The chief role of a great man; The Lance and The Shield -The Life and Times of Sitting Bull. By Robert M Utley (Pimlico, pounds 12.50). Reviewed by Ross Reyburn.
Originally published in the United States five years ago, Utley's highly-praised book offers some graphic descriptions of the fighting but the narrative of the battle is slightly confusing.
There is no clear account of Custer's role and it comes as an anti-climatic surprise to read about around 100 soldiers being killed on a hilltop and the Indian warrior White Bull surveying the fallen men being told that one of the naked corpses was the body of Long Hair, George Armstrong Custer.
Later some critics branded the legendary Sitting Bull a coward for the fact he was not involved in the major fighting in the massacre of the 7th Cavalry. But when the battle was fought he was 46. Understandably he left it to the younger braves to win th e day with impulsive charges taking advantage of the fact they outnumbered the white man by three to one.
Utley points out that Sitting Bull's life story had been "a nearly unbroken record of conspicuous bravery" and he presents a convincing case to back up his argument that nothing he did at Little Bighorn detracted from that record.
Sitting Bull also showed great dignity unsuccessfully urging his people not to rob the bodies of the soldiers.
In this authoritative examination of the life of a famous Indian chie Utley's final verdict on Sitting Bull's role at Little Bighorn is an interesting one. His significance, he writes, lay not in flaunting bravery or directing the movements of warriors but rather in "leadership so wise and powerful that it drew together and held together a muscular coalition of tribes, one so infused with his defiant cast of mind that it could rout Three Stars and annihilate Long Hair."