A Complete Life of General George A. Custer - Vol. 2

A Complete Life of General George A. Custer - Vol. 2

A Complete Life of General George A. Custer - Vol. 2

A Complete Life of General George A. Custer - Vol. 2

Excerpt

by Robert M. Utley

Early in 1942, at the impressionable age of twelve, I thrilled to Errol Flynn's portrayal of General Custer in They Died with Their Boots On. That prompted a visit to the public library of Lafayette, Indiana, and my introduction to Frederick Whittaker Life of Custer. This massive tome, which must have challenged the reading skills of a seventh-grader, reinforced the movie version, and George Armstrong Custer became my boyhood hero-a soldier, as Whittaker phrased it poetically, with "no spot on his armor," a man with "no taint on his honor."

No serious student of General Custer can ignore Whittaker's book. It is significant both as a contribution to legend and as a contribution (although some of it is bad) to history.

The contribution to legend is the more important. In the lavish hyperbole of the dime novels and penny dreadfuls in which he specialized, Whittaker created a demigod. Custer was the best general of horse in all American history, the nation's preeminent Indian fighter and plainsman, and a paragon of virtue in whom "truth and sincerity, honor and bravery, tenderness and sympathy, unassuming piety and temperance, were the mainspring of Custer, the man."

Reviewers were quick to point out flaws in the portrait and errors of fact and interpretation in the history. But the swashbuckling image, redolent of cavalier heroics and magnified by the drama and tragedy of the Little Bighorn, found high favor with a Victorian America that prized uncomplicated idols.

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