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Shooting Arrows and Slinging Mud: Custer, the Press, and the Little Bighorn [Kindle Edition]

James E. Mueller
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews


“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

About 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.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3763 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press (November 7, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00GJ8A606
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,262,825 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book. January 8, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Great book. Well written and documented. A comprehensive look at several intriguing and important aspects of press coverage of the Custer Battle
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Professor Mueller both tells a fascinating story in the best tradition of investigative journalism and at the same time explodes several myths that have grown up around this larger-than-life character of the post civil war decades. What is more, Mueller draws out relevant and insightful lessons from history that are apropos to the interface between war, politics and the press in this century. This is a must read for anyone interested in the "Indian Wars," nineteenth century history or the news media, whether one is a specialist or just a curious lay reader.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This concise, well-written book offers a new perspective (at least for me) on the Battle of the Little Bighorn; specifically, that of the national press of 1876. Each chapter after the first, which briefly summarizes the history of George Custer and the basics of what's known about his "Last Stand" on that fateful June day, covers different aspects of the press' coverage relative to the event.

Chapter 2, for example, covers the public impact of the first reports of the disaster (which, of necessity came days to weeks afterward). Chapter 3 surveys subsequent efforts to affix blame for the defeat as seen through the eyes of Republican, Democratic and Independent newspaper editors. Chapter 4 is especially informative given that the presidential election held later that year would prove to be especially contentious, and the closest such election in our history. Indeed, Mueller reports at length in Chapter 4 on the way in which newspapers of the day related (or didn't relate) Custer's defeat to the presidential campaign.

Subsequent chapters (the book contains a total of eight) show how different newspapers viewed Indians in the aftermath of the battle. Some editors and public dignitaries "brayed" for their outright extermination, but others counseled increased efforts at assimilation. A large number, although calling for harsh measures for "off-the-reservation" Indians, acknowledged that unscrupulous governmental agents and legislators had systematically cheated and lied to the Indians from the start, and that governmental policies toward even the peaceful "reservation" Indians were disgraceful and in need of reform. Even Custer was quoted as having said at one time that if he were an Indian he'd fight for his rights and his land.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Meticulous research; finely crafted June 21, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Professor Meuller has written a fine work on an event that has kept a place in historical memory for nearly a century and a half. His combination of historical and journalistic insight was fascinating, and his tying 19th century coverage to current media was a brilliant conclusion.
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3.0 out of 5 stars a non-fiction on the Little Bighorn? March 9, 2014
An incisive analysis on Custer and the Little Bighorn based on the myriad materials culled from many newspapers of yore. The impression one gets from the book is the author-journalist somehow wavers between a non-fiction and a graduate textbook on journalism, possibly on content analysis. Can the two categories of written work go together?
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