Custer and Me

demonstrators-with-flagFORWARD BY PAUL A. HUTTON

I first met Robert M. Utley in May 1977. He came to Bloomington to receive an alumni award or an honorary degree, or some such piece of nonsense that Indiana University was bestowing upon him in hopes of picking his pocket later in fundraising. Not that Utley was not worthy of an honor or two back then—he had already served as the youngest president of the Western History Association and as chief historian of the National Park Service while writing a bookcase full of books and articles—and he was just warming up.

I had recently expressed to my I.U. mentor, Martin Ridge, that I would positively die if only I could meet Utley. Ridge thought this a slight ambition which he never tires of mentioning, and arranged for me to drive Utley the 60 miles to and from the Indianapolis airport.

Custer had also been the source of his early interest in Western history. Even before he entered the army he had served as a young ranger at Custer Battlefield, marking the beginning of a long and distinguished career with the National Park Service. From that fortunate drive onward, Utley championed me in the Western history business, playing the often-exasperated Sheridan to my sometimes-reckless Custer.

Bob and I often traveled together to various history meetings, but none was more memorable than the Little Big Horn Associates meeting at Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1989. Bob did not regularly attend L.B.H.A. meetings, but John Carroll had begged him to come, assuring him that he would be the recipient of the best-book-of-the-year prize from the association for his Cavalier in Buckskin. We made the long drive from Santa Fe to Fort Riley, with Bob often lecturing me on the importance of going to personally accept awards—no matter how relatively obscure the group giving it. His noblesse oblige attitude was charming, and I thought to myself how gratifying it was that he would travel all this way to bless the Custer buffs with a personal appearance. On the way he practiced his acceptance speech, which was, of course, brilliant.

Bob gave the banquet address to the assembled multitude at Fort Riley. I sat in the back, observing the crowd and noting the rumbling that rolled across it as he dared to discuss Custer’s sexuality, for the L.B.H.A. folk do not care to have their hero descend from his marble pedestal to share the same base urgings that motivate the rest of us. The applause for his fine talk was rather tepid. I sensed trouble, and it was not long in coming. As the book award was announced, Bob was almost out of his seat before he realized that the prize was going to the author of a book on Custer’s 1873 march to North Dakota. It was stunning.

Much of the long drive back to Santa Fe was in silence. Suddenly, somewhere near Wagonmound, I became convulsed with laughter. Utley was not amused, and with some singularly colorful adjectives inquired of the source of my irritating guffaws. Well, I replied, I was delighted to have finally come to understand the ending of one of my favorite films—John Huston’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre. At the end of that film classic, the protagonists are convulsed with laughter despite the death of companions and the loss of all their gold as they come to realize the insanity of their own hubris. Bob and I had gone off to Fort Riley to learn the same lesson (a lesson our hero, Custer, only learned in the last moments of his life.) We laughed all the way back to Santa Fe.

Bob from time to time, between books on Sitting Bull, the fur trade, and the Texas Rangers, worked on his memoirs. Although still not finished, he has graciously permitted True West to publish the following excerpt in this special 125th Custer Anniversary issue. What follows includes a brief introduction to his fascination with Custer and his view of the controversial 100th anniversary of the battle in 1976.

— Paul A. Hutton


demonstrators-with-flagI have lived with George Armstrong Custer for nearly 60 years. For some of those years he has dominated my life. For others, when I turned to more substantial concerns, he has seemed to vanish. But even then he prowled somewhere in the shadows, ready to pounce when least expected and reassert his presence if not his domination.

I am not alone in this burden, if such it is. Thousands of men, woman, and children in the United States, and even in a score or more other nations, are similarly infected. The phenomenon exempts no ethnicity—even American Indian—no gender, no social or economic class, no age group. More than a thousand of the faithful unite in an organization replete with all the trappings of a professional association. Part fraternal, part scholarly, part absurdity, fully passionate, the Little Big Horn Associates publish a quarterly magazine and a monthly newsletter, and they meet each year to offer learned disquisitions, argue arcane issues, and vicariously—some in meticulously accurate costume—recapture a man, an event, and a time from a remote past. I am a member.

Beyond the buffs, hardly anyone has not heard the name Custer. For most, the name summons a fleeting image or more of a soldier who died fighting Indians. His true role in history cannot explain the nearly universal name recognition. For that, one must probe the murky realms of mythology and folklore. Beneath the layers of legend, however, a living human being, possessed of more than normal range of human faults and virtues, made his brief mark on the history of the United States.

