Thursday, June 25, 2009

Little Big Horn

On June 25, 1876, George Armstrong Custer and his small detachment of cavalry died at the hands of a much larger force of Cheyenne and Sioux warriors at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, a scene that was soon immortalized as Custer’s Last Stand in a lithograph that replaced murals of voluptuous nudes over saloon bars all across America. Custer, who the Native Americans called Yellow Hair, was 36.

George Armstrong Custer appears appears twice in A Book of Ages. Sitting Bull appears once. Geronimo, the warrior chief of the Apaches, appears four times. The history of the Native Americans has been written, for the most part, by the people who took the Americas away from them. It was done by treaty, disease, fraud, by force, in song and story and films and novels. When I was a boy I read boys' biographies of Custer and Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill and watched John Ford pictures which were often fair but depicted white heroes who were bluntly racist. Custer was played by Errol Flynn, a native of Tasmania. Native Americans were played by actors who were often African American or Asian or Polynesian and seldom spoke a line.

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