The passing of time and politics have played a misleading hand in the retelling and the romanticizing of many events from our history, including Custer’s Last Stand. There were no sabers, there were many survivors, Sitting Bull and his warriors never set this up as a trap, and Lieutenant Colonel Custer did not have sunny, flowing yellow hair. It was not an honorable fight and never should have been glorified. But what else is a government going to do when they make a really bad decision? It all boils down to greed. If they have gold, we have to take it, it’s our country, it’s our gold, and nothing can stop us. When all of these men die in the process, for that greed, the first thing that they did was paint Custer and his men as heroes—and themselves as well, by association.
I won’t say that the men in Custer’s 7th Cavalry were all horrible men. But nor were they heroes. They were just men. This wasn’t a battle of good versus evil. The soldiers in the cavalry were products of the time, doing their duty, and just like any group of people, there was a combination of nice guys with many stubborn men, bitter ones, some with true hatred in their hearts, etc.
The 7th Cavalry was actually organized right after the end of the Civil War. Many of those in the cavalry were veterans of the war, including almost all of the leading officers. A large percentage of them had previously served over four years in Kansas, where they fought in several skirmishes. They had lost some of their men during that time, but the main cause of death for these men was disease, such as cholera. While in Kansas, the 7th Cavalry had attacked Black Kettle’s Southern Cheyenne camp on the Washita River in the Battle of Washita River, a vicious attack, which was labeled a “massacre of innocent Indians” by the Indian Bureau. There was no understanding between different kinds of people at this time, which is very unfortunate, for it led to a lot of bloodshed.
What went wrong at the Battle of Little Bighorn for Custer and his men? The cavalry’s guns had a longer range than the Native Americans’ guns, but took much longer to load. The Indians could fire off five shots to the soldiers’ one. When Custer split up his regiment, it did create some weaknesses, but it was a standard military procedure. Custer and the 7th Cavalry had a small element of surprise, but not much. The Lakota and the others saw them coming. They were taken by surprise, initially, alarmed, but able to organize against the threat coming at them. Warrior accounts say that the cavalry approaching looked like thousands of men, and it was an overwhelming sight. But they rallied quickly, tried to get their women and children away to safety, and fought hard. They said that the soldiers in the cavalry fought desperately, but they were heavily outgunned, outmanned, and out-persevered.