It Is a Good Day to Die: Indian Eyewitnesses Tell the Story of the Battle of Little Big Horn

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"I am an old man, and soon my spirit must leave this earth to join the spirit of my fathers. Therefore, I shall speak only the truth in telling what I know of the fight on the Little Bighorn River where General Custer was killed. Curly, who was with us, will tell you that I do not lie." So spoke White Man Runs Him, a Crow Indian who with five other Crow warriors had served as a scout for Custer's Seventh Cavalry on June 25, 1876, the day of the battle known to generations of white Americans as "Custer's Last Stand." They survived the battle, but
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Overview

"I am an old man, and soon my spirit must leave this earth to join the spirit of my fathers. Therefore, I shall speak only the truth in telling what I know of the fight on the Little Bighorn River where General Custer was killed. Curly, who was with us, will tell you that I do not lie." So spoke White Man Runs Him, a Crow Indian who with five other Crow warriors had served as a scout for Custer's Seventh Cavalry on June 25, 1876, the day of the battle known to generations of white Americans as "Custer's Last Stand." They survived the battle, but Custer and more than 250 troopers did not. Thus their accounts and those of the Lakotas and Cheyennes who triumphed at Little Bighorn (or Greasy Grass, as it was known to the Lakotas) offer the only firsthand picture of what happened that fateful day. These stories—from leaders as renowned as Black Elk and Sitting Bull, warriors such as Wooden Leg, a Cheyenne woman, and Arikara and Crow scouts—at last bring one of the most unforgettable showdowns in American history to vivid, complex, multifaceted life.

A series of eyewitness accounts of the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn and the defeat of General Custer as told by Native American participants in the war.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-A standard history for young readers involves a carefully unbiased author who assembles a coherent account from various primary and (more usually) secondary sources. Viola has taken a more daring approach. He features excerpts from the memoirs of various participants and observers of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, arranged in such a way as to provide a sense of the chaotic, violent flow of that day. Since no whites survived the battle, all of the witnesses are Native Americans, but some of them worked as scouts for the U.S. Army and thus saw the battle from a different perspective than the victors. The testimony of the narrators--including such prominent figures as Sitting Bull and Black Elk, as well as "unknowns"--is direct and vivid, revealing aspects of Native American psychology and details of battle preparation. An introduction and epilogue accompany the eyewitness accounts, thus providing readers with an overview of events leading up to, and subsequent to, the battle itself. While the inclusion of multiple narrators might be confusing, readers can consult Viola's biographical notes to identify each speaker. Furthermore, the possible confusion can in a certain sense be defended as an analogue to the disorientation of battle. The note on sources allows for further and more in-depth research. A few black-and-white reproductions and maps are scattered throughout. This is a brief, but powerful, book about an event that still attracts much attention.-Coop Renner, Coldwell Elementary-Intermediate School, El Paso, TX
Barbara Bader
The Lakota and Cheyenne annihilation of Custer's force at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, a resounding victory with grave consequences, can, for lack of white survivors, be reconstructed only from Indian sources-that is, from the eyewitness reports of participants gathered by unorthodox white historians. Viola, a historian-interpreter of long standing, has capitalized on this source material by interweaving the accounts of thirteen veterans, two of them Indian scouts with Custer, to create a narrative montage not unlike the soundtrack of a Ken Burns documentary. The Arikara and Crow scouts have misgivings from the start. Black Elk sees panic arrested, reversed, by the cry "Crazy Horse is coming!" Antelope Woman, who likes to watch battle ("I had often been teased about it"), searches for her nephew, Noisy Walking, who is found by a friend, "badly wounded." Wooden Leg preens himself in his "soldier clothing," aware that it doesn't fit. Sitting Bull laments that his people did not heed his warning against taking the dead soldiers' gear. "Indians who set their hearts upon the goods of the white man will be at his mercy and will starve at his hands." Spoken as readers' theater by thirteen young people, the words would have a powerful effect. Viola adds an account of the tragic, Indian-decimating aftermath, thumbnail bios of the thirteen witnesses, a chronology of events from 1852 to 1890, and a note on sources, highlighting the role of physician-historian Thomas Marquis. Regrettably, the first-rate text comes in a drab package, with inadequate maps and insignificant illustrations. But no other juvenile treatment of the battle is nearly as full, authentic, and immediate.
--Horn Book
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780517709122
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 6/1/1998
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 101
  • Age range: 10 - 16 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.23 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Herman J. Viola was director of the National Anthropological Archives. His many books include Little Bighorn Remembered: The Untold Indian Story of Custer's Last Stand.
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