CUSTER'S RELATIONSHIP WITH INDIANS
General Custer respected his foes. During the Civil War, he gave food and clothing to Confederate prisoners who happened to be old classmates. He even took part in a wedding where everybody was dressed in gray. Nevertheless, Custer entered the church with a blue uniform and nobody dared to say a word.
When Custer first met the Indians, or Native Americans, his feelings were ambivalent. As a sportsman and a hunter, he loved the hard life of the tribes. But the Indian customs, such as torture, mutilations and massacres of civilians, were the dark side of this war. After a few months of campaign against the Cheyenne, Custer had already seen 24 men tortured and burnt alive, a young girl raped in a Cheyenne village, a family whose woman and child had been abducted and abused by several warriors and chiefs (the Box Family) and Lieutenant Kidder's party, whose members had been ambushed and slaughtered by Pawnee Killer's Sioux (a soldier had been burnt alive). This side of the "Indian question" was the reason so many settlers hated the Indians and even killed their own wives and children when Indians were entering their house.
Altough Custer hated and chased the criminals, such as Black Kettle's warriors, he often said good words on the bravery and effectiveness of ordinary warriors. He used to give gifts to Ree scout Bloody Knife, who was one of his closest friend in the 7th cavalry. He gave to the Ree a necklace and a golden medal especially made for the scout in Washington.
After the Black Hills campaign, Custer wrote long letters praising the Ree and Crow scouts. He also visited their councils several times, watching their ceremonies. Ree scout Red Star remembered that Custer was so aware of their customs that he could tell them what was missing during a Ree religious service !
Here's what General Custer wrote about the Indians:
"If I were an Indian...I would greatly prefer to cast my lot among those of my people who adhere to the free open plains, rather than submit to the confined limits of a reservation."
- George Armstrong Custer
"I now have some Crow scouts with me. They are magnificent-looking men, so much handsomer and more Indian-like than any we have ever seen, and jolly and sportive; nothing of the gloomy, silent red-man about them....they said they (had) heard that I never abandoned a trail; that when my food gave out I ate mule. That was the kind of man they wanted to fight under; they were willing to eat mule, too. "
- George Armstrong Custer
"Custer had an Indian soul."
- Crow scout Curley (he named his own son "George" to honor Custer)
"The women...pushed the point of a sewing awl into each of his ears, into his head. This was done to improve his hearing, as it seemed he had not heard what our chiefs in the South had said when he smoked the pipe with them. They told him then that if ever afterward he should break that peace promise and should fight the Cheyennes, the Everywhere Spirit surely would cause him to be killed....I often have wondered if, when I was riding among the dead where he was lying, my pony may have kicked dirt upon his body. "
- Cheyenne squaw Kate BigHead, Washita and Little Bighorn participant
Crow scouts near Custer's marker at the Little Bighorn : Curley is second from the right.