Canada's History - - CHRISTOPHER MOORE -

The 1876 Battle of the Greasy Grass, com­monly known as the Battle of the Lit­tle Bighorn or Custer’s Last Stand, is typ­i­cally de­picted as ei­ther a great vic­tory by In­dige­nous na­tions or a heroic sac­ri­fice by Amer­i­can Lieu­tenant Colonel Ge­orge Arm­strong Custer and his 7th Cav­alry.

Among those who saw it as a tri­umph for the Lakota Sioux, North­ern Cheyenne, and Ara­paho peo­ple was the Oglala Lakota artist Amos Bad Heart Bull. Like his fa­ther be­fore him, Bad Heart Bull was the his­to­rian of the Oglala.

Im­por­tant events were tra­di­tion­ally recorded through pic­tures on buf­falo hide. These served as cal­en­dars and were called win­ter counts, with one pic­ture rep­re­sent­ing a year’s most sig­nif­i­cant event. The win­ter count pic­tures were used in con­junc­tion with a more ex­ten­sive oral his­tory.

Bad Heart Bull (1869–1913) adapted this tra­di­tion to in­clude pic­tures on pa­per with cap­tions. He taught him­self to draw, as well as to read and write in English and Lakota. En­cour­aged by his un­cles, he sought out the sto­ries of his tribe and doc­u­mented them in a used ledger. Us­ing a va­ri­ety of ma­te­ri­als, such as ink, crayons, pen­cils, and wa­ter­colours, he cre­ated more than 400 draw­ings. In­cluded among these draw­ings was a se­ries show­ing the Battle of the Greasy Grass.

The ink-on-pa­per il­lus­tra­tion at left is ti­tled Re­treat of Ma­jor Mar­cus Reno’s com­mand. Reno was Custer’s sec­ond-in-com­mand. He was or­dered to make the in­tial at­tack on the In­dige­nous en­camp­ment near the Lit­tle Bighorn River. Soon over­whelmed, Reno’s 140-man batal­lion re­treated.

The pic­ture shows sol­diers at the rear in­cur­ring heavy ca­su­al­ties as Sioux and Cheyenne war­riors over­take them. In the mean­time, Custer led an at­tack from a dif­fer­ent point, but his troops were forced back onto a ridge, where all were killed.

Reno sur­vived the battle, but his rep­u­ta­tion did not. The army and the pub­lic blamed him for the de­feat.

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