Custer on Last Stand Hill. Photographer Johnny Sundby © BBC 2006
Custer on Last Stand Hill. Photographer Johnny Sundby © BBC 2006

General Custer

In 1869, George Armstrong Custer smoked the peace pipe that meant the US Army would fight no more against the Sioux Indians. He was glorious, glamorous and a national hero. Seven years later, General Custer led the 7th Cavalry in a punitive action against the Sioux Indians and died in the attempt. His death has given rise to scores of myths, raising questions as to whether he was killed by lance, arrow, tomahawk or bullet.

Some claim he was the first to die, others say he was the last. So what really happened at the Battle of the Little Bighorn? How did Custer die? And was his infamous attack really his attempt to launch his campaign for promotion?

Based on written accounts, Native American pictograms and the oral testimony of the survivors, this film calls upon the latest archaeology of the battle scene and detailed examination of long-buried source material to provide a radical new picture of the battle and how it unfolded. It creates a picture of a driven man, a victory hunter whose rivalries with his own officers would cost them all their lives. It reveals the dark secrets of Custer’s earlier campaigns, and how they hold the key to understanding the Little Big Horn. It also reveals that although two-thirds of Custer’s soldiers were killed, research shows he was close to a remarkable victory.

The film is also an insight into a way of life doomed to disappear after the battle. By re-creating the viewpoint and character of Custer’s nemesis Sitting Bull, we enter into the American Indian world, and see the battle through their eyes too. Talking heads include Ron His Horse Is Thunder, a descendant of Sitting Bull.

For many years, it was said that no witnesses survived the slaughter of Custer and his men. In fact, more than one thousand American Indians survived, and their long-ignored accounts are now proving to be highly accurate according to the latest archaeology.

49 minutes
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