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A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn—the Last Great Battle of the American West

by James Donovan, Little, Brown and Co., New York, 2008, $26.99.

Readers who have not heard about Custer and what happened at the Battle of the Little Bighorn are not likely to be reading Wild West Magazine, let alone this review. But if there are any of you out there, stay tuned to this space, especially in June, and by all means read James Donovan’s 544-page account of a rousing battle with an unforgettable cast of characters, including Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Bloody Knife, and, of course, George A. Custer himself.

That is not to say that the bandwagon of Battle of the Little Bighorn followers and experts should avoid Donovan’s comprehensive tale. Even if most of the information is old hat to them, A Terrible Glory still delivers a terrific amount of solid narrative and meticulous research. As Donovan points out, the battle in which Custer and his immediate command were wiped out does not lack for eyewitness accounts. And, predictably, those accounts don’t always jive. He strived to examine the evidence objectively in the face of just-surrendered Lakota leaders fearful of retribution, troopers and warriors with faulty memories and “faulty interpreters or overly dramatic reporters.” Like all others who have dealt with the last minutes of Custer and his command, Donovan has had to do some interpretation and filling in of gaps in the historical record. He makes use of the latest archaeological and forensic findings.

“Though others may interpret the same record differently, I believe that given the information available, the actions of Custer and his subordinates as related herein during that time are those most likely to have occurred.” He is not the first to make such a statement and will not be the last, but readers should have few arguments with the way the story unfolds here. An added bonus is a close look at the cover-up that followed the fiasco.


Originally published in the October 2008 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here