This day in history, October 10, 1877, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer was buried at West Point in New York.
In 1876, an expedition that included Custer and his regiment was made against the Sioux and their allies. As the advance guard of the troops under Gen. Alfred Terry, Custer’s force arrived at the junction of the Bighorn and Little Bighorn rivers in what is now the state of Montana, on the night of June 24. The main body was due to join him on the 26th. The presence of what was judged a very large encampment of Indians was reported to the general by his Crow Indian scouts. Despite this warning, on June 25, Custer divided his regiment into three commands and moved forward to surround and attack the encamped Indians. The 7th Cavalry met harsh resistance and were counter attacked by the full forces of the enemy, killing Custer and 264 men. The flanking columns maintained themselves with difficulty until General Terry arrived. Custer’s last words are said to be: “Hurrah, boys, we’ve got them! We’ll finish them up and then go home to our station.”
Following the recovery of Custer’s body from where he fell during the Battle of Little Big Horn the previous year, Custer was given a funeral with full military honors and was laid to rest at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York on October 10, 1877.
The public saw him as a tragic military hero who sacrificed his life for his country. Custer’s wife, Elizabeth, who accompanied him in many of his frontier expeditions, did much to advance this view with the publication of several books about her late husband: Boots and Saddles, Life with General Custer in Dakota (1885), Tenting on the Plains (1887) and Following the Guidon (1891). General Custer himself wrote about the Indian wars in My Life on the Plains (1874). Custer would be called a “media personality” who understood the value of good public relations in today’s world. Custer frequently invited correspondents to accompany him on his campaigns, which contributed to his high reputation that lasted well into the 20th century.
However, this assessment of Custer’s actions during the Indian Wars has undergone substantial reconsideration in modern times. For many critics, Custer was the personification and culmination of the U.S. Government’s ill-treatment of the Native American tribes. Within the context of post-Civil War expansion, however, Custer’s actions differed little from the standard military strategy of the time.