Custer’s Last Stand — a Lakota view

The last great military victory of the Lakota people

Henry Oscar One Bull/Tȟatȟáŋka Waŋžíla (Hunkpapa Lakota), Custer's War, c. 1900, 39 x 69 inches (irregular), pigments, ink on muslin (Minneapolis Institute of Art). Speakers: Dr. Jill Ahlberg Yohe, Minneapolis Institute of Art and Dr. Steven Zucker

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One Bull, Greasy Grass

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Key points

  • This ledger-style artwork documents the defeat of the American army by Lakota and Cheyenne forces at Little Bighorn (known as the Battle of Greasy Grass among the Plains Indians). This land had been granted to the Lakota in the Sioux Treaty of 1868, however when gold was discovered, General Custer’s expedition broke the treaty to reclaim the area for the United States.
  • The artist, One Bull (nephew of Sitting Bull), depicts the Lakota narrative of the battle and captures history from a perspective traditionally omitted in history books. The Plains Indians are carefully rendered and identifiable. It shows a series of episodes from the battle, including the initial killing of an Indian boy named Deeds, the encampment of women, children, and the elderly, the soldiers’ initial attack on the village, their retreat, and additional engagements.
  • The battle happened during the 1876 Centennial celebrations of American independence. The American media heroicized Custer, a Civil War hero, despite the fact that he had broken a treaty and was the aggressor against the Lakota and Cheyenne. Following this battle and bolstered by the notion of Manifest Destiny, the United States redoubled its efforts to eradicate Native Americans from this land (those not already living on a reservation).

Go deeper

See this image in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Learn more about Plains Indians ledger drawings

Read primary source documents including interviews and statements of Chief Henry Oscar One Bull

Learn more about the Little Bighorn Battlefield, which is now a national monument

Read about the life of Sitting Bull

Read more about the treatment of Native Americans as part of expansion into the West

Learn about the role of Manifest Destiny in the westward expansion of the United States

More to think about

Compare One Bull’s drawing of The Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn) to Edgar Samuel Paxson’s 1899 painting Custer’s Last Stand. How does Paxson’s painting reflect the prevailing point of view of the battle in the United States at the time? How does One Bull’s contrasting representation make you question what you know about this battle, and other conflicts you may have learned about?

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

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Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.