David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.
Custer's Last Stand
Have you ever thought about how people will remember you? Whether anyone would want to know the story of your life, or if your name will still mean something to people hundreds of years after you die? General George A. Custer is someone who will forever be synonymous with American expansion in the 19th century. And the story of his final battle was captured in Evan S. Connell's well-known book, Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn.
For generations, Custer's defeat at the hands of a coalition of Plains Indians, tribes native to the Great Plains region, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 was seen as a great tragedy by most white Americans. Custer was viewed as a tragic hero, and the event was remembered as a bloody massacre at the hands of savage Indians.
Connell's book, however, first published in 1984, attempts to correct this memory by presenting a more evenhanded view of the event. He examines the Plains Indians and their leader, Sitting Bulll, extensively, giving a full view of their culture, history, and wars with the US government and white settlers. He also portrays Custer evenhandedly, praising his heroism, but also pointing out the bickering and strategic errors that led to his defeat.
A little more than 100 years after Custer fell at the Battle of Little Bighorn, author Evan S. Connell published an account of the event. Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn tells the story of Custer's missteps in a manner that has been described as the most reliable and readable account of the event. He refrains from casting Custer as entirely evil or heroic, instead depicting the complex nature of the historic figure.
Connell represents the diversity of ideas by recounting the stories of the varied participants of the Battle of Little Bighorn. Son of the Morning Star provides the perspectives of the cavalry soldiers, the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, and the civilians who watched. The narratives and factual records he recounts piece together a more complete story of the historical event. It becomes more likely that people will adopt an empathetic approach when they learn of others' lives. And many of the issues that are seen as black and white then develop gray areas.
Through his meticulous and evenhanded recreation of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Connell makes a larger argument about how we view history. He argues that the standard view of Custer as a tragic hero slaughtered by savage Indians was overly simplistic, historically inaccurate, and racist.
He argues that only by examining Sitting Bull and his forces as a rival army, fighting for its way of life, and not a group of savages, can we really appreciate the battle. Similarly, Connell, argues, a fair accounting of the battle will allow for both Custer's bravery and his strategic ineptitude.
Published in 1984, the book was part of a movement that began in the late 1960s to reexamine American history with a focus on Native Americans. These books attempted to argue against earlier histories which saw Native Americans as savages who were 'in the way' of American expansion. Similar books include Dee Brown's 1970 book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Howard Zinn's 1980 A People's History of the United States.
In 1984, Evan S. Connell published Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn. His story tells the history of the U.S. government's military campaigns to remove Native Americans from the land as the country expanded westward. In particular, he writes of General George A. Custer's last stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Custer's hubris led him to take a small regiment of cavalrymen against thousands of Lakota, Arapahoe, and Cheyenne warriors led by Sitting Bull. Every man in Custer's cavalry unit was killed, and the incident represented an embarrassment to the government.
Connell's book attempts to correct the historical record by examining both Custer and the Plains Indians in an evenhanded light, arguing against racist older interpretations which saw Custer as a brave, tragic hero massacred by savages. It was part of a movement in the 1970s and 1980s to examine American history from a different perspective.
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