What Are Custer’s Most Enduring Legacies?

We speak all the time about the past: how General George Armstrong Custer’s actions affected the conflicts with Native Americans at the time, how different factions responded at the time, what weapons and strategies were used at the time, what motivated his actions at the time, etc. But what about how all of those things affect or influence the current day? He is perhaps one of the most talked about American generals of all time, so what are his most enduring legacies?

Perhaps the most obvious legacy is based on his treatment of the Native Americans. He was brave, enthusiastic, and seemingly fearless, sure, but he was also brutal and aggressive. He slaughtered women and children, as did the men under his command, and he used survivors to act as human shields for his forces as they raped and plundered.

When we look back on the U.S. Army’s actions toward the Native Americans, many of us realize that our ancestors had no right to do what they did — that is, take land by whatever means necessary. Millions were slaughtered through biological warfare. This was genocide.

This stain on American history is the reason why many of us are here (and why many others who should be alive today are not here in our stead). 

Yet we have failed to make sufficient apologies, reparations, or even a show of respect for those who came before us. Perhaps our failures then are the most enduring legacy of Custer and his men, who died at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Those failures have echoed through the ages, and certainly we have yet to make amends the way we probably should. The dead deserve our respect.

Scholars and laymen alike will continue to debate over whether Custer was a masterful tactician or a failed general who should serve as a warning to the overzealous political and military powerhouses of today. But one thing is certain: the legacy will continue to be realized for centuries still.