Crazy Horse and Custer: Born Enemies

Crazy Horse and Custer: Born Enemies
Age Range
Release Date
November 09, 2021
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In 1876, Lakota chief Crazy Horse helped lead his people’s resistance against the white man’s invasion of the northern Great Plains. One of the leaders of the US military forces was Army Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. The men had long been enemies. At the height of the war, when tribalism had reached its peak, they crossed paths for the last time.

In this action-packed double biography, S. D. Nelson draws fascinating parallels between Crazy Horse and Custer, whose lives were intertwined. These warriors were alike in many ways, yet they often collided in deadly rivalry. Witness reports and reflections by their peers and enemies accompany side-by-side storytelling that offers very different perspectives on the same historical events. The two men’s opposing destinies culminated in the infamous Battle of the Greasy Grass, as the Lakota called it, or the Battle of the Little Bighorn, as it was called by the Euro-Americans.

In Crazy Horse and Custer, Nelson’s gripping narrative and signature illustration style based on Plains Indians ledger art, along with a mix of period photographs and paintings, shines a light on two men whose conflict forever changed Lakota and US history.

The book includes an author’s note, timeline, endnotes, and bibliography.

Editor review

1 review
The countdown to a brutally tragic confrontation.
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Learning Value
What worked:
The book tells the histories of the two title characters in alternating chapters. This format allows readers to compare and contrast their lives, and there are more similarities than most people might think. Custer’s father teaches him to see non-whites as savages and lesser-humans than himself, and this attitude lasted throughout Custer’s life. Crazy Horse despised whites for trespassing into Lakota lands, killing buffalo, and forcing his tribe to move. Both leaders were energized by battle, so they thrived in times of war. Custer preferred fighting in close combat with his sword, while Crazy Horse led the Lakota on horseback to engage the enemy with his bow and arrows. Their personalities made them natural leaders, however, they each had lapses in judgment that undermined their efforts.
Other historical events are shared to let readers know what is happening across the United States during these years. The Civil War is happening, and the battles give Custer many opportunities to make a name for himself. The government encourages settlers to move west, invading Indian lands, so Crazy Horse is motivated to discourage those efforts. He continues attacks on wagons and settlements even as other Indian leaders sign peace agreements. However, the government continually changes these pacts and stokes the frustrations and anger of the Indians.
The book is full of photographs, illustrations, and quotations to add clarity and credibility to the information. Fellow Indians, soldiers, and other personalities provide their own words to describe Custer and Crazy Horse in detail. Using exact words from the actual people is more impactful than an author paraphrasing those same words. Photographs show Custer at various stages of his life, and they show other soldiers and Indians that impact the story. Crazy Horse never allows himself to be photographed, and the many illustrations represent other people and events that were never recorded on film. Maps, battles, villages, and settlements are depicted in these pictures to help readers fully grasp the stories.
What didn’t work as well:
The book is nonfiction, so it’s meant to inform readers without necessarily developing an entertaining story. The story of Little Big Horn has its own built-in drama to create interest. The aspect of the book that doesn’t work as well is how the author uses different names for the two main characters. George Armstrong Custer is called Autie as a boy, but he is usually referred to as Custer in the book. However, it is momentarily confusing when one of the other names randomly pops up instead of common pronouns. He's referred to as Armstrong on one page. Similarly, Crazy Horse has multiple names, but it’s unnecessary to switch back and forth between all of them and create temporary distractions.
The final verdict:
The countdown to a brutally tragic confrontation. The story moves quickly through the lives of Custer and Crazy Horse and doesn’t get bogged down with unnecessary details. Readers gain an appreciation for the mindset of the times, as well as the motivations of both men. This book is sure to interest lovers of American history and those wanting to know the truth behind Custer’s last battle at The Little Big Horn.

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