Wednesday, January 29, 2020

George Armstrong Custer as a Sioux Chief

Tableaux vivants were popular forms of entertainment on the American frontier.  In a tableau, participants make still images with their bodies to represent a scene. Because there is no movement, or speaking, a tableau is easier to produce than a play, yet can easily lead into extended drama activities with one tableau succeeding another to tell a story.  Tableaux continue today in the form of “living statues”, where street performers often appear in costume as historical characters.

In the summer of 1875, George Armstrong Custer appeared in a series of tableaux with Miss Agnes Bates of Monroe Michigan depicting a Sioux Chief and his bride.  Miss Bates was a guest of Mrs. Elizabeth Custer at Fort Abraham Lincoln, North Dakota in 1874-1875.

In 1873, the 7th Cavalry had moved into the fort to ensure the expansion of the Northern Pacific Railway.  The first post commander of the expanded fort was Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, who held the position until his death in 1876.

Since his death along the bluffs overlooking the Little Bighorn River, in Montana, on June 25, 1876, over five hundred books have been written about the life and career of George Armstrong Custer. Views of Custer have changed over succeeding generations. Custer has been portrayed as a callous egotist, a bungling egomaniac, a genocidal war criminal, and the puppet of faceless forces. For almost one hundred and fifty years, Custer has been a Rorschach test of American social and personal values. Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history. This book presents portraits of Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn as they have appeared in print over successive decades and in the process demonstrates the evolution of American values and priorities.

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