Stunning photographs of the famed battle at Little Bighorn highlight this impressive volume containing a vivid non-fiction narrative of General Custer's last battle.
I was looking for a book that would go a long way in providing an objective view of the events surrounding The Battle of the Little Bighorn and found such a book in Son of the Morning Star.
Evan S. Connell does a masterful job of telling the story. He provides excellent background history and tells how information, or the lack thereof, available to Custer at the time may have contributed to his ultimate demise. Arrogance and racism have long been attributed to Custer's disastrous campaign but Connell helps paint probably the most accurate and objective portrait of the colorful general to date. Custer was arrogant but Connell shows that there was much more to the story.
A great read!
A good short example from Connell's work begins with: "Then along came Blanche Boies, disciple of Carrie Nation." And Connell relates how in 1904 Blanche took a woodcutter's ax to a copy of Otto Becker's 1895 lithograph of Custer's last stand, which at the time was hanging in the Kansas State Historical Society in Fort Riley (the Seventh Cavalry's home fort). The reason Blanche axed the picture was that it had upon it an advertisement for Anheuser-Busch beer, Mr. Busch having come into possession of the picture before the Historical Society did. In less than a page, Connell decribes the law's attempts to dissuade Blanche from doing her duty to the lithograph and how she persisted and succeeded in the end. A very funny little story, painted with the strokes of a master.
I do have one problem with Son of the Morning Star, which in fact was described as a "masterpiece" by Larry McMurtry in a letter to the New York Review of Books in 1999, a long fifteen years after the book was published. Evan Connell has a lot to say -- and a lot with little good -- about soldiers, the U.S. Government, Indian Agents, indians themselves, settlers and gold rushers, and the American public. As a dedicated misanthropist, I thought I had recognized a fellow soul in the author. Until I read Connell's characterization of the "constellation of traits in Custer. . (like). . .a demigod. . .Siegfried, Roland, Galahad." Now, I can go with Siegfried and Roland, but Galahad? Of the very few references to women other than Elizabeth Custer in the book's Index, there's Clara Blinn, a kidnapped white who with her infant son was in Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle's village when the Seventh massacred it in 1868. Subsequently, the Blinns' bodies were found near the village, the mother shot twice through the head, the infant's body so "little marked" that Connell surmises he was slung against a tree. Mrs. Blinn had got out a note to the U.S. Army pleading to be rescued but as Connell writes: "If Custer knew about this frantic plea, it made no difference. . . .His concern was . . .the destruction of an enemy stronghold." Custer loved children and animals, fine music, books, and battle, but from the evidence in Son of the Morning Star, he paid little attention to women, including his dear wife Elizabeth. And that's not my idea of a Galahad.
Maybe I'm picking nits here, maybe that's the way it was out West then, maybe the author's subject was really the battle in some sense, and not George Armstrong Custer. But my overall impression remains: Connell treated Custer considerably more favorably than the groups mentioned above. Accordingly, I think the book contains Custer-puffing and I'd hold back the word masterpiece from describing it.
Nonetheless and howsoever, this almost-materpiece by Evan Connell is some kind of a read, and I give it a high four stars.