Journalism faculty member available to discuss media coverage of Little Bighorn for Native American Heritage Month
Paintings, Wild West shows, movies and other art and popular culture created the legend of Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s heroic “last stand” at the Battle of Little Bighorn. But newspaper coverage of the battle in 1876 actually was more balanced between making Custer a hero and being sympathetic to the Native Americans, says University of North Texas professor of journalism James Mueller.
Mueller is available to discuss Native Americans and the Battle of Little Bighorn for Native American Heritage Month in November. He is the author of the recently published book “Shooting Arrows and Slinging Mud: Custer, the Press and Little Bighorn,” which contains research that Mueller started in 1994 as a doctoral student. He read numerous newspapers’ coverage of the battle and also has visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield six times, as well as Custer’s hometown of Monroe, Mich.
Fought June 25-26, 1876, in what is now eastern Montana, the Battle of Little Bighorn was an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho during the Great Sioux War of 1876. Custer and all of the 210 men under his command were killed.
Newspaper coverage of the battle initiated hot debates about whether the U.S. government should change its policy toward Native Americans and who was to blame for the Army’s loss. Mueller says Democrats in Congress blamed outgoing Republican President Ulysses S. Grant for not sending more troops to Montana, while supporters of Republican candidates pointed out that Congress had cut funding for the Army.
But most newspapers downplayed coverage after a month, and it wasn’t an issue in the 1876 election, won by Rutherford B. Hayes.
“The newspapers reminded Americans that there was an Indian war going on and a national tragedy had happened, but Reconstruction and the economy, not reformation of Indian affairs, were the big issues,” Mueller says.
Some journalists responded by printing tasteless jokes within a week of reporting Custer’s defeat, referring to his death as “Siouxcide” and making fun of scalping. Today, the battlefield gift shop sells T-shirts with similar jokes, Mueller says.
Other journalists responded by portraying Custer as a glamorous hero who had suffered a martyr’s death and calling for bloodthirsty revenge, Mueller says. But he notes that journalists were not uniformly biased against the Native Americans, and did a credible job of reporting facts as they knew them and writing thoughtful editorials.
Mueller may be reached at 940-565-2278 or 940-368-3528 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.