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American Experience: Custer's Last Stand

4.1 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Follow General George Armstrong Custer from his memorable, wild charge at Gettysburg to his lonely, untimely death on the windswept Plains of the West. On June 26, 1876, Custer, a reputation for fearless and often reckless courage ordered his soldiers to drive back a large army of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. By days end, Custer and nearly a third of his army were dead.


A Warrior s Quest for Fame, Ending in a Last Stand

It s too bad reality television didn t come along about a century earlier than it did. There might never have been a Battle of the Little Bighorn because George A. Custer would have channeled his energy into competing on Dancing With the Stars instead.

In a fascinating American Experience, Custer s Last Stand, to be shown Tuesday on PBS, Custer emerges as a classic fame addict, tasting public adoration early because of his battlefield exploits during the Civil War but never quite being able to say, I had a nice run; now I have my memories. Instead he kept looking for opportunities to return to the limelight and embellish his legend.

Today, of course, we have outlets for people who want another dose of fame and don t care how they get it: they can create a degrading reality TV show along the lines of The Osbournes or sign up for a spectacle like Dancing With the Stars.

Custer would have been perfect on that show. He was no doubt in great shape from all that horse-riding, and with the right partner he could have certainly left clods like Bristol Palin and David Arquette in the dust. But instead he kept pursuing the spotlight the only way he knew, through military adventurism, with increasing recklessness.

Custer had incredible success at a very young age, and the qualities that made him a success his daring, his flamboyance were qualities of youth, says Michael A. Elliott, a cultural historian and one of several engaging experts who propel the program along. I think throughout his entire life he worried that the clock was running out, and that if he didn t achieve a kind of permanent glory before a certain point in his life, he would never have the chance. He was somebody who was really preparing to kind of go for broke.

Fame lust, though, is only one of the intriguing present-day echoes in the story of Custer, who was just 36 when he and all his men were killed in 1876 in a clash with a much larger Indian force at the Little Bighorn River, in what is now Montana. A video showing Marines urinating on dead enemy fighters may be causing an uproar at the moment, but the attitude is nothing new. Custer and his troops once desecrated an Indian burial ground, we re told. And earlier, in 1868, he and his cavalry had attacked an Indian encampment at the Washita River in Oklahoma under dubious circumstances, killing women, children and elderly tribe members in addition to some warriors.

To attack at dawn, the historian Philip J. Deloria says on the program, speaking of this engagement, to attack a village that s full of a few warriors, a lot of women, a lot of children, and to kill indiscriminately, as often happens in these battles, this is a new kind of warfare, and it reflects contempt for Indian people as human beings. And Custer s right there at the heart of it.

Such a résumé can make Custer feel as much of this time as of his own.

The way that Americans sometimes rush into a military action, the way that America has treated American Indians and other peoples now around the world these are questions that are really raw and nagging, Mr. Elliott says. We haven t resolved them, and until we do we re going to keep returning to Custer and the controversies that surround him. --NEIL GENZLINGER for the New York Times

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: .
  • Directors: Stephen Ives
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Dolby, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Parental Guidance Suggested
  • Studio: PBS
  • DVD Release Date: January 24, 2012
  • Run Time: 120 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00652U6JC
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,977 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James D. Miller on January 16, 2012
The massacre of George Armstrong Custer and the 261 men of the 7th U.S. Cavalry under his command on June 25th & 26th, 1876 at the Battle of Little Bighorn looms large in the American psyche. The image of Custer himself depends largely from which vantage point you study him. The man of American myth and memory can be seen as a martyr, a hero or a villain; a loving husband and a strict disciplinarian; a general and a fool; an egomaniac and a romantic.

The critically acclaimed PBS documentary series "American Experience" explores the life of George Armstrong Custer in a 2 hour episode entitled "Custer's Last Stand." Beginning with Custer's battle with the Confederate cavalry under J.E.B. Stewart on July 3rd 1863 at Gettysburg, writer and director Steven Ives, presents Custer's life in linear chronological order with occasional flashes back to his less than illustrious career as a cadet at the American Military Academy at West Point, and his courtship of and marriage to Elizabeth Bacon.

