My Life on the Plains
On this date in 1873, George Custer celebrated his thirty-third birthday at Fort Lincoln with his wife Libbie. He occupied his time writing his memoirs. Much of the material had been published in The Galaxy magazine, but Custer wanted to put it in book form. Custer knew some of his actions were controversial, and he wanted to leave his version of events for posterity – a memoir that portrayed him in a more positive light.
The writings reveal his conflicted feelings about the Indians. He seemed fascinated with them as a people, while remaining aware of them as enemies. He sometimes referred to them harshly, while at other times describing them as peaceful nomads. He did admire the Indians’ fighting skill, and understood why they fought him so fiercely. He wrote that, if he were an Indian, he would prefer to live free on the open plains rather than submit to the restrictions of reservation life. He acknowledged that the benefits of civilization would not outweigh the loss of freedom.
Custer made an attempt to write a history of the Plains Indians. He started the story before the arrival of the white man and progressed to the battles he fought in. His account of fighting on the Washita River in Oklahoma is one of the few first-hand reports of that action, but he wrote a tale that was much more heroic than actual events. He came under a great deal of criticism for what some called a massacre.
At the time Custer met his end at Little Big Horn, he was the country’s most famous Indian fighter. He was also a Civil War Hero, young and handsome with a beautiful wife. People at the time were eager to read his accounts, which were occasionally quite witty, with comedic passages that showed his sense of humor.
Today, he continues to be surrounded by myth. Anyone interested in the history of the Great Plains might find Custer’s account worth reading.
Dakota Datebook Written by Carole Butcher
Custer, George. My Life on the Plains: Personal Experiences with Indians. Carlisle, Mass.: Applewood Books, 2009.
History.net. “Wounds from the Washita: The Major Elliott Affair.” "http://www.historynet.com/wounds-from-the-washita-the-major-elliott-affair.htm" http://www.historynet.com/wounds-from-the-washita-the-major-elliott-affair.htm Accessed November 9, 2014.