was eating my meat we heard the war cry! We all rushed out, and saw a warrior riding at top speed from the lower camp, giving the warning as he came. Then we heard the reports of the soldiers' guns, which sounded differently from the guns fired by our people in battle. "I ran to my teepee and seized my gun, a bow, and a quiver full of arrows. I already had my stone war club, for you know we usually carry those by way of ornament. Just as I was about to set out to meet Reno, a body of soldiers appeared nearly opposite us, at the edge of a long line of cliffs across the river. "All of us who were mounted and ready immediately started down the stream toward the ford. There were Ogallalas, Minneconjous, Cheyennes, and some Unkpapas, and those around me seemed to be nearly all very young men.”

President Grant, perhaps still seething at Custer for helping expose the corruption in his administration and his brother, September 1876
I regard Custer's Massacre as a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself, that was wholly unnecessary Battle of Little Bighorn: Were the Weapons the Deciding Factor? Terry Shulman Custer exhibited an arrogance, not necessarily of a personal nature, but rather as a part of his racial makeup. Racial experience may have influenced his reactions to the immediate situation of war. It was endemic in red vs. white modes of warfare and implies nothing derogatory to either side. Historically, Indians fled from large bodies of soldiers. It was Custer's experience that it was much harder to find and catch an Indian than to actually fight him.

General Philip Sheridan
Custer was "rashly imprudent to attack such a large number of Indians”

Glory Hunter: A Life of General Custer Frederick F. Van de Water, 1934 (p17)
“He followed glory all his days. He was her lifelong devotee. She gave him favour withheld from most men and denied herself when his need of her was sorest….the Boy General with the Golden Locks”

Shirley Leckie (following research of diaries and letters) in Custer and His Times: Book Four. edited by John P. Hart. (p. 139 & 160).
the romance was hardly a "fairly tale love story" …………Libbie "was strong enough ... to endure her husband's bouts with adolescent behavior and weather the emotional storms of their relationship ..."

White Man Runs Him, Crow Scout, interviewed by Major Hugh L Scott August 1919
(Custer) looked over and said, “These people are troublesome and bother the Crows and the white people. I am going to teach them a lesson today. I am going to whip them and I will build a fort at junction where the Little Horn flows into the Big Horn and you Crows may live in peace.”
Curley, Crow scout, recorded in a letter written by Russell White Bear a Crow interpreter and official of the Crow nation who Knew Curley very well Mitch Bouyer said: “(Custer) will stop at nothing. He is going to take us right into the village where there are many more warriors than we have. We have no chance at all”
White Man Runs Him, Crow Scout, interviewed by Major Hugh L Scott August 1919 recorded by Colonel Tim McCoy, who was present. We scouts thought there were too many Indians for Custer to fight. There were camps and camps and camps. One big camp was in a circle near the west hills. I would say there were between four thousand and five thousand warriors, maybe more, I do not know. It was the biggest Indian camp Ihave ever seen.

Tashunkewitko (Crazy Horse), through Horned Horse as his spokesman, told to a correspondent for the Chicago Times, May 28, 1877
Outnumbering him (Custer)as we did, we had him at our mercy. The smoke and dust was so great that foe could not be distinguished from friend. The horses were wild with fright and uncontrollable. Indians were knocking each other from their steeds, and several dead Indians were found killed by arrows. Just like this (intertwining his fingers), the Indians and white men

General Crook in a report Sept 25 1876 .
“when the Sioux Indian was armed with a bow and arrow he was more formidable fighting as he does most of the time on horseback, than when he got the old fashioned muzzle loading rifle. But when he came into possession of the breech loader and metallic cartridge, which allows him to load and fire from his horse with perfect ease, he became at once ten thousand times more formidable”

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1876 The Battle of the Little Big Horn

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© Chris Smallbone July2007