Comments on Custer's Last Stand

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand.

Programme information and audio


  • 1. At 09:16am on 19 May 2011, terryindorset wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 2. At 09:46am on 19 May 2011, DJGradwell wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 3. At 10:17am on 19 May 2011, Terry_M wrote:

    I was disappointed to hear the myth of the Indians being better armed than the US Cavalry troopers at the Battle of the Little Bighorn being regurgitated in this program.

    Indeed SOME Indians were armed with so-called "repeating rifles", as they were then known, but those weapons fired cartridges that were no better than pistol rounds; for example, the Winchester 44-40. Many more casualties amongst the troopers were caused by traditional Indian weapons, primarily the bow and arrow.

    The US Cavalry's Springfield Model 1873 Cavalry carbine, on the other hand, fired a much more powerful cartridge, the 45-55, than the 44-40, for example. Thus allowing the effective engagement of targets at much greater ranges than the latter. If there were problems with the Springfield Carbine they were bad ammunition and a lack of training. (The troopers had only been issued the new carbines a matter of weeks before.)

    This myth, of the Indians having better weapons than the troopers was almost certainly just another attempt by his supporters to shift the blame for the massacre from the real reason for it – George Armstrong Custer himself! And I am disapointed to see that people, who should know better, are still promulaging it.

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  • 4. At 12:00pm on 19 May 2011, dllewellynfoster wrote:

    A very worthwhile discussion thank you, with some tantalising insights of great interest that, presumably due to time constraints, left us feeling slightly deprived of a really full discussion. It would have been extremely informative to have heard more about Crazy Horse and the US "final solution" that led to the tragic events at Wounded Knee in 1890. Perhaps In Our Time would consider another programme about the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy, and the agonising struggle of Indigenous American activists to resist the relentless encroachment of the "West's" de facto industrial prerogative to perpetually exploit and destroy native lands, primarily for the extraction of minerals like uranium, for tar-sands oil and the imminent desperate need for water - in a continent whose great lakes have been utterly poisoned by mercury and other lethal toxins. Dispossession, ecological destruction and genocide are the oldest abuses known to mankind, reaching levels of sophistication today that would be the envy of any self-respecting ancient tyrant. The perpetrator-victim cycle continues all over the world. Should we wonder at the need for a Bin Laden myth or some messianic redemptive spiritual power that can promise to compensate and restore health and sanity to such a corrupted planet? Of course the irony is that the official "christist" myth is one of the principal, if not the single cause of this tragic pathology alas - so when will mankind come to its senses, shed religious deceit & fraudulent pretexts, and reconsecrate the innate intelligence that honours the manifest truths of the natural systems that govern everything? Perhaps never; if that really is so, we had better brace ourselves for the necessary and inexorable natural consequences of our negligence and "thick-headed" Custer-like cruelty.

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  • 5. At 3:22pm on 19 May 2011, David119 wrote:

    Was I the only one to notice alarming similarities between the treatment of Native Americans by the US Government and the fate of Palestinians in the occupied territories ?
    The mixture of ideology and self interest justified by a biblical religion is almost identical.
    That perhaps explains the enthusiastic support for the Jewish State from all sides of the American political debate.
    Although this wasn't the programme's primary focus, I was disappointed that the reality of ethnic cleansing seemed to be rather downplayed by the contributors.
    The "Costing the Earth" programme later in the Radio 4 schedule, showed that land grabs from Native Americans are still a reality in our own time.

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  • 6. At 5:10pm on 19 May 2011, kshuck wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 7. At 5:10pm on 19 May 2011, U13826230 wrote:

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  • 8. At 5:13pm on 19 May 2011, U13826230 wrote:

    I run a one name study for my surname Custard

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  • 9. At 5:18pm on 19 May 2011, U13826230 wrote:

    I run a one name study for my surname Custard. I often get enquiries from the States about the name Custer. When I explain there is no connection, I am often told their family changed their name from Custard to Custer in the late 19th century in homage to him!

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  • 10. At 5:31pm on 19 May 2011, kshuck wrote:

    As a former teacher of American Indian Studies and as a Native American I found this episode to be typical of material about Custer's idiocy. Limitations of programme length and general knowledge always come into play. Utimately the man failed to read the general frustration of Native populations, failed to listen to advisors and failed to employ any of what he learned in school about battle. He caught all of that frustration in the face and remains to this day in Native communities a symbol of the arrogant stupidity that characterized Native/US interactions of his time.

    It's good to keep in mind that more 'victories' against Native peoples have been won first with lies, later with numbers and later still with lawmaking than with intellectual superiority or better toys.

    I'm certain to use this episode in some future essay or lecture, not for what it taught me about Custer but for what is says that British listeners are interested in and what spin that audience wants to hear. In that respect it was quite educational.

