A familiar story peppered with little-known insights into the workings of a family whose name has become a byword for foolhardy behavior.
When George Armstrong Custer went ill-advisedly into that coulee in Montana nearly 150 years ago, it wasn’t just he and his command who died. As popular historian Yenne (Operation Long Jump: Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Greatest Assassination Plot in History, 2015, etc.) writes, Little Big Horn cost two Custer brothers who had ridden with George as well as a brother-in-law and a nephew—a significant portion of that generation of Custer men and a lineage that has all but disappeared following the deaths of descendants to causes ranging from suicide to old age. Much of the story will be known to students of Civil War history and the American Indian Wars, to say nothing of Custerologists; still, Yenne spins the tale accessibly. As he writes, Custer was always a skin-of-his-teeth fellow who was loyal to his men and he to them; several of the soldiers who died with Custer also fought with him as members of his Michigan cavalry regiment during the Civil War. There’s a touch too much speculation to please academic historians (“Nevin Custer might have been at this meeting. The parents of the Custer boys, Emmanuel and Maria, may have been there as well, but Maria was in poor health and the death of three sons would probably have laid her low and rendered her housebound”), and the best part of the book is the slender closing section that deals with the fates of various Custers in the aftermath of Little Big Horn, from the resourceful Libby to the now-forgotten, quiet brother who preferred to stay on the farm rather than follow his siblings to glory.
Of some interest to history buffs, though as a supplement to weightier books on Custer and Little Big Horn, including Nathaniel Philbrick’s The Last Stand and Evan Connell’s Son of the Morning Star.