As Civil War broke out in 1861, he received his commission as second lieutenant, ranking thirty-fourth in his graduating class of 34. His meteoric rise in rank made him the darling of the press and a national hero. Bedecked with loops of gold braid and flowing scarlet tie, with brushy mustache and red-gold hair falling to his shoulders, the exuberant “Boy General” slashed his way through one bloody battle after another. He was 25 and a major general when, out of the morning mists near Appomattox Station, he received the white towel that signaled General Robert E. Lee’s decision to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia.

The war over and the volunteers mustered out, General Custer bore his wife of two years, Elizabeth Bacon Custer, to the Kansas frontier to assume the lieutenant colonelcy of the newly formed Seventh Cavalry of the regular army. In the next 10 years in Kansas, the Indian Territory, Dakota and Montana, the Boy General made a name for himself as Indian fighter, sportsman, hunter and outdoorsman. By 1876 he was famous, ambitious, idyllically wedded, well liked or detested depending on one’s point of view, but seemingly destined some day to be a general once again.

Then on June 25, 1876, history merged with legend to award George Armstrong Custer immortality. The Battle of the Little Big Horn cut short a career that would have gained occasional mention in histories of the Civil War and the western frontier. Instead, it made the slain Custer’s name a household word then and forever after—an icon in the public imagination, at times bright, at times tarnished, but never in danger of decay.

How can a man long dead haunt the lives of so many people? How can a man both venerated and abominated in his own time still command so much veneration and abomination in a generation almost 10 times removed from his? How can Japanese who read translations of my writings find even a narrow bridge to that distant time, place and culture that will convert them into Custer addicts? Or for that matter, those who buy French, Italian, Polish, or even Czech translations?

Of the afflicted, many do not know why, or cannot explain why. Others will offer many and diverse reasons why. For myself, I know only how it started and how it is ending. In between, many things happened that may help illuminate the question. Whether they do or not, they tell much about Custer and me.

Memory of my introduction to George Armstrong Custer does not predate the age of 12. But through some medium now forgotten, he may have figured in my fantasies earlier. In the late 1930s, my friends and I in the little Indiana community of Dayton (population 800) interminably played “gun.” David Crouse lived in much the largest house in town, and his spacious lawn, featuring a tree-shaded cabin that stored tools, served as fort and battleground. When we advanced in formation against the enemy, American flag held aloft, simulated bugle tooting the charge, toy rifles and pistols cracking with guttural explosions from our throats, we must have drawn inspiration from some movie featuring cavalry charging on Indians.

Radio as well as the movies inspired “gun.” Before General Custer, the Lone Ranger suggested many variations of the game. He and his faithful Indian companion Tonto brought the six-shooter and its silver bullets to bear on Western lawlessness with deadly effect. The most stirring episodes united the Lone Ranger with the U.S. cavalry and often climaxed with the sound of hoof beats mingled with the bugle’s staccato notes of the charge. Perhaps more significantly, the William Tell Overture and other of the show’s musical themes planted in me a love of classical music that matured long after the Lone Ranger and Tonto had slipped into my youthful past.

The movies, however, proved far more influential than radio. On the screens of the Paramount and Mars theaters in Lafayette, an eight-mile drive on State Highway 38, those wonderful and improbable adventure films of the late 1930s played daily. As often as once a week, Dad packed Mother, me, and my younger sister Nancy into our 1934 Chevrolet and drove to the city for a movie, often followed by a stop for a frozen custard. Who of my generation can forget The Plainsman, Union Pacific, Stanley and Livingston, Four Feathers, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and Northwest Mounted Police?

The movie that propelled me into a lifetime of Custer addiction emerged from Hollywood shortly after my twelfth birthday. I was baby-sitting for a next-door neighbor when I picked up the issue of Life magazine dated December 8, 1941. The cover bore a picture of Lieutenant General Douglas MacArthur, our new Far East commander, and featured a tribute by Margaret Bourke-White to this military potentate ensconced in his Manila penthouse confidently planning the defense of the Philippines if the Japanese should dare attempt an invasion.