After the war the army shrank and Custer went from being a Major General of volunteers to a captain in the regular army. In short order he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 7th U.S. Cavalry and took up residence at Ft. Riley, Kansas. He took part in Major General Winfield Scott Hancock's expedition against the Cheyenne in 1867, from which campaign he returned to Fort Riley without leave to Libby's loving embrace, an act for which he was court martialed, found guilty and was suspended for one year without pay.

Custer's suspension was short lived, and he soon found himself called back to duty. Under the orders of Major General Philip Sheridan, Custer led the 7th Cavalry in an attack against the winter encampment of the Cheyenne chief Black Kettle on the Washita River.
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Custer was such a rock star in his time that, when the news of his death spread across the country, Americans reacted to it with the same shock and disbelief we felt upon hearing the news of President Kennedy's death, or the attacks of September 11th. He was the gallant and reckless brave Civil War hero, the glorious Indian fighter of the West. It was not possible that he could be defeated by a bunch of godless "savages". For those that know his name and of the battle, but not much detail regarding either, this DVD provides enough information to satisfy. I am among those who are endlessly fascinated with the topic, therefore I was hoping for more information than was presented. I expected a two hour discussion of the events leading up to the battle, including more Native American perspective. It was more a Custer bio than a true study of the actual battle. The Little Big Horn Fight is discussed only in the last 20 minutes or so. Sitting Bull is mentioned,(he actually did not play a significant role in the actual fighting) but no mention at all of Crazy Horse, who was responsible for rallying warriors and leading charges against Custer and his men. No mention of Gall, who, after his family was killed during Reno's attack, distinguished himself as one of the best Sioux tacticians that day. One aspect of the DVD I did enjoy, were all the photos of Custer, some of which I hadn't seen before.(more photos exist of Custer than of Lincoln... he was great at self promotion) It will forever be debated if Custer alone was responsible for his death, and the deaths of over 200 of his men. Was he impetuous and fool hardly or let down and abandoned by Reno and Benteen. Custer always said he if he had a choice, he would choose to follow those who refused to settle on a reservation.Read more ›
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The Fort Laramie Treaty in 1868 designated the Great Sioux Reservation to encompassed most of South Dakota and the Black Hills. This land was granted to the Sioux and Lakota Indian bands. Sitting Bull was the leader, who was looked up to during a time of cataclysmic change in their lives as the white civilization encroached on them. Publicly, the U.S. government supported the Lakota's rights to the Black Hills. Privately, Washington wanted to move in white settlements and render the Fort Laramie Treaty null and void. On July 30, 1874, gold was discovered in the Black Hills. By the fall of 1875, more than 15,000 miners had come to the Black Hills area, establishing the towns of Custer and Deadwood. The U.S. government, to avert clashes between gold miners and Indians, offered the Lakotas $6 million which they turned down. On November 3, 1874, President Ulysses Grant issued an ultimatum that in effect forced the Lakotas to sell the Black Hills. About 18 months later, on May 17, 1876, the Seventh Cavalry under General Custer began their 700-mile journey from Fort Lincoln near Bismarck, N.D., to remove the Lakota. Chief Sitting Bull was expecting, over these months, that an attack might be imminent. He put the word out to the surrounding Sioux and Cheyenne bands of the threat he was facing. Chief Sitting Bull pulls his people together, he recruits and gathers a huge resistance force to stave of any incursion. Hundreds heeded his call and came to unify and hunker down with the Lakotas. They felt they had no where to turn or escape to from this assault; this was there fight for survival. Chief Sitting Bull presumed that when the cavalry came upon this enormous encampment, they would use caution and negotiate which he was prepared to do.Read more ›
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