Artifacts of the Battle of Little Big Horn: Custer, the 7th Cavalry & the Lakota and Cheyenne Warriors, by Will Hutchison, Schiffer Publishing, Pa., 2016, $49.99
The June 25–26, 1876, Battle of the Little Bighorn marked the end of George Armstrong Custer’s illustrious military career, which hit a high note during the Civil War and played out on the Western frontier. His Last Stand in Montana Territory brought controversy and took some of the luster off his reputation. But interest in his final act remains strong, of course, extending beyond what happened and who is to blame to the artifacts associated with the most famous fight of the Indian wars.
Author/photographer Will Hutchison spent considerable time and legwork chasing down the 355 Little Bighorn artifacts pictured in this 206-page book. He took some of the photos himself, acquiring others from various collections. Few artifacts survive from either Custer’s decimated immediate command or the men on Reno Hill. “I could not have told the story properly,” Hutchison explains in the preface, “using solely those artifacts I found which were actually at the Little Big Horn battle.” Thus he expanded his scope to include artifacts from the era if not the battle itself, including personal belongings of Custer and the Plains Indians who fought his 7th U.S. Cavalry. Text is limited to detailed captions and three short essays—the first an overview of the overall campaign and the battle itself, the other two in turn introducing the artifacts of the U.S. soldiers and their Cheyenne/Lakota opponents. Hutchison, who boasts a military and law enforcement background, includes eyewitness accounts from both sides of the clash and touches on archaeology, anthropology and forensic science in his narrative. Historic photos and maps round out the book.
“The opportunity to photograph the entire on-site collection of artifacts at the Little Bighorn National Battlefield Monument with the National Park Service staff was without question one of the most rewarding aspects of the project,” Hutchison says. He also acknowledges the generous help of sculptor and Little Bighorn collector Glenwood J. Swanson, who published images of artifacts in his illuminating 2004 book G.A. Custer: His Life & Times and provided many of the photos for this book.