Custer

Custer

2.3 10
by Larry McMurtry
     
 

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In this lavishly illustrated volume, Larry McMurtry, the greatest chronicler of the American West, tackles for the first time one of the paramount figures of Western and American history.

 On June 25, 1876, General George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry attacked a large Lakota Cheyenne village on the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory.See more details below

Overview

In this lavishly illustrated volume, Larry McMurtry, the greatest chronicler of the American West, tackles for the first time one of the paramount figures of Western and American history.

 On June 25, 1876, General George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry attacked a large Lakota Cheyenne village on the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory. He lost not only the battle but his life—and the lives of his entire cavalry. “Custer’s Last Stand” was a spectacular defeat that shocked the country and grew quickly into a legend that has reverberated in our national consciousness to this day.

Pulitzer Prize winner Larry McMurtry has long been fascinated by the “Boy General” and his rightful place in history. In Custer, he delivers an expansive, agile, and clear-eyed reassessment of the iconic general’s life and legacy—how the legend was born, the ways in which it evolved, what it has meant—told against the broad sweep of the American narrative. We see Custer in all his contradictions and complexity as the perpetually restless man with a difficult marriage, a hunger for glory, and an unwavering confidence in his abilities.

McMurtry explores how the numerous controversies that grew out of the Little Bighorn combined with a perfect storm of technological developments—the railroad, the camera, and the telegraph—to fan the flames of his legend. He shows how Custer’s wife, Libbie, worked for decades after his death to portray Major Marcus Reno as the cause of the disaster of the Little Bighorn, and how Buffalo Bill Cody, who ended his Wild West Show with a valiant reenactment of Custer’s Last Stand, played a pivotal role in spreading Custer’s notoriety.

While Custer is first and foremost an enthralling story filled with larger-than-life characters—Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, William J. Fetterman, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud—McMurtry also argues that Little Bighorn should be seen as a monumental event in our nation’s history. Like all great battles, its true meaning can be found in its impact on our politics and policy, and the epic defeat clearly signaled the end of the Indian Wars—and brought to a close the great narrative of western expansion. In Custer, Larry McMurtry delivers a magisterial portrait of a complicated, misunderstood man that not only irrevocably changes our long-standing conversation about Custer, but once again redefines our understanding of the American West.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
…a brief, breezy tour of the man and the conflict, complete with an astonishing variety of photographs and artistic renderings. McMurtry…is short on words and long on illustrations here. For a writer of epics, Custer qualifies as haiku. But the reader is in good hands; it's as if McMurtry invited a customer to the back of his Texas bookstore to spend an afternoon going through his collection.
—Timothy Egan
USA Today
“McMurtry’s book does what dozens of others on Custer have not. It cuts through many of the myths. . . . It’s entertaining and educational at the same time.”
The New York Times Book Review - Timothy Egan
“A brief, breezy tour of the man and the conflict, complete with an astonishing variety of photographs and artistic renderings. . . . The reader is in good hands; it’s as if McMurtry invited a customer to the back of his Texas bookstore to spend an afternoon going through his collection.”
USA Today (3.5 out of 4 stars)
“McMurtry’s book does what dozens of others on Custer have not. It cuts through many of the myths. . . . It’s entertaining and educational at the same time.”
Booklist
“Pulitzer Prize-winner McMurtry continues to be an outstanding chronicler of Western legend and lore.”
The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“It is plain speaking that McMurtry delivers . . . the same laconic, whimsical voice that makes his novels so entertaining and readable. The effect is as if one is sitting in a small lecture hall, listening as McMurtry tells his stories from a few notes in a rambling style . . . often revealing and insightful as well as wry and funny.”
Smithsonian Magazine
“Thoroughness wasn’t Larry McMurtry’s aim when he set out to write this brief treatment. . . . What McMurtry has produced is indeed appealing, with vivid images of Custer, his family and his battles. . . . Despite the lengthy consideration that the author has obviously given his subject. . . this is no hagiography.”
The Wall Street Journal
“Larry McMurtry, chronicler of the American West, takes on the controversial figure of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in his newest book . . . to contribute to the canon with a short biography that would help bring the complex man into focus.”
The New Yorker
“Larry McMurtry has the power to clutch the heart and also to exhilarate.”
Chicago Tribune
“Few authors match McMurtry’s voice of unsentimental authority.”
The Washington Post
“McMurtry has reminded us that, in the hands of a maser, entertaining, old-fashioned storytelling rooted firmly in uniquely American experiences and landscape is pretty darn hard to beat.”
The Boston Globe
“A master.”
The Chicago Tribune
“Few authors match McMurtry’s voice of unsentimental authority.”
From the Publisher
“The celebrated novelist offers . . . fresh insights on the Custer story. . . . The distilled perceptions of a lifetime of study, beautifully illustrated.”

“Pulitzer Prize-winner McMurtry continues to be an outstanding chronicler of Western legend and lore.”

“A master.”

