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Diane Merkel

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Custer's Fall

by David Humphreys Miller

Review by Brad J. Buttruff

This is a book that I put off reading for years because of the mixed reports that I had heard as to the reliability of Miller's sources. Having now read it, I would certainly recommend it, with reservations, to others.

Subtitled "The Native American Side of the Story", the story it tells is of course that of the Little Big Horn battle. The book is supposedly based upon Miller's interviews with, and other information gathered by him from, the Indian participants in the battle. These accounts come from both the Cheyennes, Lakotas and Arapahoes, as well as those Indians who fought with the troops, primarily the Arikaras and the Crows.

The main aspect of the book with which I take issue is the lack of notes to show the source of each particular account. Although Miller provides a list of "informants" (a somewhat unfortunate term that makes them sound like the associates of criminals), at the end of the book, there is a slight feel that literary license has been exercised from time to time.

On top of this, there are a few obvious errors, such as describing Crazy Horse as a chief, and instances of what appear to be clearly made up dialogue. I suspect some will also object to his analysis of the battle, particularly the controversial description of Custer being killed or incapacitated in his first brush with the Cheyennes and Lakotas at the ford at the end of Medicine Tail Coulee.

Despite these reservations, this is a book that I feel able to recommend. It is fast paced and entertaining. On top of this, you certainly feel that, if you exercise care when reading it, you are getting some genuine first hand Indian accounts of the battle.

The book was first published in 1957 and it has a certain nostalgic feel to it that enhanced the reading experience for me at least.