But the handsome general in the gilded hat shrank to insignificance when I reached the “Movie of the Week.” Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland starred as George and Elizabeth Custer in They Died with Their Boots On. Old photos and the ubiquitous Anheuser-Busch painting of Custer’s Last Fight lent historical realism to the page of publicity stills from the film that promised an exciting adventure “from West Point to points West.”

That magazine, of course, appeared a few days before the cataclysmic date on its cover, and only a few days before the genius of Douglas MacArthur received its first rude challenge. But it set a young mind engrossed with the frontier cavalry on a course decisively influenced by the boozy Hollywood warrior’s portrayal of the swashbuckling cavalier. (Several years ago my wife, Melody Webb, paid $45 for a copy of that issue of Life and gave it to me for my birthday. It is a cherished memento of a turning point in my life.)

No longer did I depend on my father for transportation to film land. Saturday mornings I boarded a Greyhound bus for the trip into Lafayette, reported to Mr. Elmore for my cornet lesson, killed time until the theaters opened, loaded up on popcorn and candy, and sat through the feature movie two or even three times before climbing on a southbound bus to return home. Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland seared themselves into my mind’s eye, planted themselves deeply in my psyche, and treated me repeatedly to the thrilling denouement of the Last Stand. That they piled historical absurdity on top of historical travesty I learned only later. For then, especially in the climate of military celebration created by World War II, I had found my obsession.

I went to Lafayette’s public library, an imposing classical temple on a hill a few blocks from the Paramount Theater. The card catalogue offered several entries under “Custer.” The one I checked out first was a huge tome bound in black, indicating enough usage to have prompted the library to have it rebound. The title was A Complete Life of General George A. Custer. The author was Frederick Whittaker, who identified himself as “Brevet Captain Sixth New York Veteran Cavalry.” The publication date, December 1876, recorded an awesome achievement—650 pages of biography published in less than six months after the protagonist’s demise. The dedication set the tone for the treat those 650 pages held in store for me: “To The American People, Whose Liberties He So Gallantley Defended, And Especially To The American Cavalry, Past And Present, Whose Greatest Pride And Brightest Ornament He Was, I Dedicate This Memoir.”

What a thrill those pages provided. Here were printed words that, to a receptive young mind, sang of incontestable historical accuracy. Here was George Armstrong Custer fully the glorious hero portrayed by Errol Flynn. I read of his rowdy youth in Ohio and Michigan; of his sorry record at West Point; of his brilliant Civil War career as dashing Boy General of cavalry; of his marriage to the angelic Elizabeth Bacon; of his Indian campaigns; and of the “Last Stand” where, betrayed by cowardly subordinates, he stood with his men to the last even though an Indian scout offered a chance to escape.

How moving were those final paragraphs of Whittaker’s great work of history:

Truth and sincerity, honor and bravery, tenderness and sympathy, unassuming piety and temperance, were the mainspring of Custer, the man. As a soldier there is no spot on his armor, as a man no taint on his honor.

We have followed him through all his life, and passed in review boy, cadet, lieutenant, captain, general, and Indian fighter, without finding one deed to bring shame on soldier or man. People of the land he loved, my task is ended. Would it had been committed to worthier hands. Four simple lines, written by an unknown poet, form his best epitaph.

Who early thus upon the field of glory

Like thee doth fall and die, needs for his fame

Naught but the simple telling of his story,

The naming of his name.

The early 1970s reawakened public interest in Custer. Against the backdrop of the anti-war demonstrations and the rising activism of the red power movement, Vine Deloria’s Custer Died for Your Sins (1969) provided a symbol for white misdeeds with instant name recognition. My article, “Custer: Hero or Butcher?” did nothing to counter the popular symbolism. Nor did another, “The Enduring Custer Legend,” which appeared in American History Illustrated in the centennial month of June 1976.

In 1970, Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee gave new rationale to the red power drive and further spotlighted Custer as a scapegoat. A polemic masquerading as history, Brown’s book swept the nation, ultimately gaining press runs in the millions and earning its author dollars in the millions. Although bad history, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee turned out to be, over the span of a generation, the single most powerful influence on public attitude toward Indians.

Next came Dustin Hoffman’s vivid portrayal in the motion picture Little Big Man. Although a transparent metaphor for Vietnam, it was set in the Old West. Blood-lusting cavalry rampaged through Indian villages gleefully slaughtering women and children. A mad George Armstrong Custer staggered around the Little Big Horn battlefield emitting maniacal rantings.