“One of America’s great storytellers.”

“Larry McMurtry has the power to clutch the heart and also to exhilarate.”

“Few authors match McMurtry’s voice of unsentimental authority.”

“McMurtry has reminded us that, in the hands of a maser, entertaining, old-fashioned storytelling rooted firmly in uniquely American experiences and landscape is pretty darn hard to beat.”

“McMurtry’s book does what dozens of others on Custer have not. It cuts through many of the myths. . . . It’s entertaining and educational at the same time.”

“It is plain speaking that McMurtry delivers . . . the same laconic, whimsical voice that makes his novels so entertaining and readable. The effect is as if one is sitting in a small lecture hall, listening as McMurtry tells his stories from a few notes in a rambling style . . . often revealing and insightful as well as wry and funny.”

“Larry McMurtry, chronicler of the American West, takes on the controversial figure of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in his newest book . . . to contribute to the canon with a short biography that would help bring the complex man into focus.”

The Sacramento Bee
“The foremost chronicler of the American West adds new perspective to our understanding of the frontier experience with this coffee-table-format biography of George Custer.”
Pryor Daily Times (Oklahoma)
“It’s a keeper. . . . If you’re into Custerology or if you’re a history buff, there’s one word to remember when asked what you want this gift-giving season: ‘Custer.’ Because it’s truly impressive.”
The Chicago Sun Times
"Entertaining and educational at the same time . . . McMurtry's book does what dozens of others on Custer have not. It cuts through the myths, including what was actually said at the battle on June 25, 1876."
Library Journal
McMurtry on George Armstrong Custer; that should be larger than life. With no cavalry survivors and only scattered Indian accounts after Custer and his 7th Cavalry attacked a large Lakota Cheyenne village on the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory, it's hard to say what really happened on that hot June day in 1876. But McMurtry's account of the man should be vivid—for one thing, there are 150 four-color illustrations.
Kirkus Reviews
A Pulitzer Prize winner's idiosyncratic take on one of American history's great blunderers. Clearly well-read on the subject--McMurtry (Hollywood: A Third Memoir, 2011, etc.) generously refers readers to Evan Connell, Nathaniel Philbrick and others for more detailed information--once the owner of a vast collection of Custer-ology, twice a visitor to the Little Big Horn battlefield, the celebrated novelist offers not quite a history and barely the "short life of Custer" he proposes. Rather, this effort is best understood as an informed commentary on the dashing cavalry officer and on the Custer moment, the closing of "the narrative of American settlement," which featured an unusual twist: a dramatic victory by the ultimate losers, the Native Americans. A few of McMurtry's observations are not especially interesting (the author's own encounters with the Crow and Cheyenne tribes), and some wander off topic (Sitting Bull's passion for Annie Oakley), but many offer fresh insights on the Custer story. McMurtry fruitfully muses on the striking similarities between Custer and another overhyped western legend, John C. Fremont, the "confusion of tongues" that complicated the period of Western settlement, the willingness of Custer's Indian scouts to accompany their commander to a certain death, George and Libbie Custer's complicated marriage and the "modern" (in 1876) media mechanisms poised to supercharge Custer's fame. Many products of that publicity machine are spectacularly reproduced here, including photos, maps, paintings, lithographs, posters, magazine covers and newspaper headlines, all of which attest to the national fascination with this endlessly revisited story and with the man whose final message to his subordinate--"Come on, be quick. Be quick"--went tragically unheeded. The distilled perceptions of a lifetime of study, beautifully illustrated.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781451626223
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
11/06/2012
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
192
Sales rank:
224,203
File size:
112 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Larry McMurtry is the author of twenty-nine novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove, three memoirs, two collections of essays, and more than thirty screenplays. He lives in Archer City, Texas.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Archer City, Texas
Date of Birth:
June 3, 1936
Place of Birth:
Wichita Falls, Texas
Education:
B.A., North Texas State University, 1958; M.A., Rice University, 1960. Also studied at Stanford University.

Read an Excerpt

BY 1876, THE YEAR THE Battle of the Little Bighorn was fought, the United States had become a nation of some forty million people, the vast majority of whom had never seen a fighting Indian—not, that is, unless they happened to glimpse one or another of the powerful Indian leaders whom the government periodically paraded through Washington or New York, usually Red Cloud, the powerful Sioux diplomat, who made a long-winded speech at Cooper Union in 1870. Or, it might be Spotted Tail, of the Brulé Sioux; or American Horse, or even, if they were lucky, Sitting Bull, who hated whites, the main exceptions being Annie Oakley, his “Little Sure Shot,” or Buffalo Bill Cody, who once described Sitting Bull as “peevish,” surely the understatement of the century. Sitting Bull often tried to marry Annie Oakley, who was married; he did not succeed.

The main purpose of this parading of Native American leaders—better not call them chiefs, not a title the red man accepted, or cared to use in their tribal life—was to overwhelm the Indians with their tall buildings, large cannon, and teeming masses, so they would realize the futility of further resistance. The Indians saw the point with perfect clarity, but continued to resist anyway. They were fighting for their culture, which was all they had.

