For whatever reason, history textbooks tend to make General Armstrong Custer out to be a headstrong fool and the Native Americans to be bloodthirsty, cut throats and savages. Reading primary source material covering this era in American history will paint an entirely different image of the Native Americans.
The Custer Massacre is not the only case of the military battling with the Native Americans in the 1870s. In fact, for several years in the mid-1870s there were dzens of cases of the military invading Native American camps and slaughtering the occupants. This era has become known as the Indian Wars. Reading July 1876 issues of various newspapers around the country paint an entirely different image of the Native Americans and Custer.
Baltimore Gazette: The war was caused by the extortions and cruelties and robberies of Grant's Indian Ring, and then the daring and intrepid Custer was sent with his slender band into the jaws of destruction. Grant sowed the seeds of war and Custer reaped the bravest of death.
Baltimore Sun: While breaking our pledges with the Indians and in various ways exasperating them to vindictive retaliation, we have put arms into their hands and furnished them with ammunition to slaughter our troops and massacre our people in the outlying frontier settlements.
Newburyport (Mass.) Herald: The Indians have been swindled and exasperated by our agents, and whenever they have been justly treated they have been friendly. When they have been swindled and abused they have revenged themselves with the most barbarous cruelty.
Wilmington (Delaware) Herald: General Custer was an honorable, brave soldier. He appeared in Washington before an investigating committee and furnished evidence harrowing some of the Presidents plan. For this he was reduced in rank and another appointed to take command of an expedition that he lost his life in. So, although humiliated by the President, he goes to his grave clothed in the honor of a brave man who died at his post.
Elizabeth (New Jersey) Herald: Can the act of the administration in invading the Black Hills country and waging war upon the Sioux be justified? If not, General Grant is clearly responsible for the terrible fate that has befallen the gallant fellows who, at his command, have marched to an inglorious death, with no palpable object except to produce a sensation for political effect.
Chicago Courier: The crime is not with the men in the ranks; it is not with the brave officers who led them on to death; it is with the corrupt administration that sacrifices the lives of brave men upon the altar of political and personal preference and promotion.
Yonkers (New York) Graphic: In a fit of spite, President Grant degraded General Custer, who, in a position where he would not otherwise have been, was massacred at the head of the Seventh Regiment of cavalry by the Sioux Indians on the 25th of June. The entire command shared the fate of their daring leader. Naught but contempt can be felt for a President through whose jealousy and petty pique we are indebted for the murder of General Custer and his brave soldiers.
Newark (New Jersey) Journal: Coming to Custer, how has he been treated? Because, against his wishes, he obeyed a subpoena of Congress and gave evidence terribly damaging to Grants beloved Belknap and other bosom friends, Grand defied decency and public sentiment and degraded the gallant officer, stripped him of his command. Custer may have been rash, but lack of brashness, impelling it, indeed, was the noble desire to completely wipe out the stain sought to be put upon him by President Grant.
Cincinnati Gazette: For whatever other causes have helped kindle this war, the gold-hunting invasion of the Black Hills country was the present occasion. In this regard our vacillating course has given the Indians cause to think that our treaties would not protect their rights in any lands which attracted the greed of even the most lawless of our people."
Norfolk Virginian: He was insulted by the President and subordinated in his command of this expedition, because in obedience to a lawful summons he testified as to the corruptness of the post traders and army settlers, and it may be that it was the sting of disgrace that sent him recklessly into the thickest on the charge from which he emerged.
Albany Argus: Custer was degraded from his command because he went to Washington without leave and testified to the rapacity of the administration. Stung with the sense of unjust treatment, the brilliant scholar and brave soldier offered up his life as a sacrifice for the very country which had grown so sordid as not to appreciate his worth. The administration is justly held responsible not only for the existing Indian War, but for the slaughter of Custer and his brave command.
Baltimore Gazette: Grant cant bear a high-spirited, honorable man. He likes the Babcock type of soldier better. The same spirit that makes him shield and protect Babcock now that he is known to be a rascal, made him send the gallant Custer back to his command and deprive him of his well-earned post of honor out there.
So what is the bottom-line and truth behind the Custer Massacre? The United States government had signed treaties with various Native American tribes giving them their own sections of barren, unproductive land (reservations) and promising not to interfere with their ways in the future. Peace lasted only a short time as gold was discovered in the Black Hills. President Grant, due to greed, decided that they should take the land back at all costs. General Armstrong Custer was ordered by President Grant to invade Indian Territory and take the land back at all costs. Custer was faced with a lose-lose decision; defy the President and get court marshaled and hung or proceed with the battle and be killed. Some choice!