May 25, 2010

Custer Country in Montana

What is Custer Country? Is it a place where glory hounds go to achieve fame and glory? Where murderers go to kill Indians in their sleep? Where people who don't care about life and death go to commit suicide?

Technically speaking, it's a tourist region in southeastern Montana that includes the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Here's what you'll find at its website:

Take in Custer CountryHere, in our on-line home, you can sample all the wonders of Custer Country—the history, wildlife, scenery, and action—and plan your dream vacation. Custer Country is where history lives--in the shining face of a 2-year old Cheyenne dancer at Crow Fair, the towering skeleton of a T-Rex on the Dinosaur Trail, and the pounding hooves at the Dinosaur Trail reenactment of Custer’s Last Stand. Custer Country is also nature at its prime—wildlife, river and badlands. Please spend some time here checking us out.HistoryFrom the legends of the American West to the dinosaurs that once ruled the earth, the wide-open spaces of Custer Country are like the pages of a history book. Famous for its battlefields, monuments, Indian Nations, and a rich cultural heritage, Montana’s Custer Country resonates with history like no other area in the United States.CusterPerhaps you’ve heard of one of our most famous visitors? His name was Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. If you’re a history buff, you’ll find lots of interesting sites in Custer Country, including the Rosebud Battle site and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, where Custer fought his famous last battle. Follow the trail of one of the world’s most celebrated military figures right here in Custer Country.Cowboys & IndiansA cowboy spends most of his days under western skies with horses and cattle. He is a tough individual who wears leather boots and a broad brimmed hat, and is a genuine legend of the “Old West.” The way of life and the history of cowboys lives strong in Custer Country. Today the cowboy as a serious rancher has replaced the colorful gambler and gunslinger. That doesn’t mean cowboys don’t know how to have fun. All of our rodeos are proof of that. With our rodeo events scattered throughout the year, anytime is a good time to cowboy up!

Custer Country is the home of 2 Indian Nations--the Crow and the Cheyenne. A proud and colorful history lives throughout our region and is expressed through celebrations, Pow Wows, and Crow Fair. Also, every year in June, at Little Bighorn Days in Hardin, visitors come from all over the world to watch the Reenactment of Custer's Last Stand. Action, color, shooting and the best bareback riding you've ever seen await you at this event. Finally, be certain that you save some time to visit the breathtaking art centers and museums to fully absorb the rich Indian cultural heritage.
Comment:  I can see the slogan now:

Visit Custer Country, Montana, where losers go to die.

The site doesn't say much more about Indians. Its other main tabs barely mention them. This is most of what you get about the region's history.

The information isn't wrong, but it's been scrubbed clean of any controversy. Everything is "colorful" or something similarly upbeat. Nothing bad happened here except "Custer's last battle," after which I guess he retired to his estate.

What does the site omit? Well, Custer led a massacre of the Southern Cheyenne on the Washita River. He violated treaties by leading a gold-hunting expedition into the Black Hills. And at Little Bighorn he tried to kill thousands of Indians who wanted to live peacefully on their ancestral land.

At least the site doesn't call him a hero. But the name "Custer Country" seems an insult to the local tribes. He didn't live there or have any right of possession. All he did was visit once and foolishly get himself killed.

The land belonged and should belong to the Indians. It's Indian Country, not Custer Country. It would be like calling the 13 original colonies "King George III Country." Or calling Atlanta "William Tecumseh Sherman Country"--you know, because he marched through and destroyed it on the way to the sea.

Whitewashing Indian country

Custer Country has been incorporated since 1984, so I'm sure the Crow and Cheyenne have made their peace with it. But it's a typical example of how the winners write the history. Of how white Americans encode their version of events into the cultural landscape.

The implication of the name is clear. The land wasn't the Indians' to keep, it was Custer's to take. That he failed is a detail the US Army soon rectified.

Now the Indians are guests or tenants in the white man's land, not the other way around. Children grow up seeing and hearing Custer's name come first. The region features Custer, cowboys, dinosaurs, and...oh, yeah, some Indians too.

For more on Custer, see Dan Simmons Tackles Black Hills and Custer's Anti-Indian Reputation. For more on the educational issues, see Ethnic History Corrects American History and Mainstream History = Pro-White Propaganda.

P.S. Someone noted the irony of this effort beginning in 1984. Yes, the date must've inspired them. War = Peace. Freedom = Slavery. Indian Country = Custer Country.


Native Bro' said...


I do not believe the name "Custer" can necessarily be a bad thing to call a place in America.

Without the acknowledgement of the man and his place in history, how can we preserve the lessons of history for future generations.

This county and its residents should not be targeted as racists and Indian haters unless there is an active means to carry out such division and ignorance, there is plenty of American real estate to share such sentiment and plenty of people to re-educate about the perpetual falsehoods of America's first peoples.

Racism is a behavior and belief system we are all guilty of, we just need to put our best feet foward to resolve and peacefully change as one race, the human race.

There are plenty of mountains, rivers, lakes, states, counties, roads, automobiles, sports teams, military arms and consumer products named after tribes and chiefs throughout America, surely there is enough room for five states (Colorado, Oklahoma, Idaho, Montana & Nebraska) to keep the name Custer alive in recognition of America's powerful might defeated by its even more powerful aboriginal inhabitants!

Anonymous said...

Indeed "Custer Country" is an insult to Indian Country and their soveriegnty. I believe its a form of "racial microaggression". Rob assertion is that the name "Custer Country" somehow mocks Indian Country by way that it make it seemed like they own the land, which they do not. The name "Custer" is generally associated with everything that is anti-Indian. After all, Custer had one purpose and that purpose was slaughter all the Natives of that land. Women, children and elders. No one was immune. That persona alone is akin to serial killers and Hitler. All for his personal gains, glory, fame, etc. But since bad karma got to him first, which is a good thing btw.
But in hindsight, I see what this company is trying to promote. The history and legends of that state's famous tourism site, all described therein. Nothings wrong with that. But then again, "Custer Country" is just a name of a private tourism company and nothing more. It does promote some Indian events as it mentions the famous Crow Fair.

But in reality, George A. Custer will always be remembered as the Indian fighter that is. And still to this day, Indians will always loathed at his name and what he stood for.


Rob said...

Custer has more than enough name recognition already, Native Bro'. I don't think anyone will forget him if "Custer Country" changes its name.

As I explained, I don't think Custer Country is promoting Custer's ignominious defeat. I think it's promoting his heroic struggle and America's eventual triumph.

For more on that subject, see Custer's Last Stand and Ethnic Studies.

I don't think the organization behind Custer Country is a "private tourism company," Geno. Rather, it's a state-funded agency similar to a convention and visitor bureau.

In other words, it's public or quasi-public, not private. That gives it more of a responsibility to reflect all the state's people, not just the white majority.

Rob said...

Custer Country obviously chose the name because Custer is well-known and popular. I'm digging beneath the surface to explain why he's well-known and popular.

Why do Americans love Custer? I think it's because they see him as a symbol of their greatness. He represents their heroic struggle to vanquish the merciless Indian savages.

Why didn't the agency call the region "Crow Country" or something similar instead? Because promoting Indian survival and success doesn't fit the prevailing theory of American exceptionalism. We won, according to this myth, because it was our Manifest Destiny. Because we deserved to win.

Anonymous said...

Custer was a typical imperialist: Convinced he was right, convinced he was invincible. He might still, somewhere in hell, believe he right, but I doubt he still believes he's invincible.