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  • 11. At 8:14pm on 19 May 2011, pettacom wrote:

    As an American who grew up in Minnesota, I concur with the sadness and sense of loss of the Sioux language and culture. If you're looking for a "why," look no further than my country's government.
    Before and after the Civil War, the American government had no sense of obligation to African Americans. In the worst of conditions, without allies, they developed language, culture, and music. The made Harlem alive with poetry and jazz. The undoing of Harlem, the black family, and many other cultural gains only came when the American government decided to shower them with compassion born of guilt and an unspoken sense of white superiority. The black man was made irrelevant by welfare, education was undermined by focusing on making black children feel good at any cost. As a white person growing up in the 1960s and '70s, I watched all of this unfold.
    The tragedy of Native Americans was that they attracted the jaundiced eye of government compassion a good 75 years ahead of black people. And government compassion can kill you -- or at least your culture -- by turning whole generations into abject, pathetic children in constant need of "support".
    We didn't have ghettos in Minnesota, but we did have reservations. I have never been to a thriving one yet. One of the thrilling things that goes on at the Custer Battlefield visitors center is Native Americans, members of the nearby Crow tribe, speaking about their traditional way of life. Then you see the lives of modern Crow tribe members on the local reservation, and feel sad and guilty for what our government has done to them under the guise of "help."
    Government assistance is a narcotic that's hard to resist and even harder to kick. Compare the lives of those who don't take it to those that do, and you'll rapidly see the difference. Resistors make lives, buy land, and create jobs and businesses. Those who remain in government care live in substandard housing on land they don't own and, hence, can't do anything productive with. The Sioux are a proud and energetic people. Most of the buildings in Minneapolis and St. Paul were built by Native Americans who are fearless walking on i-beams 20 stories up. They go to great lengths to preserve and pass along their culture. But this is all in spite of the government, not because of it. Had they escaped our compassion, they'd be in a far more powerful position today.
    Finally, anyone who's never been to the Custer Battlefield and finds themselves in southeastern Montana should make a beeline for it. It looks today exactly as it did then, and you can sit on a vast visitors deck and imagine it unfolding as a Park Service employee gives a play-by-play description and points to various ridges and ravines as they come into play. The defeat of Custer sealed the fate of the plains Indians that day, and was in every sense a Pyrrhic victory -- no accident that just 14 years later it was Custer's 7th Cavalry that conducted the massacre of Wounded Knee.

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  • 12. At 9:38pm on 19 May 2011, kshuck wrote:

    Not to sound too strident but... I'm going to.

    Don't get too romantic about the loss of our languages. Fewer of us speak them than one hundred years ago but more of us speak them than thirty years ago. Our languages are on the upswing, even a few that were considered 'lost'. Nor are we dying off, our birthrates are up since the US government stopped their policy of sterilization and we're doing pretty well with numbers at the moment. Since our religions stopped being illegal (late 70s) the numbers of people openly practicing them are also up, not that surprising really. As for the government money that some groups get, that's not governmental support, it's rent. Don't take my word for it, read the treaties. Little enough came from those treaties, I wouldn't call what did compassionate.

    The heros in this story are ultimately my brave former students who despite everything they have going against them managed to get through their degree programs and become teachers, lawyers, biologists and community leaders who have brought Native land, education and religious rights so far in the last decade or so. There's your story. Custer failed and the US government failed. We are here, so are our languages and cultures and we are not dying out anytime soon.

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  • 13. At 10:15pm on 19 May 2011, CBoyd3 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 14. At 10:30pm on 19 May 2011, CBoyd3 wrote:

    I must admit I found this session on the Battle of Little Big Horn very disappointing, and not up to the usual standards of 'In Our Time'.
    As an historian who has lectured and taught on this battle for over 15 years, I found there was severe bias and lack of up-to-date research regarding the historical context of the battle. What I heard was the same story that has been told since I was a child visiting my grandparents in Billings, Montana, near the battlefield site.
    This battle--and the 'Indian Wars' of the West, were not strictly whites against Indians, but much more nuanced and complicated. Where were the Crows in this version? They fought on the side of the government against the Sioux, who were taking their lands. Many Crow warriors acted as scouts for the Seventh Cavalry.
    Where is the recent research on the environmental issues regarding the Great Plains and the already-decreasing bison herds? Where is mention that native Americans also took part in the slaughter of the herds to gain profit from the sale of buffalo hides?
    I've always found the Little Big Horn story intriguing, and have been lucky enough to study under an important Little Big Horn cultural historian, but I think your listeners deserved to hear that this was a battle that was most definitely NOT a simple case of White Americans versus their Sioux (actually Lakota) and Cheyenne victims. The Crow would have been very sorry to hear that their role was completely overlooked.

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  • 15. At 00:36am on 20 May 2011, ritchiechillum wrote:

    Custer had it coming

    Just finished listening to the evening broadcast of that item. While I understand the constraints of a 30 minute programme, there are at least 2 points that Melvyn failed to bring out this time:

    1) Custer wasn’t just ‘vainglorious’ and a ‘glory seeker’ he was a megalomaniac mass-murderer and a extreme racist even by the standards of the time. He was in fact America’s Ratko Mladic.

    2) it’s about time the record was put straight – Sitting Bull wasn’t at the battle, he was a spiritual chief not a war chief; Crazy Horse, who got a single mention in the discussion, was the Lakota leader amongst the allies who defeated Custer. He was the Native Americans’ answer to Che Guevara.

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