Writer Evan S. Connell died this week, but I have seen and heard almost nothing in response to his death. So I will respond.
Connell's Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn has been one of the most influential books of my adult life. By way of this history, I began to recognize not only the tortuousness of moral beliefs and good intentions but also the ways in which one might begin to address them as an individual writer, observer, and sufferer. Connell's prose is exquisite and so was his ear; for he was able to collect the voices of participants on every side and from every level of that struggle, to balance and mingle them, and thus create a record that was far, far more complicated than a good guys versus bad guys story. This book is why I am able to even imagine writing my western Pennsylvania poems. You should read it; and if you've already read it, you should reread it. That's what I'm planning to do.
The following extract is just one example of the complications that Connell is able to reveal, and he does this everywhere, for every major character, both Sioux and white, throughout the book.
In October the Seventh returned to winter quarters at Fort Leavenworth where [Custer] had even less to do. Earlier he had written a series of articles for a sportman's journal under the pseudonym "Nomad," and now he wrote a few more.
"The Hunt on the Plains," which appeared in a November issue of Turf, Field and Farm, tells about "nine ardent lovers of sport" who set out from Detroit in a Pullman car, bound for the Seventh Cavalry camp at Fort Hays. . . .
It concludes with a sentimental and instructive example of Custer's poetry. One of his dogs, Maida, had been killed by a soldier.
Poor Maida, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend;
Whose honest heart is still your master's own,
Who labors, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
But who with me shall hold thy former place,
Thine image what new friendship can efface,
Best of thy kind, adieu!
The frantic deed which laid thee low
This heart shall ever rue.
What happened to the perpetrator of this frantic deed, he does not reveal.
He loved animals, including those he killed and stuffed, but dogs and horses were his favorites, and the dogs most clearly returned his affection. [His wife] Elizabeth reports that whenever he took a nap the dogs would lie down as close to him as possible. "I have seen them stretched at his back and curled around his head, while the nose and paws of one rested on his breast."[from Evan S. Connell, Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn, 1984]