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Wild West Book Review: Drawing Battle Lines

3/27/2018 • Wild West Magazine

Drawing Battle Lines: The Map Testimony of Custer’s Last Fight

by Michael N. Donahue, Upton and Sons, El Segundo, Calif., 2008, $150 for limited edition, $55 for trade edition.

The author-artist is a Texan who harbors a longtime fascination with the Battle of Little Bighorn. This 413-page book— Volume VIII in the Battle of the Little Big Horn Series, in case you were keeping track—offers about 90 maps (mostly in black and white but several in color and some previously unpublished) made by participants and researchers. “My intention for creating this collection is to provide a primary resource for all those interested in discussing the visual testimony and to recognize the significance of the maps,” Michael Donahue writes in the forward. Along with each map, Donahue gives a summary of its critical values and flaws, a benefit to those wordsmiths who get lost even with map in hand. Brief biographies and portraits of the mapmakers add to the value of this essential Last Stand offering.

Drawing Battle Lines is certainly impressive; some of the cruder maps are as interesting and stimulating as the more sophisticated ones. But maps and drawings don’t have all the answers; contradictions exist, just as they do in the oral testimony and written accounts of the battle. In his introduction, Donahue gives an overview of the battle for those who need a refresher course on the basic events. Then come maps galore, including maps made by soldiers such as Edward Maguire and Edward Godfrey; maps made by Indians such as Sitting Bull and Kill Eagle; and maps made by civilians such as Thomas Marquis and Walter Camp. Custer cartographers will be most thrilled by this volume, but any student of the battle should find it useful.

 

Originally published in the June 2009 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.  

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