Legacy: New Perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn, edited by Charles E. Rankin, Montana Historical Society Press, Helena, 1996, $45 cloth, $19.95 paper.
For readers who can’t get enough of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, this 382-page book (with 58 illustrations, including 10 in color) is bound to please. But it also should intrigue those readers who’ve grown tired of the June 25, 1876, battle, because there are indeed some interesting new perspectives on the Plains Indians’ defeat of George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry. “Hardly more than a skirmish by military standards,” writes Douglas C. McChristian, former historian of the battlefield, in the preface, “it ranks with the likes of Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg and the Alamo as a defining moment in America’s heritage.” And not just among Custer buffs. For Crazy Horse buffs, Sitting Bull buffs, Curley buffs, Reno buffs, Benteen buffs and even non-buffs, the Little Bighorn also rates as a legendary site, or, as McChristian puts it, “a lonely place that haunts the American conscience.” Back in August 1994 in Billings, Mont., a three-day Little Bighorn Legacy Symposium was held to help the National Park Service get more information on the historical significance and “cross-cultural impacts” of the famous fight. Out of that symposium come the essays in Legacy, which is divided into three parts–“The Context,” “The Battle” and “The Myth.” Native American author Joseph M. Marshall III, in his essay “A Battle Won and a War Lost: A Lakota Perspective,” writes: “Personally, I am not interested in debating or arguing about Greasy Grass [the Indian name for the Little Bighorn]. I am, however, interested in ways that we can learn the reality of Greasy Grass and tell the story fairly from all viewpoints.” Other viewpoints are provided by such historians as Dan Flores, Richard A. Fox, Jr., Jerome A. Greene, Joseph C. Porter, Brian W. Dippie, Paul Andrew Hutton, Margot Liberty, Douglas D. Scott and Paul L. Hedren. “By adding more voices, Little Bighorn will gain relevance to an ever-widening audience and become more truly universal,” writes Charles E. Rankin in the introduction. Watch out, Pearl Harbor and Gettysburg! Forget the Alamo!