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Current time:0:00Total duration:6:07

Custer's Last Stand — from the Lakota perspective

Video transcript

(light music) - [Narrator] We're standing in a storage room in the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Mia, looking at a painting that was made in 1900 of the Battle of Greasy Grass, one of the most famous battles in American history, commonly known as Custer's Last Stand. This took place at Little Bighorn, which is a river. Custer had come out of the Civil War, and many of the officers he served with had also served in the Civil War, but they turned their attention against the Native Americans. - [Narrator] It is incredibly important that we have this document by One Bull that depicts this event in a way that is not normally presented in our textbooks in a way that is Lakota centric, this other side of history. - [Narrator] The Black Hills, which had been controlled by the Lakota, were an area where gold was found, and the United States decided they needed to take the land away from the Indians. - [Narrator] One Bull depicts this through a figurative painting, part of Lakota and plains art. - [Narrator] So this is prat of an ancient tradition of drawing, documenting past events. My eye first goes to the section of the Muslim where we see five circles with a series of teepees that radiate from that center. - [Narrator] One Bull is setting up the depiction of the camps of the major groups. The encampment to the left is of the Cheyenne Indians who were, at that time, great allies with the Lakota people. And then there's four other campsites of Lakota people, including the Oglala, Chief Crazy Horse's encampment with Red Cloud, Chief Spotted Eagle's encampment, The Minikowoju of Chief One Horn and Chief Makes Room's encampment, and then lastly, the very important Hunkpapa-Tipi, and that is the band of Chief Sitting Bull. Chief Sitting Bull did not fight at the Battle of Little Big Horn, but when individuals wanted counsel, they came to Sitting Bull. - [Narrator] And the artist of this work was his nephew. - [Narrator] Sitting Bull adopted One Bull, and with that comes a great sense of honor, and he depicts himself holding Sitting Bull's shield. These shields have incredible spiritual power, and in this rendering, you can see One Bull at several different moments of time, the first when he is approaching Reno, the second is when he saves Good Bear, one of the fellow warriors who is just dripping in blood, as well as his horse injured with blood gushing from his right leg. - [Narrator] And then there's Native Americans moving forward, U.S. soldiers retreating, and you can tell that they're retreating because they're facing backwards, and within this group, you see One Bull again still holding the shelf of Sitting Bull with his club hitting one of the U.S. soldiers whose pistol is firing at the very same moment. This may be across the river as Reno's troops are trying to retreat up a steep hill. - [Narrator] And one could say that he's actually counting coup. Counting coup for Lakota people is striking an enemy. You don't necessarily have to even kill that enemy, but if you're the first to strike that enemy, you have won. One Bull depicts the many, many faceless military men who had died, and the American flag and coup sticks representing all of the achievements of the Lakota and Cheyenne people in this particular event. - [Narrator] Every single representation of Native American warriors is an individualized representation so that these people can be identified. Their individual achievements can be identified. - [Narrator] One Bull is trained to only depict that which he has been witness to. When these types of works of art are being made, it would be discussed during counsel and there would be individuals that would have to agree to the depiction of what actually happened. - [Narrator] On the extreme right, we can see one of the initial events. The U.S. army came across and Indian boy named Deeds with his horse, and they killed him. The first serious engagement took place under the command of a man named Reno. Reno had been sent by Custer with a detachment to engage the encampment while he circled around and tried to cut off the possibility of escape. In the lower left corner, we see figures depicted in a very different way. There's no color, it's just black and white, and we see silhouettes of figures, both in profile and full face. - [Narrator] One Bull is depicting the encampment of women, children, elders, injured who were at the battle. - [Narrator] And they were important because Custer was trying to get at them to use them as human shields. On the extreme upper left, we see a circle of U.S. soldiers that are clearly under attack. The U.S. flag has been turned upside down, a signal of distress. - [Narrator] It's clear that these aren't Custer's troops because everybody died, and Custer fell. - [Narrator] In 1876, the year of the American centennial, 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a year of great national celebration, the U.S. had one of its great military defeats at the hands of the Lakota, as well as the Cheyenne. Custer was heroized despite the fact that he was the aggressor. This battle was seen as a heroic sacrifice in the larger picture of manifest destiny, of the United States making claim to the entire continental United States. - [Narrator] The idea of such a celebrated figure, General Custer, being decimated by Lakota and Cheyenne people, made it so that they could never have a victory like this again. - [Narrator] And that's because the U.S. government then poured all of its resources into claiming this land. - [Narrator] The Battle of Little Bighorn is one of the greatest successes of Lakota and Cheyenne people. (light music)