The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991 Page: 483
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cial fact Robert Utley admits without hesitation in his brief but interest-
ing new biography. Simply labeled a "cavalier in buckskin," Utley's
Custer is ultimately little more than a talented, ambitious, and vain
mid-level officer who happened to get killed in a glorious pitched battle
in which there were no survivors among his command. Dark, almost
sinister mystery thus surrounded his death from the beginning.
Among his military associates the accusations and denials of blame
sparked a debate that continues to the present. As is so often the case
with other emotionally charged issues that have beset American society
over the years (flag burning being the latest), almost everybody seems
to have an opinion on Custer. It is simply no fun not to.
Utley states in his preface that more than anything else he wanted to
solve the enigma of Custer, in other words, to understand why Custer
was the way he was. Yet he concedes failure to reach definite conclu-
sions, and he firmly believes nobody will ever discover the real man.
Unfortunately the narrative breezes through Custer's childhood, allow-
ing few speculations on how his early family life (or lack thereof) might
have influenced his psyche. His Civil War career, which Utley claims
elevated the "boy general" to heights second only to Phil Sheridan
among all cavalry commanders, receives equally sketchy and ambigu-
ous treatment. War-especially full-tilt charges-Custer found highly
intoxicating, his fellow officers attributing his many death-defying feats
to "Custer's Luck." Yet Utley also perceives a mature soldier of com-
manding authority and tactical brilliance emerging at the same time.
Custer's deliberate, often erratic, postwar pursuit of money, women,
and fame Utley explains as the mere reassertion of Custer the boy over
Custer the emerging man; and clearly, the boy never lost ascendancy to
the man again. His role in the complex political and military milieu of
frontier Indian fighting receives excellent coverage, a reflection of the
author's matchless expertise on this subject. Likewise, Utley's analysis of
the Little Bighorn battle is a concise masterpiece, combining a knowl-
edge of an incredibly large and diverse array of sources with an even-
tempered yet relentless logic that leaves little more to be asked or an-
swered. Some questions, he wisely affirms, are in fact unanswerable
given the existing evidence. The ongoing cult of Custer-Custer as the
larger-than-life symbol of frontier violence and tragedy-he also dis-
sects and evaluates in a convincing manner. Other than confirming
Custer's ethnocentric ignorance of Indians, however, Utley makes only
a marginal attempt to place his subject in the wider context of the Vic-
torian era, a time when a Napoleonic-style quest for glory by so many
military figures reached its grotesquely American zenith in men like
Custer. Comparisons to American officers of such temperament
(Stuart, Kearny, Van Dorn, MacArthur, and Patton come to mind)
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991, periodical, 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/m1/547/: accessed May 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.