Then, Indians seized the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters, across the street from my office in Interior. They threw out the employees, trashed the building, and forted up. SWAT teams outfitted in the hall outside my office. Among the police ringing the B.I.A. building were the horse mounted officers of the U.S. Park Police, an arm of the National Park Service. One morning a co-worker came into my office and remarked: “There’s a switch for you—the Indians barricaded inside the fort and the cavalry are circling outside.”

In 1973 came Second Wounded Knee. On South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, Sioux activists gunned down two F.B.I. agents and launched a tense standoff that lasted for weeks.

In the midst of all this national turmoil, early in 1974 Macmillan published the second of my histories of the army in the West, Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian, 1886-1891. Custer, of course, played a prominent role, not as hero or villain, and assuredly not as depicted by Vine Deloria, Dee Brown, or Little Big Man. With the military widely execrated because of Vietnam, and with Indian grievances drawing more and more sympathy, this was hardly a propitious time to publish a book about the frontier army. Stephen Ambrose gave it a splendid review in the Washington Post, and the Military Book Club published its own edition. Even so, it did not fare as well as it would have in less tumultuous times.

One scholarly reviewer, an Indian woman, castigated me in fierce terms not only for failing to blanket the blue-clad butchers of Indians with unqualified opprobrium but for daring to write a serious book about them at all.

Although Vietnam finally drew to its tragic finale in 1975, it left enough residue of social unrest to worry the National Park Service about the approaching centennial of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The park had made commendable strides in bringing more balance to the interpretive presentations, telling the story in both military and Indian dimensions and virtually eliminating the heroic Custer of my years at the battlefield. But in the activist climate of the early 1970s, no amount of “balance” could satisfy demands welling up from the writings of Vine Deloria and Dee Brown and the noisy theatrics of the American Indian Movement (AIM).

The activists cared for the historical record only as it could be twisted to fortify their campaigns. Custer Battlefield had become the battleground in a new war, a war of symbolic possession. Who owned this symbol, and all it could be made to yield in terms of tangible public atonement for centuries of white oppression? Russell Means and his fellow agitators in AIM valued the battlefield not for the story it told but as a publicity tool to dramatize their social, political, and economic objectives.

From within as well as from without the Park Service, a rising chorus called for renaming Custer Battlefield National Monument. Few battlefields bore the name of either the victor or the vanquished, ran the argument, so why should Custer be enshrined in the designation of this battlefield? Proponents of the name change wanted to substitute Little Big Horn for Custer.

I took no part in this debate. In truth, I did not care very deeply about the issue. On the one hand, the name reflected the intent of the officials who set aside the park shortly after the battle and thus took on historical importance in itself. Moreover, I had enough experience in tampering with established nomenclature to know that it always set off a controversy. On the other hand, Little Big Horn described the battlefield as well as Custer, and I felt little would be lost if the advocates won. As I foresaw, tampering with the nomenclature grew into another of the battles in the war over symbolism.

Nor did I take much part in the debates in and out of the Park Service over what kind of ceremony should mark the centennial of the Little Big Horn in June 1976. Planning began in 1970 under the auspices of the Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association, the park’s nonprofit co-operating organization. They prepared for an elaborate celebration that would rival the 50th anniversary extravaganza of 1926. They hoped to draw 100,000 spectators. A dramatic attraction would be a “Custer Reride,” as many as 400 cavalry reenactors staging the final day of Custer’s approach to the Little Big Horn.

At the same time, Russell Means and his AIM cohorts excited national publicity with plans to stage their own ceremony at the battlefield, a ceremony that implicitly courted violence. Means even vowed to fire the museum displaying Custer’s uniforms and other personal memorabilia. Park officials took the possibility seriously enough to move much of Custer’s belongings to safe storage at the museum laboratory in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

An AIM demonstration that would disrupt the formal program and raise the danger of violence alarmed Park Service officials. If the alarm stirred any action in the Washington office, I never knew of it. Rather, the regional office in Denver seemed to have resolved to allow Russell Means as small a stage for national publicity as possible. In 1974, a new superintendent and park historian took station at the battlefield. The “historian,” Rich Rambur, came out of the ranger ranks and had police experience. As executive secretary of the association, he soon dominated its affairs, alienated its officers, and by 1975 had succeeded in having the centennial committee abolished.

