Our Centennial Indian Wars and the Life of General Custer

May 15th, 2012 | By | Category: 23-4: Investing in Education, Empowering Tribal Communities, Media Reviews

University of Oklahoma Press (2011), 195 Pages

Review by Ryan Winn

Originally printed in 1877, a year after George Armstrong Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn, Frances Fuller Victor’s text was the first to chronicle the United States’ military battles with the Sioux.

Historians should note that while more pages are given to those whose voices support the U.S. government’s Indian policies, the text also amplifies the voices of non-Native Indian sympathizers. Perhaps the most memorable of those voices is Wendell Phillips who asserts that the worst brutality “was often inflicted on Indian men, women, and children, and that the Indian (had) never lifted a hand against us (non-Natives) until provoked.” The greatest provocation, of course, was occupation of the Sioux’s sacred Black Hills, which to date is the site of the largest gold deposits discovered on U.S. soil.

Moreover, Victor had a reporter’s gift for weaving facts together, and her text includes correspondences, military telegrams, and newspaper quotes. The most noteworthy of the quotes comes from Custer’s commanding officer, Captain E. W. Smith. Intentionally ambiguous, he ordered Custer to proceed after the Sioux without engagement but also, if necessary, to take matters into his own hands “when nearly in contact with the enemy.”

Ryan Winn is the humanities department chairman at College of Menominee Nation in Keshena and Green Bay, WI.

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