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The Battle of the Little Big Horn, 146 years later

They don’t make movies lionizing George Armstrong Custer any more, a small step in acknowledging the historical crime.

“The Custer Fight,” Charles Marion Russell, 1903
“The Custer Fight,” Charles Marion Russell, 1903

The 146th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, also known as “Custer’s Last Stand,” passed over the weekend.

It was, as you probably know, one of the relatively few and one of the greatest victories of Native Americans over the U.S. military in the long tale of conquest by Europeans and their descendants over North and South America and its indigenous populations.

Most of us learning about that conquest are, one might say, beneficiaries of that great historical crime, or land grab or genocide or whatever term you might want to apply to the tale that began with Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas.

When I was a kid, George Armstrong Custer, leader of the doomed U.S. soldiers (and who died with them that day) was celebrated, and just assumed to be, a tragic martyr to the great cause. But they don’t make movies lionizing Custer any more, a small step in acknowledging the historical crime.

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During my lifetime, white Americans have progressed from unabashedly celebrating that conquest to acknowledging it as a foundational moral stain on our ancestors, and a stain on our claim to be the rightful owners of the land we now buy and sell and inhabit.

Heather Cox Richardson, the U.S. historian whom I admire and often mention in my scribbling, devoted her most recent diary entry, or post, or essay, to a short, dry, factual telling of the tale of that battle, in which 263 soldiers and about 43 members of the Lakota nation were killed. Although brief, her elegant overview of the events of what we used to call “Custer’s Last Stand,” includes a much fuller view of the events and can be accessed here.