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3/5 (9 évaluations)
249 pages
2 heures
Nov 6, 2012


This lavishly illustrated volume reassesses and celebrates the life and legacy of the West’s most legendary figure, George Armstrong Custer, from “one of America’s great storytellers” (The Wall Street Journal).

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.

In this lavishly illustrated volume, Larry McMurtry, the greatest chronicler of the American West, tackles for the first time the “Boy General” and his rightful place in history. Custer is 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. It is 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.
Nov 6, 2012

À propos de l'auteur

Larry McMurtry (1936–2021) was 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 lived in Archer City, Texas.

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Custer - Larry McMurtry

AT ONE TIME A PICTURE called Custer’s Last Stand hung in virtually every saloon in the land, and quite a few barbershops too. I first saw it in our small barbershop, in Archer City, Texas. A painting by Cassilly Adams, lithographed by Otto Becker, was given away by the thousands by Anheuser-Busch, the great brewing enterprise of St. Louis: General George Armstrong Custer, long locks flying, was fighting on staunchly against terrible—in fact impossible—odds. And when he fell, along with some 250 of his men, the world was no longer the same.

Buffalo Bill Cody often used a skit called Custer’s Last Rally, as the finale of his Wild West Show, bringing the notion of long flowing locks and also the notion of a last stand to much of the civilized world. Adams’s painting and Becker’s lithograph are among the most famous images to come out of America. They brought the tragedy of the Little Bighorn alive to people not yet born.

George Armstrong Custer usually wore his hair long, but on the day of the famous battle—June 25, 1876—he sported a fresh haircut. The Indian who killed him—there are several candidates—may not immediately have known who they killed. But the women of the Sioux and Cheyenne, who soon came along and pierced Custer’s eardrums with awls because he had disobeyed a perfectly clear warning from the Cheyenne chief Rock Forehead to respect the peace pipe, which Custer had smoked with him, knew exactly who they were working on. They were working on Long Hair, whose hair just didn’t happen to be long on the day he met his death.

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.


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.


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

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Ce que les gens pensent de Custer

9 évaluations / 7 Avis
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Avis des lecteurs

  • (2/5)

    I am unclear as to why this author chose as his subject someone he clearly does not like and leaves snotty and snarky comments throughout the book.

    Being that this is my first book on Gen Custer, I have no gauge for knowing what is true and what is not, as there are many many reviews on this book that claim it is inaccurate, grammatically incorrect, a bad editing job, etc.

