Shooting Arrows and Slinging Mud: Custer, the Press, and the Little Bighorn

Overview


The defeat of George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn was big news in 1876. Newspaper coverage of the battle initiated hot debates about whether the U.S. government should change its policy toward American Indians and who was to blame for the army’s loss—the latter, an argument that ignites passion to this day. In Shooting Arrows and Slinging Mud, James E. Mueller draws on exhaustive research of period newspapers to explore press coverage of the famous battle. As he ...
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Shooting Arrows and Slinging Mud: Custer, the Press, and the Little Bighorn

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Overview


The defeat of George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn was big news in 1876. Newspaper coverage of the battle initiated hot debates about whether the U.S. government should change its policy toward American Indians and who was to blame for the army’s loss—the latter, an argument that ignites passion to this day. In Shooting Arrows and Slinging Mud, James E. Mueller draws on exhaustive research of period newspapers to explore press coverage of the famous battle. As he analyzes a wide range of accounts—some grim, some circumspect, some even laced with humor—Mueller offers a unique take on the dramatic events that so shook the American public.

Among the many myths surrounding the Little Bighorn is that journalists of that time were incompetent hacks who, in response to the stunning news of Custer’s defeat, called for bloodthirsty revenge against the Indians and portrayed the “boy general” as a glamorous hero who had suffered a martyr’s death. Mueller argues otherwise, explaining that the journalists of 1876 were not uniformly biased against the Indians, and they did a credible job of describing the battle. They reported facts as they knew them, wrote thoughtful editorials, and asked important questions.

Although not without their biases, journalists reporting on the Battle of the Little Bighorn cannot be credited—or faulted—for creating the legend of Custer’s Last Stand. Indeed, as Mueller reveals, after the initial burst of attention, these journalists quickly moved on to other stories of their day. It would be art and popular culture—biographies, paintings, Wild West shows, novels, and movies—that would forever embed the Last Stand in the American psyche.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Back when newspapers were the primary source of information, opinion, and entertainment in America, when even small towns had competing papers with divergent political and religious affiliations, the public formed its views on current events mostly from what appeared in the press. Shooting Arrows and Slinging Mud is a rich, readable study of the newspaper response in 1876 to Custer’s disastrous defeat at the Little Bighorn––a response that proved instrumental in creating the enduring fascination with Custer's Last Stand.”—Brian W. Dippie, author of Custer’s Last Stand: The Anatomy of an American Myth

“The journalists who covered the Battle of the Little Bighorn in the immediate aftermath of Custer’s defeat set the framework for all subsequent discussions and debates about Custer’s Last Stand, a framework that continues to reverberate in modern journalism, the academic world, and popular culture today. James Mueller here provides a most thorough review of that early coverage. His study underscores how Custer’s critics and fans alike remain so indebted to the first generation of reporters and editors to comment on those stunning events.”—Sandy Barnard, coauthor of Where Custer Fell: Photographs of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Then and Now

Library Journal
11/01/2013
The jolting news of the defeat of the Seventh Cavalry, the death of the Custer brothers, and the victory of the allied Western Plains Indian forces at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 came to a post-Civil War nation trying to rally behind a national centennial celebration. Mueller (journalism, Univ. of North Texas; Towel Snapping the Press: Bush's Journey from Locker-Room Antics to Message Control) covers the process of the news reporting on the battle, from army scout Muggins Taylor's initial report to officials at Fort Ellis, Montana Territory, to its appearance in newspapers across the nation. Tracking the coverage along the political spectrum, Mueller analyzes the reporting compared to other news stories and so, in the process, provides readers with a fascinating overview of the postwar political landscape. Mueller examines the attempts by reporters to first determine fact from fiction, the use of the news by politicians seeking reelection, the Hamburg, SC, race riots that nearly reignited a second Civil War and overshadowed reports of the distant "Custer Massacre," editorials ranging from calls for genocide to defense of Indian rights, and the use of humor to deal with the tragic news (e.g., Custer's "Sioux-icide"). VERDICT Mueller's book is to be admired for its engaging method as well as the freshness of its content. Destined to be the starting point for any future research on news coverage of the Little Bighorn battle, this title is highly recommended for both academic and general readers.—Nathan Bender, Albany Cty. P.L., Laramie, WY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806143989
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 10/9/2013
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 775,811
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


James E. Mueller is Professor of Journalism at the University of North Texas. A veteran reporter himself, he is the author of Towel Snapping the Press: Bush's Journey from Locker-Room Antics to Message Control and Tag Teaming the Press: How Bill and Hillary Clinton Work Together to Handle the Press.
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