One white who recognized this was the young cavalry officer George Armstrong Custer himself, who, in his flamboyant autobiography, My Life on the Plains, makes this point:

If I were an Indian I think that I would greatly prefer to cast my lot with those of my people who adhered to the free life of the plains rather than to the limits of a reservation, there to be the recipient of the blessed benefits of civilization, with the vices thrown in without stint or measure.

Captain Frederick Benteen, who hated Custer and made no secret of it, called Custer’s book My Lie on the Plains. Yet the book, despite its inaccuracies, is still readable today.

Ulysses S. Grant, who didn’t like Custer either, had this to say about the dreadful loss of life at the Little Bighorn:

I regard Custer’s massacre as a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself, that was wholly unnecessary. . . . He was not to have made the attack before effecting the juncture with Generals Terry and Gibbon. Custer had been notified to meet them, but instead of marching slowly, as his orders required, in order to effect that juncture on the 26th, he entered upon a forced march of eighty-three miles in twenty-four hours, and thus had to meet the Indians alone.

That comment made Custer’s widow, Libbie Custer, an enemy of Grant for life.

Thinking back on a number of important issues, Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux made this comment: “The Whites made us many promises, more than I can remember,” he said. “But they only kept one. They said they would take our land and they took it.”

RED CLOUD ADDRESSING A NEW YORK AUDIENCE.

Crazy Horse, now thought by many to be the greatest Sioux warrior, refused to go to Washington. He didn’t need to see tall buildings, big cannon, or teeming masses to know that his people’s situation was dire. After the victory at the Little Bighorn the smart Indians all knew that they were playing an endgame. The white leaders—Crook, Miles, Terry, Mackenzie—especially Mackenzie—were even so impolite as to fight in the dead of winter, something they didn’t often do, although the Sioux Indians did wipe out the racist Captain Fetterman and his eighty men on the day of the winter solstice in 1866.

In Texas the so-called Red River War had ended in 1875 and some of its fighting talent, especially Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, went north to help out and did help out.

LINCOLN MEETS CUSTER, OCT. 3, 1862, AT ANTIETAM.

In the East and Midwest, as people became increasingly urbanized or suburbanized, these settled folk developed a huge appetite for stories of Western violence. Reportage suddenly surged; the New York Times and other major papers kept stringers all over the West, to report at once Sitting Bull’s final resistance, or some mischief of Billy the Kid’s or the Earps’ revenge or any other signal violence that might have occurred. Publicity from the frontier helped keep Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show thriving. For a time the railroad bookstores groaned with dime novels describing Western deeds, the bloodier the better. (See Richard Slotkin’s masterpiece The Fatal Environment for a brilliant analysis of how the frontier affected our increasing urbanization.)

By Cody’s day, indeed, the press had the power to make legends, names with an almost worldwide resonance. One of the legends that hasn’t faded was that of the scruffy New Mexico outlaw Bill Bonney (one of several names he used), or Billy the Kid—no angel, it is true, but by no means the most deadly outlaw of his time. That was probably the sociopath John Wesley Hardin.

The other legend that remains very much alive is Custer’s. The Battle of the Little Bighorn is considered by able historians to be one of the most important battles in world history, a claim we’ll deal with in due course.

What Billy the Kid and Custer had in common was fighting; it’s what we remember them for. Both died young, Billy the Kid at twenty-two and Custer at a somewhat weathered thirty-seven. Custer had barely managed to graduate from the military academy (34th out of 34) and then walked right into one of the biggest fights of all time, the American Civil War, a conflict in which 750,000 men lost their lives—warfare on a scale far different from the small-scale range wars that Billy the Kid engaged in.

In the Civil War, Custer’s flair as a cavalry officer was immediately manifest; it found him at war’s end the youngest major general in the U.S. Army. Custer’s ambition, throughout his career, was furthered by the short, brusque General Philip Sheridan, of whom it was said that his head was so lumpy that he had trouble finding a hat that fit.

PHILIP HENRY SHERIDAN.

Not only did Custer have disciplinary problems at West Point, he continued to have disciplinary problems until the moment of his death, June 25, 1876. One thing was for sure: Custer would fight. Time after time his dash and aggression was rewarded, by Sheridan and others.

Ulysses Grant, also a man who would fight, came to distrust Custer—or maybe he just didn’t like him. Grant was never convinced that Custer’s virtues offset his liabilities.

Before the Battle of the Washita (1868), Custer was court-martialed on eight counts, the most serious being his abandonment of his command—he drifted off in search of his wife. He was convicted on all eight counts and put on the shelf for a year; though long before the year was up Sheridan was lobbying to get him back in the saddle.

SHERIDAN WITH CUSTER, THOMAS DEVIN, JAMES FORSYTH, AND WESLEY MERRITT, BY MATTHEW BRADY.

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