KILLING CUSTER by James with Paul Stekler Welch


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In his first nonfiction work, noted Native American novelist Welch (The Indian Lawyer, 1990, etc.) stretches the boundaries of history. With the research assistance of Stekler, Welch offers a sweeping history of the American West based on work the pair did for their 1992 PBS documentary, The Last Stand. Though centered on the Battle of the Little Big Horn, in which warriors led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeated Custer's 7th Cavalry, the volume actually chronicles white/Indian contact and conflict from the voyage of Lewis and Clark in 1804 to the present -- from the viewpoint of the Indians. Welch begins by describing the 1869 massacre of a band of his own Blackfeet people and his efforts to locate the forgotten site of the carnage. He then moves on to the story of Custer, a Civil War hero who was demoted following the war and sent to fight Indians on the Western frontier. His conduct at the Washita Massacre, during which he and his men wiped out Black Kettle's peaceful Cheyenne, called his abilities into question and demonstrated the character and leadership flaws that would help bring about his death eight years later. Brash, cavalier, and supremely confident, Custer embodied America's larger self-image. His death, in the worst military disaster of the Indian Wars, thus assumed mythic proportions, aided by a relentless publicity campaign by his widow. Welch traces the fates of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull following the famous battle and uses accounts of such other engagements as Sand Creek and the Fetterman Massacre to help put Little Big Horn in historical perspective. A late chapter personalizes the text, as Welch tells the story of his mother and his early desire to become a writer. An excellent Native version of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: a sad tale that, despite momentary triumphs like Little Big Horn, could not but end tragically for the Indians.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 1994
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Norton