The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Here is yet one more book about a famous chapter from the history of our American West. In the April 2009 issue of the Journal I declared James Donovan's A Terrible Glory (2008) to be "the last word." But you need to read this new volume.

Why was the Last Stand a disaster? Three reasons convince me that the Seventh Calvary had not a chance.

First, around 750 troopers faced over 2,000 warriors.

Second, the leaders of the Seventh were incompetent. Lt. Col. Custer [his generalship was a Civil War brevet rank] failed to await the columns of Crook (1100), Terry (1200), and Gibbon (440). He wanted sole glory. And he stupidly divided his men into separate units sent in distant directions. Add to this mix inebriated Reno and disobedient Benteen, and Sitting Bull was handed an overwhelming advantage.

Third, and most interesting to me, there was a decisive disparity in weaponry. Cavalrymen were armed with Colt .45 revolvers (useless at long range) and Springfield single shot carbines. The latter fired bullets from copper cartridges, which would tear when heated and had to be removed with knives and the like. Meanwhile many Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors were galloping forth with Henry and Winchester repeating rifles capable of firing 17 rounds before reloading. Other warriors shot arrows into the air, falling like deadly rain.

An unabridged audio version is available from Penguin. George Guidall is the reader.  


Don Paine DONALD F. PAINE is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is of counsel to the Knoxville firm of Paine, Tarwater, and Bickers LLP. He lectures for the Tennessee Law Institute, BAR/BRI Bar Review, Tennessee Judicial Conference, and UT College of Law.