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Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,845 Ratings  ·  119 Reviews
Custer's Last Stand is among the most enduring events in American history--more than one hundred years after the fact, books continue to be written and people continue to argue about even the most basic details surrounding the Little Bighorn. Evan S. Connell, whom Joyce Carol Oates has described as "one of our most interesting and intelligent American writers," wrote what ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published October 30th 1997 by North Point Press (first published 1984)
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The dominant impression I get of Custer from this, the first book I’ve read about the “national totem” who “stands forever on that dusty Montana slope,” is that of a real natural born killer. One of those gracefully ferocious, lupine men. The accounts of his preternatural energy and aggression and extracts of his own letters cohere into a picture of predatory grace, of sleek, elemental blood-thirst and glory-hunger. Custer was eerily in touch with his nature—-the nature of a gleeful hunter. Conn ...more
Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first tried to read this book at a very young age. I'd already been to the Little Big Horn (at that, pre-politically correct time, still called "Custer's Last Stand National Monument") and had read the Landmark Book on Custer's death and had seen Errol Flynn die with his boots on. That didn't prepare me for novelist Evan S. Connell's take on George A. Custer's famous final battle.

The problem was that the book starts post-battle, with the discovery of Custer's dead command. My mind, at that ti
Once in a while you find a book that is so well written that beyond the days of reading, long after you have finished it, the book continues to haunt you. Son of the Morning Star is one of those books. The beauty of Evan Connell's prose and the excellence of his history make this book a minor masterpiece. Perhaps the larger-than-life presence of the central character, who the Indians named "son of the morning star", General George Armstrong Custer, is partly the reason for the magnificence of th ...more
Nov 24, 2012 Mark rated it liked it
"My estimate of Reno and Custer is this: The former was brave but not rash, and Custer was both," wrote a First Cavalry acquaintance of Custer.

As I read this book, I tried to imagine the vast American West as an ocean of grass, imbued with danger, distance and the chance for honor, not unlike the high seas of Nelson and Farragut. It wasn't too hard to conjure. At the same time, I expected a view of the Army as a blunt instrument of national policy, often stupid and genocidal. This also was easy
Carol Storm
Dec 14, 2011 Carol Storm rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Many things are told of Sitting Bull. Some are certainly false, others may be true. But one thing is beyond dispute. Sitting Bull liked women. He liked women enormously. He was certainly married two or three times. He may have been married as many as eight or nine times. Here he is pictured with . . ."

I think it shows how memorable this book is that I not only remember all the characters, and the stories, I actually remember the captions on the pictures in the photo section of the book!

This is
Jul 25, 2013 Holly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not especially interested in Custer or the American West, and I generally avoid anything about the Indian Wars because the subject is tragic and infuriating to the point that it affects my ability to function normally. But this is a terrific book. It's a lot like listening to a vastly informed elderly relative natter on about his most beloved subject. It's discursive, but all the meanderings are full of treasures, and you can't help being swept up in his enthusiasm and affection. It's schola ...more
Connie Anderson
I wrote papers and gave speeches in my college history and philosophy classes. The very first time I visited the site, I was basically ignorant because I had not begun to study this battle. Luckily, I studied a great deal, and was able to come away with awe and to know exactly where what event took place and where.

This book is one of the main books I used in my studies. If you read about all that happened and viewed the maps, you will be in a very good position to truly see the scope of the sit
Sadly Son of the Morning Star was only 2 Stars for me because I could not see any organization to the story. The book starts out on an ancillary fight and just meanders through decades of western history, as well as some Civil War stories. Individually, the anecdotes were fine but this book was simply erratically constructed.
Carl R.
May 28, 2015 Carl R. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Son of the Morning Star is Evan S. Connell's look at the life of George Armstrong Custer. We all know about the battle, but what about the man? To listen to Connell, if it weren't for the time, place, and manner of his demise, the world would little note nor long remember this vain and impetuous martinet. Indeed, were his to biography focus solely on it's titular subject, it would be a pretty thin book. The value of Connell's work is that he places the now-vaunted cavalryman in context, with tim ...more
Jul 08, 2013 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wish I had read Son of the Morning Star before going to the Custer memorial in Montana. I had read enough of Custer to understand the battle, but the personal stories Connell uses to build to the battle make it all the more interesting. I do like how Connell recounts the different versions of stories by soldier, native American, observer, and then says "it could have been that way, or another."
Custer, of course, does not shine in this story, but others do.
Dec 07, 2015 Peter rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A disturbing Rashomon of a history. Despite the romantic choice of title, there is nothing romantic or heroic about the title personage, or in fact any person who appears in this history. Everyone’s story (and I mean everyone, from the water boys to the laundry women, to the wives and relatives of Chief Gall and Running Bear, with selected dogs, mice and horses thrown in for good measure)—
everyone’s story—is told, in no particular order, and everyone comes out badly (except for the animals). Thi
May 23, 2015 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Anyone interested in the American West will enjoy this book. Although Custer graces the cover, it's much more than a biography of him. Let's face it, there's a lot to criticize about the American Government's treatment of the Native Americans. Those facts, of course, are in the book. But the author doesn't write a hagiography about the Indians either. He's much too good a historian to do that. His even-handed treatment doesn't make for drab reading, on the contrary, the author has done such a th ...more
Feb 07, 2011 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Custer!!!
This is a great book. It is way more than just a story of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The battle is just the glue that holds the book together. The author goes into the lives of Custer, other soldiers, their wives, scouts, traders, trappers, journalists, politicians and others. Then there are the Indians, their various tribes, customs and motivations.

