Author, historian and internet pioneer Bruce Brown further explores American Indian stories with a penetrating examination of Indian oral histories that stitch together a view of the Battle of the Little Bighorn rarely offered in the millions of words published on the topic.The free program is scheduled 7 p.m., Saturday, August 17 at the San Juan Island Library.
Brown's talk concludes the summer program series, Connections: The Far West and Civil War, which explores the relationships between the American Civil War, the San Juan Islands and Pacific Northwest.
The careers of George Custer and San Juan Island's James Forsyth (see link upper right) would intertwine in the war and postwar years. Forsyth eventually assumed command of the Seventh Cavalry and led it at the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890.
Brown has sifted through the testimony of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho who prevailed over the Seventh in July of 1876. His primary goal, he said, is to articulate what the Indians "actually said" and demonstrate that this testimony is as valid as the accounts taken from white survivors of the battle.
"Why is it so difficult for us as Americans to understand what the Indians said?" Brown said. "We have hundreds of eyewitness accounts, but the Sioux and Cheyenne did not approach stories and organize them the same way as the whites, so Custer's fate is perceived as a mystery."
Brown was drawn to the Indian accounts as a form of "immersion into the native voice" while working on a fictional story of Crazy Horse. The result was "One Hundred Voices," a searchable database of both Indian and white testimony available on his web site, "Astonisher.com." According to Brown, it is the largest body of research on the Little Bighorn in existence.
In his talk, Brown will apply the testimony to offer some suppositions on what happened to Custer's battalion once it rode into the hills above the river into American mythology. For example, one of the voices, the warrior White Cow Bull, claimed that Custer's battalion dithered at the far bank of river while Maj. Marcus Reno's battalion was fighting for its life upstream. Moreover, he claimed to have unhorsed with a shot the "white chief" at the river long before the final stages of the battle at what is now called "Last Stand Hill."
Did Custer dither at the river? Was he incapacitated or dead before ever reaching Last Stand Hill? Come hear the testimony and decide for yourself.
Brown is the author of Mountain in the Clouds: A Search for the Wild Salmon, Lone Tree: A True Story of Murder in America's Heartland, and the Miracle Planet. He is the founder of Bugnet, a web site that offers solutions to software problems and has written numerous articles for publications such as The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.