Rich Rambur was smart, able and effective. Despite the fury of the association members and others incensed at Rambur’s heavy-handed tactics, he later went on to a distinguished career as superintendent of several parks. I always like him and never asked him about the centennial planning. But I believe he came to the battlefield with the regional director’s mandate to mark the centennial as inconspicuously as possible.

Perhaps that is why I was invited to deliver the principal address.

No one ever told me the motive for moving the main ceremony from June 25 to June 24—I suppose some misguided hope of throwing Russell Means off stride. The day was cold, cloudy and with occasional falls of light rain. Instead of 100,000 spectators, about 700 gathered. As I rode up the hill with the public information officer from the regional office, she told me that security would be heavy but inconspicuous. “Low profile,” she muttered as we drove through the gate and took in the array of ranger cars with light bars on the roof, a heavily armed S.W.A.T. team of rangers assembled from the parks throughout the region, a contingent of the Montana Highway Patrol, and even some U.S. Park Policeman from Washington with attack dogs on leashes. Only the F.B.I. agents remained “low profile.”

A speaker’s platform and rows of folding chairs had been set up next to the road between the museum and the national cemetery. A handsomely uniformed army band flanked the gathering audience. Before the program even began, the band had hardly struck up “Garryowen,” Custer’s rollicking battle song, when the sound of thumping Indian drums drifted from beyond the national cemetery. The Indians, it seemed, had gathered almost as stealthily on this battleground as they had a century earlier.

Around the corner of the cemetery and up the road toward us marched 250 Indians, chanting, singing and pounding drums. Russell Means led. Behind him, two Indians dragged an American flag, upside down, over the pavement—a signal, it was later explained, of distress.

Park Superintendent Dick Hart, an affable, easy-going man with a white beard, now performed probably the signal contribution of his career. He advanced to confront Russell Means and emerged with a truce if not a treaty. Means would be given his time at the microphone, after which he and his little army would withdraw to the monument and stage their own ceremony while ours got underway below.

Of the tirade Russell Means delivered I have little memory. It was typical of the bluster that characterized most of his speeches. It included what had become an article of faith with A.I.M. and its supporters: Custer had led an invasion of the homeland to seize territory that belonged to the Sioux. The Sioux fought back to protect their families and homeland. Conveniently omitted, if ever even understood, was that the Sioux Custer attacked were intruders on Crow tribal ranges, that in fact the battle occurred within the reservation set apart for the Crows in the Treaty of 1868.

Ironically, my speech featured an appeal not to corrupt history and this battlefield for the purposes that Russell Means and his demonstrators were, at that very moment, corrupting. I don’t know how many in the audience carefully followed my plea, for Means had left his palace guard behind. As I spoke, about a dozen beefy Indians in red berets ringed the seated assemblage and stood with folded arms and scowling visages.

If they were listening, I doubt that they caught the message in my concluding paragraph:

In the spirit of reconciliation we should dedicate ourselves in this bicentennial and centennial year to righting the wrongs to the past. But in reaching for that goal, let us not infuse this battlefield with a modern meaning untrue to the past. Let us not bend it artificially to serve contemporary needs and ends, however laudable. Let us accept it and understand it on its own terms, not ours. As we shall want posterity to look back on us, so we ourselves must look back at those who have preceded us.

That was a cry lost in the wilderness. It also betrayed a bit of my own naiveté. Fifteen years later, Edward T. Linenthal published a book, Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields, that thoughtfully explored the way in which Americans had exploited the “sacred ground” of their battlefields to promote modern purposes. Of my words about bending the past to serve contemporary needs and ends, he wrote: “Of course, for a century patriotic orthodoxy at the battlefield had done precisely that: it had helped shaped a culturally constructed—hence an ‘artificial’—interpretation of the battle.” And as Linthenal rightly observed, “Utley’s caution about twisting history for political purposes certainly meant little to protesters who saw this as their opportunity to overturn domination by winning the symbolic battle of the Little Big Horn.”

The day’s adventures did not end with my speech. In the audience were two old friends. I had met Colonel George Armstrong Custer III, Brice’s son, as a newly commissioned second lieutenant at the battlefield on June 25, 1950. I had first met Larry Frost, the Monroe chiropodist, in 1948 and visited in his home in 1950.

