Crazy Horse and Custer by Stephen E. Ambrose

Review published on December 16, 2017.

On December 5th 1839, George Armstrong Custer was born. Sometime around that era a Native American was born who became known as ‘Curly’ on account of his hair, although after time passed, he took his father’s name: Crazy Horse. As these two boys grew up into adulthood, their lives, although vastly differing, shared a more or less constant parallel. They met only the twice, both occasions were on the battlefield, the last time was at The Little Big Horn. They both died within a year of each other.

Stephen E. Ambrose has written a first rate book entitled Crazy Horse and Custer. It is a marvellous, in-depth look at how the two men individually grew up, their mutual respect for their peers, their entire childhood histories as far as is known is all here. As far as Crazy Horse or ‘Curly’s’ life is concerned, it is a superbly analytical look at how the Native Americans lived, loved, and cherished their homeland until the ‘Whiteman’ came and effectively destroyed an entire race of peoples. The American Civil War created officer class soldiers of a high calibre, Custer amongst them. His fame stretched into the civilian populace, and with it he became noticed by the governing factions in Washington.

The reader has to maybe adopt a mind set before you can fully embrace the book, but once found the book is hard to put down. The author has previously written the bestseller Band of Brothers amongst others, so is well qualified to write this treatise on the lives of the two characters.

I am convinced Ambrose has no particular axe to grind, but within the narrative one gets the feeling that the American government of the day was an embarrassment to him, especially as he relates how they systematically lied, cheated, cajoled, murdered and harassed the indigenous peoples of America back in the 1800s. The well-documented comments by the great and good within the government, about how they orchestrated the wholesale slaughter of the Bison, mainly to force the Indian into being in debt to the government, and thus being at their mercy for everything. It does not make the reader feel good about it, far from it.

I really enjoy these historical biographies. I realise that many books have been written about The Little Big Horn and its peripheral facts, but the battle plays only a small part of this book. It mainly considers the type of people these two warriors were. In Custer’s case, we have an incredible amount of letters and books written by both himself and his wife during their shortened marriage. They help explain their devoted relationship and how it played out. One cannot help but be persuaded to believe though that Custer was an egotistical braggart throughout his life, and all he did was force the issues to further his own net gain and glory. In Crazy Horse’s history, we have numerous accounts of his exploits, despite him being very much the loner in attitude. I firmly come down on the side of Crazy Horse because of his entire lifestyle and attitude towards his people. His death neatly sums up the prevailing attitude between Whites and Reds, as it is succinctly put in the book.

An old Cree Indian prophecy neatly sums up the Indian feeling about the White usurpers:

“When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters have been polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breath, then you will discover that you cannot eat money.”

Reg Seward 5/2

Crazy Horse and Custer by Stephen E. Ambrose
Simon & Schuster UK 9780743468640 pbk Jun 2003

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