Marie K Conrad (mkconrad@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU)
Fri, 4 Oct 1996 13:11:14 -0400

Hello, All;
> are unmistakble. For instance, a historical account of, say, the Battle of
> Little Big Horn. Better yet look at the three movies that have come out
> about this over the years and how differently cultural norms have shaped
> the view society has had about Custer. In 1919, a movie called They Died
> with Their Boots On shows Custer as a hero dying in a massacre by savage
> native beasts. In 1969, a movie came out that connoted Custer as an
> insane war-loving, Native American-hating tyrant in an obvious no win
> situation.
> About five years ago a miniseries called Custer came out showing Custer as
> a feeling man with symapathy towards Native Americans, yet with an ideal
> of duty towards ones country above all else. This would prove to be his
> downfall.
I believe that the miniseries you are referring to was "Son of
the Morning Star" taken from Evan S. Connell's history of the situation.
The miniseries was a farce compared to the book, which doesn't emphasize
'Custer as sympathizer' at all. In fact, it all but (rightly) calls him a
complete military idiot. Back in the 70's there was a very interesting
program on PBS called "The Court Martial of George A. Custer." It was
probably the most accurate depiction to date of what a nitwit G.A.C. was,
and is an interesting investigation into what might have happened if he
had survived the battle.
So, not only are you looking at the context of the miniseries, but
also the fact that it broke from the book to . . . what? make it more
palatable? Fit in with attitudes? Reflect societal views?
The image of Custer has changed quite a bit over the years. To
the general public of 1876, he was a "golden boy" and "hero." To his
second and third in command, he was a pain. His soldiers generally
loathed him. And as one Native put it, Custer "was a fool, and rode to
his own death." In later years, each of these different viewpoints has
taken hold for a time, but, like the fragmented opinions of the public,
officers, soldiers, and Native Americans, the opinions will always remain
fragmented. So what determines what the public sees? Who decides 'the
story?' And what does it mean when one story deviates from the original
on which it is said to be directly based?
I would recommend (and this is not a "scholarly" read, I know, so
don't anyone go jumping all over me for recommending something "popular"
in print) that anyone who is mildly interested in the Big Horn take a look
at Connell's "Son of . . ." It even has a bibliography, and a couple of
good hints for some scholarly papers.
Marie Conrad