Since then Larry had published a couple of well-received books on Custer and had become an exalted idol of the Little Big Horn Associates.

Colonel Custer had brought with him a floral wreath with ribbons emblazoned to the memory of the brothers George, Tom, and Boston, the nephew Henry Reed, and the brother-in-law Lieutenant James Calhoun. He wanted to lay the wreath on the monument. That would have been an invitation made to order for Russell Means—television cameras recording another confrontation between a braided Sioux and George Custer. The arbiters of security ruled against any such rite so long as Means and his crowd remained on the battlefield.

Late in the afternoon, after Means and nearly everyone else had left, I went out from the museum building, linked arms with Colonel Custer, and marched up the hill to the monument. Larry Frost fell in behind, together with George’s son Kip, a college student with blonde curls and brushy mustache that made him almost a mirror image of his famous forebear. At the monument, as Larry, Kip and I stood by, George solemnly placed the wreath at the base and saluted.

The next day, the true anniversary, featured an anticlimactic program that drew few people and left nothing memorable in the record. No Indian protesters showed up. The main attraction was the “Custer Reride” a dozen, rather than 400, blue-clad horseman tracing Custer’s route from the Rosebud divide to the battlefield. Since the Park Service had barred them from the formal program, and they could not bring horses into the park without a special permit, the ride ended at the park boundary rather than on Custer Hill.

The centennial observance left many people angry. They felt the Park Service had allowed itself to be intimidated by an Indian rabble. They contrasted the Indian costumes of Mean’s demonstrators with the absence of any military presence beyond the army band. They deplored the proscription from the scene of anyone dressed in the cavalry uniform of Custer’s time and the ban on the “reride” that stopped the reenactors at the park boundary. They were incensed that the recognition of dignitaries from the podium excluded Colonel Custer and that he was barred from the wreath-laying until everyone had left. Above all, they denounced the desecration of the American flag by Indians dragging it over the pavement. Some even believed that the firepower of the park rangers should have been deployed to halt such a sacrilege.

These resentments took tangible form in a flood of mail addressed to the president, members of Congress, the secretary of the interior, and the director of the National Park Service. No matter to whom addressed, the letters all found their way to my inbox. The writers, many of them friends or acquaintances, never knew who replied because someone else signed, but the answers came out of my office.

I find it hard to fault Park Service officials for their caution. AIM had shown at Second Wounded Knee and elsewhere the inclination to stir serious trouble and even violence when television cameras stood by. The Little Big Horn centennial offered an irresistible stage on which to score symbolic points by disrupting the official program, even if it involved violence. Had men uniformed in historic cavalry garb been on the scene, had Superintendent Dick Hart not yielded the podium for a time to Means, had Colonel Custer laid his wreath while the demonstrators remained nearby, Means might well have seized the chance at disruptive grandstanding while the cameras rolled.

At the same time, I think it petty and reprehensible that Colonel Custer was not at least named as one of the dignitaries in the audience, if not indeed seated on the platform. And I think the “reride” squad of a dozen horsemen could have been allowed to end their ride at the monument. The reride took place on June 25, after nearly everyone, including Russell Means and the national media, had gone home. The risk of trouble would have been all but nonexistent.

Finally, of lasting damage, the schism opened by Rich Rambur between the Park Service and the Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association left wounds that never healed. At least two of the longtime powers in the association, men of local respectability and influence, flatly refused to attend the observance. The sores would fester for more than a dozen years before breaking forth again.

The 1976 centennial pleased hardly anyone. It was a big battle in the war for symbolic possession of Custer Battlefield, but not the final battle. Others lay in the future. Custer Battlefield had not seen the last of me nor, less constructively, of Russell Means.

Guest Editor’s note: Ironically, Utley and Means eventually found themselves on the same side of the effort to change the battlefield’s name to Little Bighorn Battlefield (from Custer Battlefield), and to erect a monument to the Indians who fought there. They succeeded.


ROBERT M. UTLEY is the dean of frontier military historians. A former chief historian of the National Park Service, he is the author of numerous books including such classics as Frontier Regulars (1973), The Indian Frontier of American West (1984), Cavalier in Buckskin (1988), and The Lance and the Shield: The Life and times of Sitting Bull (1993). He is presently writing a new history of the Texas Rangers. This is first article for True West.

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