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My Life on the Plains: Or Personal Experiences With Indians (Classic Reprint) Paperback – August 3, 2012
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About the Author
George Armstrong Custer was an 1861 West Point graduate and a dashing officer in the United States Cavalry during the Civil War.
Edgar I. Stewart, who provided an illuminating introduction and notes, was a distinguished Western historian, perhaps best known for his incomparable account of the events leading to the Custer disaster-Custer's Luck, also published by the University of Oklahoma Press.
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But the combination of a bibliography from a good book and the availability you get from Amazon Prime - my library is every growing. "Undaunted Courage" by Steven Ambrose spawned "On the Border with Mackenzie" by Captain Robert Carter. "Custer's Trials" by T.J. Stiles spawned "My Life on the Plains" by General Custer.
With "Life on the Plains", I got exactly what I wanted - a first-hand account of the situation with the Cheyennes, Arapahoes and Souix etc. from someone who was actually there. As for style of authorship, I find General Custer's style takes some getting used to - what with the classic run-on sentences and double negatives (e.g. "not unlike") but hey! That was the style of writing in the latter 1800's (with the possible exception of Mark Twain).
If you want a true accounting for not only what was going on in the frontier, how silly the political backdrop was on "the Indian problem", how in those days a different breed of courageous men and women inhabited the plains and how sad it was that the indigenous culture was exterminated in the way it was.
I would throw away a lifetime of smartphones, texting, Facebook and all the rest of today's useless addendums to live one day on the frontier!
Buy this book! You will be glad you did!
I've also been to his boyhood home in teeny New Rumley, Ohio - his adult home in Monroe, Michigan, his battlefield deployment at Gettysburg, his headquarters at Ft. Riley, Kansas, have driven part of his route through the Black Hills, motorcycled over much of his trail in Wyoming and, of course, visited the battle site at the Little Bighorn in Montana.
But until this passed week I had never read anything but random excerpts from the most famous book written by Mr. Custer himself.... that being "My Life on the Plains".
The book was actually the aggregate of articles Custer sent to "Galaxy" magazine which they published in serial beginning in 1872. The manuscript covered the Indian campaigns of 1867-69, a busy time on the Plains and which included the Fetterman and Kidder massacres, the Morgan rescue and the "battle" of the Washita. So it is his first-hand take on several events that have been cussed and discussed for more than a century.
Traditional criticism of Custer has always included that he was a "show-off" and sometimes rash. A little of that aptitude for self-promotion does appear in his work but, when measured by the style of the times (or compared with today!), it is really hard to fault him because some genuine humility does show though too... and the fact is, he did do some pretty amazing things.
Many would be surprised at the amount of compassion that shows through too - even while the standard callousness of the period is in evidence. There can be no doubt that within Custer was an empathy for the Indian that was sincere and well ahead of his times.
Custer's writing also displays more than a little skill with the written word and no small amount of actual Grace when referring to those whom he would have had every motivation to speak harshly of. More than once he elevates himself with the sparsity of his criticism of others and he presents several "character sketches" that show a real warmth and appreciation for a wide variety of people.
But the nicest surprise is to see first-hand Gen. Custer's sense of Humor - a very pleasant element that is mentioned by other writers only in a manner intended to cast him as a rough-edged hayseed. Custer's wit was that deliciously sly wit that would have served him well hosting "The Tonight Show" or something similar were he around today. George Custer - in the context of himself - comes across as a fellow who would be very interesting and grand fun to meet, albeit much less fun to ride with.
The storyline of the book (the notoriety of its' author and protagonist aside) is an interesting and poignant portrait of fascinating times and events interspersed with tempered, reasonable, and sometimes embarrassingly accurate comment on issues of great import not only then, but now - primarily the government's stance(s) toward the indigenous peoples of the land. Thankfully, Custer, unlike many of his era, was sufficiently skilled with his pen and his judgment to present his political observations in brief doses. They are well worth the read.
"My Life on the Plains" is a very good read - a nice "get away" read that will display for the reader a fascinating and entertaining panorama of real times and real events and real people - all of which are part of the real heritage of every one of us.
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I cannot praise Custer enough having read in his own words what his thoughts were in...Read more