The books covers the time before and during the battle, plus the aftermath (from both sides). It brings in buffalo hunting, the gold rush i
Aug 03, 2015 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Son of the Morning Star is one of the best books that I've ever read. It propelled me into reading more about American Indians, more about the West, more military biographies especially of American generals, and even the Civil War. Connell is a great writer, as seen in, for example, both novels--Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge. He made the character of the Indians real, as it should be, and Custer, whom I had not judged as harshly as I did after this book. I personally knew people in my limited milit ...more
Katherine Addison
Usually when I say a book is interesting, I mean the subject matter is interesting, or the author's insights are interesting. Both those things are true of Son of the Morning Star, but it is also true that the book is interesting, because Connell made some definitely non-standard choices about his narrative.

This is not a linear exploration of the battle; the book starts with the first people to discover the disaster, and then works its way in and out, forward and back, in a set of loops or spira
Ray Pierson
May 18, 2009 Ray Pierson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
OUTSTANDING! What an incredibly well researched book. I feel like a fool for having ignored for years on the mistaken belief that it was a novel.

One real eye-opener was the number of soldiers who were able to flee the fight. Bodies were found twenty miles from the fighting. Maybe some of the stories about survivors were true. The magazine WILD WEST had an interesting article about one such survivor, and it certainly rang true to me.
Colin Darby
Aug 27, 2015 Colin Darby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Connell's book is both a fascinating and frustrating take on Little Bighorn. I say fascinating because there is a combination of breadth and depth rarely reached in most books; I say frustrating because, at least for the first hundred pages, its structure takes considerable adjustment to accept. Connell is clearly a novelist, not a historian, and writes like a novelist, not a historian. His facts are excellent, the book is well-researched, but the story rolls backward and forward across years an ...more
Apr 16, 2016 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction, war
I rated this book 3-stars, and I think that might even be a bit generous. The book's title, "Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn" leaves the reader with little doubt about the subject. But you would be wrong to think this is a detailed discussion of 'Custer's Last Stand'. Although there is a lot about the battle, the book is a rambling, disorganized bunch of stories. It reminds me of someone telling stories around a campfire. He starts out in one direction, then veers off in a ...more
I love this book. It goes past the massacre (or great military victory, depending on your point of view) and delves into the personalities of the principal opponents involved in this fracas. Of course, eyewitness reports were only available from one side, but they seem objective enough. This might be the only book I've read three times.
Ted Prokash
Apr 25, 2015 Ted Prokash rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A fascinating character study and a clear-eyed look at a very ugly period in our history. Connell really explores the natives’ perspective instead of just defaulting to the cliché of the virtuous savage. There were atrocities committed in tribal beefs that were every bit as nasty as anything the white man could dream up. And contrary to popular legend, it wasn’t just the white men who left the plains littered with wasted, rotting buffalo carcasses. Before we swell up with honky pride, however, c
Dec 22, 2014 BIG BOOKS rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: little-bighorn
This is THE book to read on the Little Bighorn, no matter what your level of interest and knowledge about Custer. Connell penned an extremely readable, absorbing, humorous, and detailed account of Custer and his demise.
Gloria Mccracken
No, I did not finish this book in one day. In fact, it took me many months (perhaps more than a year) to read, but I read it in such tiny bite-sized pieces that it didn't seem worthwhile to add it to my currently reading list.

