In addition to my love of the Wild West, I'm also a big fan of classic films and Western movies. I've watched quite a few movies on General George Armstrong Custer over the years, including my favorite, the 1991 film Son of the Morning Star. The script for Son of the Morning Star was written by Melissa Mathison, actor Harrison Ford's wife, who attempted to show the story from the perspective of the people who were closely involved in Custer's life, including his wife, Elizabeth Bacon Custer, or Libby.
However, in order to fully understand the many fictional portrayals, I believe it is important to study the historical facts, which is one of the many reasons why I am recommending the American Experience episode Custer's Last Stand, premiering January 17, 2012 at 8/7c on PBS. American Experience has a tradition of providing detailed, factual information on historical events. They also provide essays, videos, and other resources on the America Experience website.
For those of you unfamiliar with his story, General George Armstrong Custer was the son of an Ohio blacksmith. Many historians have stated that Custer was embarrassed by his humble origins. My own ancestors are from Ohio and they played various roles in the function of small Ohio towns. I would hope that they were proud of their contributions to their communities. They were not wealthy, but their jobs were vital to the success of the town, as was that of a blacksmith.
Custer, however, seemed to view his father's job the way many view the job of an auto repairmen--hard, dirty work with low pay--without understanding the importance of transportation to the rest of the community. His personal opinion of his family's "station" in the community contributed to his own ambitious approach to life. Custer was determined to become famous, and at this, he did succeed.
Custer attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York and fought bravely during the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War. When the building of the railroads created conflicts with the Cheyenne and Arapaho, the now-famous Custer was commanded to follow the Indians through their territory. At one point, he became so frustrated by this task that he left his soldiers and dashed home to spend one day alone with his true love, his wife, Libby. He was court martialed and suspended, but redeemed himself--in the eyes of the Army--with the brutal attack on the Cheyenne in 1868 and the slaughter of over 100 women and children. In 1874, he was sent into the Black Hills on a survey expedition. The beginning of the end of Custer's story.
On June 26, 1876, General George Armstrong Custer and 261 soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry were killed by Cheyenne and Lakota warriors. The battle took place along the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory. There is no beauty in war, and sadly, this horrific moment, his moment of death, known as Custer's Last Stand, would secure General George Armstrong Custer's name in the history books. The details of this event are still a mystery, disputed to this day.
Custer's Last Stand is a two hour American Experience biography of General George Armstrong Custer, exploring every aspect of his life, from his early years in Ohio to his heroism during the American Civil War, his controversial, brutal treatment of Indians of the American southern plains, and his exploits in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
For more information on Custer's Last Stand visit these education resources:
An Introduction to Custer's Last Stand on the American Experience website.
Preview of Custer's Last Stand.
Timeline of Custer's Last Stand.
Photo gallery of Custer's Last Stand.
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