Giving voice to a Lakota history

  • Book cover of Lakota Noon


It is hard to convey just how good this book is; it's possibly the best book yet about the famous battle of the Little Bighorn. In Lakota Noon, Gregory F. Michno has gathered approximately 60 Indian narratives and produced a detailed reconstruction of the fighting. Individual warriors tell their stories through a chronological timeline of 10-minute intervals. So far as I know, this is the first time that any scholar has attempted such a compilation. Michno's results should cause historians to reconsider some long-held conclusions about the battle.

Every Western historian with even a passing interest in Custer and the Little Bighorn has known about the Indian accounts. But because the narratives are episodic and impossible to insert with accuracy into time and place, they posed difficulties. Michno notes that Native Americans tended to be excellent observers of what they personally saw and did, but they failed to provide transcribers and interviewers with continuity and context.

Thus, when used by earlier scholars, Indian testimony often consisted of little more than literary seasoning sprinkled into standard military accounts. The latter were viewed as more reliable, in part due to the structural shaping of soldier stories. Of course, the limitations of the military viewpoint are obvious. For the critical last phase of the battle, first-hand military accounts are nonexistent; while for the earlier action, soldier narratives may be tainted by self-interest, factual error or mental trauma.

There are many revelations in Lakota Noon. Michno concludes that Custer faced far fewer warriors than is usually reckoned. Too, the author throws aside old tales that the Indians were aware of the coming attack. Many accounts begin with Indian warriors at rest, and when word of the attack spread throughout the village, the Indian response was slow. From the Indian perspective, victory was a close thing.

The collected stories also reveal remarkable insights into the Native American attitude toward warfare. A Lakota warrior did not just grab a weapon and ride into battle. There were personal preparations to be made - war paint and other decorative items of personal power needed to be applied, a horse rounded up, and a decision made on whether to head directly to the fighting or first secure the safety of one's relatives.

Michno urges caution about citing the value of archaeological evidence recently unearthed. He notes that the site of the Last Stand was combed repeatedly by souvenir hunters over the many decades since 1876, thus destroying much of the original artifact record and matrix. Indian accounts state that warriors frequently picked up soldiers' weapons to fire at retreating cavalrymen. That means artifacts could indicate an Indian or cavalry position, or possibly both.

Lakota Noon features surprises on almost every page, as the victors, for the first time, tell a better and more accurate history than the losers.

The late Gerald Thompson taught history at the University of Toledo in Ohio. A longer version of this review appeared in the spring 1998 issue of Annals of Wyoming, the Wyoming History Journal, based at the Wyoming State Historical Society, 174OH184 Dell Range Blvd., Cheyenne, WY 82009.

Lakota Noon: The Indian Narrative of Custer's Defeat, by Gregory F. Michno. Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing Co., 1997. 336 pages. Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, $36; paper, $18.

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • Hiring Part/Full time for Summer Season - entry level & experienced positions. Year round employment for optimal candidates. Pay DOE.
  • Located on top of Sugarloaf Mtn. 5 mi W of downtown Colorado Springs, CO. $80,000.
  • The Draper Natural History Museum (DNHM) at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, WY, invites applications for Curator of Natural Science. Seeking...
  • in Southwest Colorado. $60K plus costs.
  • with six+ years of experience, broad knowledge of home and facilities maintenance. 207-805-4157,
  • Seeking full-time experienced farmer on 52-acre organic farm Union, OR. [email protected]
  • Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Government Affairs Manager that is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to support...
  • Metal roofing & siding, thru-fastened & seam profiles. Stronger, more attractive and longer lasting than any other panel on the market. 970-275-4070.
  • The Central Colorado Conservancy, a nationally accredited and state certified land trust, is seeking an innovative and dynamic Executive Director to guide the Conservancy into...
  • Forever Our Rivers Foundation seeks a driven and creative individual to lead this national movement for river health. Deadline 6/14/19.
  • We are looking for an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry, specifically focused on fighting fossil fuel expansion...
  • 7/12-7/14/19 in Taos, NM. With over 21 workshops and keynote speaker, poet Arthur Sze.
  • Badlands Conservation Alliance is seeking an Executive Director. For job description visit
  • Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • at RCAC. See the full description at Apply at [email protected]
  • Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • Camping, hiking, backpacking, R2R2R, Tarahumara Easter, Mushroom Festival,
  • Clean off, cool off & drink. Multiple spray patterns. Better than you imagine. Try it.