Let me say that I believe this a great novel -- and it is a novel, even though it is heavily drawn from a plethora of historical documents. On literary quality alone it is almost certainly worthy of five stars. However, I did find it a chore to read, so for me it was a thr
Nov 08, 2014 John rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
ok, so I recognize that lots of other people really liked this book, but frankly I find the structure maddening. We start out AFTER the battle & then work backwards and forwards with the author going off on long looping tangents to tell us what Happens Next/Ultimately to particular characters as we encounter them. This makes for a very fragmented & to be honest easy-to-put-down read. I am a leetle obsessed with the Custer story right now, so I plowed on through, but I wonder whether some ...more
Aug 20, 2014 Dave rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Discursive yet engrossing, this one of the more unusual history books I've read. With an unpredictable, nonlinear narrative that follows characters and themes rather than dates and events, this is not a blow-by-blow of Little Bighorn or Custer's final moments. Rather, it's a feisty, freewheeling exploration of the battle and the confluence of personalities, historical events, and pure chance that led to it. What might have been footnotes in a more orthodox book become revealing digressions here. ...more
Steven Howes
Oct 08, 2012 Steven Howes rated it really liked it
OK, I admit I am a Custer/Little Bighorn junkie. I have read a number of other works on this subject and decided to read this one based on a review in Wild West magazine of the made for TV movie (1991) with same title. The review stated that of the many movies made regarding Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, this one was probably the most historically accurate and truly reflected the nature of the characters involved. Therefore I decided to invest the time in reading this rather long ...more
Mar 15, 2013 Jameson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have never been a particular fan of General George Armstrong Custer.

In another life, another career, another part of the country, long, long ago, I made a movie at West Point, one of the few the Army ever allowed to actually be filmed right there at the school. I was really into creating a life for my character, and I was naturally interested in the history of this most illustrious military academy, so I soaked up as much as possible while I was there—the history, traditions, trivia, lore, ru
Miles Mathews
Sep 16, 2013 Miles Mathews rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Evan S. Connell's book, "Son of the Morning Star" has been on my to-read list for several years. The book did not disappoint me! While Connell has not written the most scholarly study, his book includes a great amount of information, not only about Custer and the 7th Cavalry, but also about numerous participants on both sides of the battle.

Connell's book is not written in chronological order, and it could be difficult to follow for those who might not be familiar with the details of the Battle
Mark Silver
Dec 22, 2012 Mark Silver rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was hoping to get the "definitive" answer to the question if Custer was a hero or a bungler. Although Connell definitely leans toward bungler from the very first page, he seems to present a balanced case, with the reader making the final judgment. Obviously a dark period of US history as relates to the treatment of the Indian tribes. I found the government treatment of the Indians interesting, given that we had finally recognized the humanity of blacks, yet sought to exterminate another people ...more
Jul 02, 2013 Deborah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We do not see our hand in what happens,
so we call certain events melancholy accidents... Stanley Cavell

Crazy Horse - all he ever wanted was to be left alone. Very weakly he began his death song.

Crazy Horse was the kind of being never seen on earth: a genius in war, yet a lover of peace; a statesman who apparently never thought of the interests of any human being outside his own camp; a dreamer, a mystic, and a kind of Sioux Christ... This quite possibly was the laconic (using only few words) ind
Sep 25, 2011 Brian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book was like listening to a senile old man trying to tell you a story of something you are really interested in, and that you know he knows a lot about, only to listen to his narrative wind through side stories and inanities that ruin the experience.

I've read other books by Connell and really liked them. It was clear that he had a great amount of interest in Little Bighorn and had spent years researching Custer, the massacre, and several Indian tribes. But I get the feeling he lock
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Evan S. Connell, over the last half century, has published nineteen books of fiction, poetry, and essays, several of which—including the best-sellers Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, and the erudite, anecdotal, and totally unique nonfiction book Son of the Morning Star—are American classics. I've admired his work for many years, since first reading Diary of a Rapist, and was happy for a chance to inter ...more
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“Just across from Bismarck stood Fort Lincoln where friends and relatives of Custer’s dead cavalrymen still lived, and these emigrating Sioux could perceive such bitterness in the air that one Indian on the leading boat displayed a white flag. Yet, in accordance with the laws of human behavior, the farther downstream they traveled the less hostility they encountered, and when the tiny armada reached Standing Rock near the present border of South Dakota these Indians were welcomed as celebrities. Men, women and children crowded aboard the General Sherman to shake hands with Sitting Bull. Judson Elliot Walker, who was just then finishing a book on Custer’s campaigns, had to stand on a chair to catch a glimpse of the medicine man and reports that he was wearing “green wire goggles.” No details are provided, so green wire goggles must have been a familiar sight in those days. Sitting Bull mobbed by fans while wearing green wire goggles. It sounds like Hollywood.” 1 likes
“Captain Jack, that volatile Modoc, seems to have been handled still more causally. After being hanged and buried, Jack was exhumed, embalmed, and exhibited at carnivals: admission ten cents. How many instances of such sensibility one chooses to catalogue may be limited by the amount of time spent turning over musty pages. During the seventeenth century, Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, came upon a wood plank near the ruins of Ft. Crèvecoeur deep in the wilderness of the New World, upon which a French deserter had printed: NOUS SOMMES TOUS SAUVAGES” 1 likes
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