They are all the same—and yet so different. Within months of Custer’s battle on the Little Big Horn artists of varying levels of talent began to create images of “The Last Stand.” In short order, it became one of the great pieces of American iconograhy (especially after the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company distributed over 150,000 copies of Otto Becker’s 1896 lithograph—based on a garish Cassily Adams painting of Custer’s Last Fight—to saloons across the nation).
From the dandified Custer in the July 13, 1876 Illustrated Police News, probably the first Last Stand image, to the gritty realism of Eric von Schmidt’s 1976, Here Fell Custer, which graces the current National Park Service battlefield brochure, artists have interpreted and reinterpreted this epic moment. They, in turn, have influenced book illustrations in countless children’s books, text books, novels, comic books and, most noticeably, Hollywood films. In the last 125 years at least 2,000 such images have been produced with no end in sight. Close your eyes—think Custer’s Last Stand—you see, you already have the image implanted permanently in your mind. It would seem that art really does matter, and has certainly played a central and very powerful role in shaping our shared perception of the past.