    I will have to read other books because it is very hard to get the truth when someone is writing about someone they clearly do not like or respect.
  • (4/5)
    Listened to this... really enjoyed it!
  • (4/5)
    History on George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn. This book is filled with a lot of great information and pictures from the period as well as many art depictions of the battle. Great Coffee Table book and history.
  • (4/5)
    Very short read that opens the big questions about what Custer and Little Big Horn mean to American History. One factoid the author repeats is the US government made 341 treaties with the Native Americans and broke every one of them. I may have misremembered the exact number but the author honestly describes himself as no historian but asserts the history is disgraceful. Lots of photographs and reproductions of artwork. As James Joyce said "History is a nightmare from which I'm trying to awake."
  • (5/5)
    Beautifully illustrated "Custer" is a book in which the author's skill resides as much in the text as in the choice of pictures, some early photographs, which reveal the psychology of the participants in their youths and in the case of Custer, in his abbrieved maturity - if he ever had one. They are better than paintings in which artists try to reconstruct the grim reality of the "Last Stand". The Author stated that his intention was to complete a short biography simply because he felt the abundance of existing books about Custer and other Custerology documents did not justify a new narration of the famous battle. Yet he highlights how important was this battle despite the small number of participants and the fact it was "won by the losing side".Yet it remains that the June 25, 1876 cavalry charge of 350 troopers and officers against 2,500.00 Sious and Cheyennes warriors ..."ended the American settlement narrative".A copy of Custer's last written message to Benteen" "Come on, be quick. Be Quick. Bring Packs" are the many details that make McMurtry's book sensational, giving a glimpse into how Custer's life in the plains was perceived by his contemporaries and how it resonates to the present.Admirable book throughout. Tough men or exterminators, the judgement of history will remain that exquisite cultures were nearly anihilated by government officials who signed 350 treaties and broke each one of them. Could the West have been shared with the various native cultures who lived in their territory? The Author leaves Black Elk respond when talking over :Wounded Knee": "I did not know then how much was ended."...
  • (1/5)
    To put it simply, this is a very bad book. Larry McMurtry has written some fine books, but this is not one of them. It feels like he knocked it off over a long weekend. It is full of irrelevant asides; the structure is non existent. It feels like he tossed all the sentences up in the air, and printed them as they fell.The illustrations are beautiful, as they should be in what is essentially a picture book. But there is far too little information included: who painted this? who took this photograph and what was the occasion? This is extremely lazy and irritating.
  • (1/5)
    Custer, by Larry McMurtry, promises to bring the complexity of George Armstrong Custer to life by illuminating his difficult marriage and his glory-seeking in an assessment of Custer’s fame and the power of his personality while redefining the common understanding of the American West. This title is published by Simon & Schuster, ISBN: 978-1-4516-2622-3 as an ebook.The author begins by explaining that his work will cut through much of the irrelevant guesswork that is common in most of the writing on Custer. For example, he seriously questions the necessity of discussing why one corpse was found with 150 arrows in it. It’s irrelevant, he argues. However, in chapter 30, the author expressly raises that very question. After considering CPT Tom Custer’s death, the author is puzzled as to why 105 arrows were found in a body and that this fact should really fascinate “students of mutilation”. The narrative then launches into a lengthy comparison of Fremont, a man who was once employed as a topographer. This rather long section seems to be more of a set up for character assassination than it does with serious historical engagement. The reader is informed that Custer abandoned his men, like Fremont. Custer was court-martialed, like Fremont. Custer wanted to be president, like Fremont. Fremont is not relevant to the purpose of the book.Many of the illustrations are carelessly mislabeled. Most of the photographs have no contextual significance. One picture bears the text “Custer with his horse, Comanche” yet it is not a picture of Custer (it’s Gustav Korn) and it’s not Custer’s horse (it belonged to CPT Keogh). The picture itself was taken long after the battle anyway. Another picture is described as being Custer and the scout Curly in 1876. It isn’t. It is a picture of the scouts Goose and Bloody Knife with Custer in 1874. Lastly, a photo of “Custer and Little Wolf” is actually a photo of C. Lyon Berg taken in 1908. Incidentally Charles L. Von Berg was a known “Custer battle impostor” who claimed that he was the inspiration for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Western tales. Why are those pictures placed in those chapters? What is the relevance? There needs to be some fact checking before Simon & Schuster unleashes this inaccurate study on the public.Other examples of areas that need work are where the author claims General Custer wrote the famous last message, carried by John Martin, to Benteen. He even provides a picture of it with the actual signature, not by Custer, but by the real person who wrote the note, and the historical record bears this out, of Lt. Cooke who was Custer’s adjutant. Another is that this book claims Private Thomas Coleman was the first Soldier to arrive on the battlefield after the defeat. But this is far from true. LT Roe was the first US Soldier to see the carnage from a distance. LT Bradley, from Terry’s command, was the first physically on the battlefield, even performing the first body count before reporting the fate of the 7th Cavalry back to General Terry. Details matter. It is careless to go to print without diligent research. This book is not a reflection of serious study.Overall, I did not find any of this title’s claims to be borne out in the text. I did not find scholarly participation with the subject. Much of what I read was conjecture or inspired by rumor. The errors struck me as minor at first--surely no historian can get every detail right¬--but error compounded error so much that I was overwhelmed by the careless mistakes. I do not believe this is a good introduction to the subject of Custer and the Little Bighorn battle. It does nothing to contribute to the works already available. It does not meet a single of its intended purposes. It holds no content that is new or revealing about the topic.Almost as if the author knew the work was faulty are the final statements appearing after the bibliography where the author accuses most Custer historians of being “peculiar” and “cranky.” Perhaps it is good to listen to cranky, peculiar scholars from time to time in order to avoid academic embarrassment.