Historical revisionism has gotten a bad rap. While we should reject fanciful notions put forth without any corroborating evidence, revising the historical account to reflect the truth is not only invaluable, it is absolutely essential to enable mankind to come to grips with the reality of the human condition.
Propaganda is the art of replacing historic fact with mythology. Or, to put it another way, the practice of exchanging the truth for a lie. We see this when some researcher gets his name splattered across the news wires for claiming to have uncovered “evidence” that Jesus Christ had a wife and children while the vast bulk of evidence, including eye-witness testimony, supports no such conclusion.
We see propaganda employed in politics and in the environmental movement, in everything from “global warming” to the wolf re-colonization issue. To be successful, a propagandist must be able to change the public’s perception of reality. Lies are used to create an emotional response, to inflate egos, to bring about consensus and conformity. Liars are too proud to be humbled by the facts. But the truth always leads to humility and separates the righteous.
In 1971, Nazi hunters Beate and Serge Klarsfeld discovered Klaus Barbie (1913-1991), living under an assumed name in Bolivia. Known as the infamous “Butcher of Lyons”, Barbie played a leading role in implementing Hitler’s “Final Solution” to exterminate Jews in France. In 1983 the French government finally managed to arrange his extradition. In 1987, Barbie stood trial in France for war crimes that had transpired over four decades earlier.
Instead of trying to refute the overwhelming evidence arrayed against him, Barbie’s defense team cunningly chose to portray him as a victim of circumstance. Barbie himself liked to point out that had the AXIS powers been victorious, the history books would have recorded that the NAZI’s were great heroes instead of terrible monsters. Barbie would have been promoted to some high ranking position within the triumphant government rather than being forced to flee to some obscure South American country.
Barbie’s team of expert lawyers worked to expose the true extent of French collaboration. They provided irrefutable evidence detailing the efforts of the French government to hide their own guilt and cover their own tracks. French duplicity in Nazi war crimes became the focal point of the trial. Barbie was eventually found guilty, but the mountain of information revealed during his trail caused history books to be rewritten virtually overnight.
The French learned three important lessons from the Barbie trial. The first lesson was the realization that, “If history could be revised one way, it could be revised another”. If propagandists can insert lies and misconceptions into our textbooks, historical revisionists armed with new facts must be free to make corrections based on the evidence.
The second lesson is that understanding historical events requires seeing them from multiple perspectives. As a result of the embarrassing revelations brought out at Barbie’s trial it was said that, “The French are now capable of understanding what happened in their country.”
The third lesson is that the whole truth, when it is revealed, brings repentance and humility. Admitting their own mistakes gave the French a stronger appreciation for doing the right things. “Thus, by understanding France’s whole history, that is, taking the bitter with the sweet, the French were able to realize both the full depth of the collaboration and the full glory of the Resistance.” 
Contemplating what would have happened had the Nazi’s been victorious in creating a new world order may help us understand how propaganda is being used to manipulate people today. If Hitler had succeeded in conquering Europe, the Middle East, and Russia, all remaining dissenters would have been killed or subjected to a government program of forced re-education and intimidation. Children would have been taken away from their parents and sent to government schools. Survivors would have been forced to conform to the dominant culture or suffer indignities. But this is exactly what happened to the families and children of American Indians at the hand of the U.S. Government! And if modern Americans cannot admit the historical truth no matter how much it hurts or how much time has elapsed, than we certainly have no right to stand up and claim glory. If we refuse to taste the bitter aspects of our own history, we cannot fully appreciate the sweet taste of our many accomplishments.
My grandfather, William Michael Scanlan (1886-1976), was a private in the U.S. Army stationed in France at the close of WW I. Nicknamed “Wild Bill” , Grandpa Scanlan homesteaded a section of prairie in the Conata Basin not far from the Badlands of South Dakota. Unable to raise much of a crop, he turned to raising a few coyote pups instead. He eventually took a job as a cook for a small cattle outfit just to make ends meet.
Grandpa Scanlan was befriended by a Lakota man named “Dewey Beard” (1858–1955), an eye-witness of the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee Massacre. Beard’s Indian name was “Iron Hail”, but he changed it to Dewey Beard following his conversion to Catholicism. It is interesting to note that quite a few of the Indians who were involved in defeating Custer at the battle of the Little Big Horn, including Dewey Beard, later became converts to Catholicism. Black Elk (1863-1950), a famous Oglala “holy man”, was the most prominent of these converts.
Although he was repeatedly refused admission to seminary, Black Elk did become a Catholic lay minister. He spent the last years of his life trying to gain converts and ministering to the needs of the Indian people with the full blessing of Church officials. Even so, mention of Black Elk’s Catholicism is difficult to find in the history books while references to him as a “traditional medicine man” are common.
The Battle of The Little Big Horn is one of the most researched military confrontations of all time. But many gaps remain in the “official” historical record. As time goes by, more and more details have been filled in. My grandfather told me that Dewey Beard’s version of the events of the battle are not the same as recorded in our history books. According to Dewey Beard, the soldier’s attack caught the Indians by complete surprise. Beard grabbed the first horse he could catch and rushed out to defend the village. He was an exceptional horseman, but in his haste to join the battle he accidentally ran over his own grandmother with his horse.
Beard told my grandfather that there were many “Custers” on the battlefield that day. Beard claimed that several Calvary officers were wearing buckskins and big hats, and some had even donned blonde wigs. Beard’s testimony is backed up by another Oglala, Chief Red Horse, whose detailed description of the battle is documented in the PBS series “Archives of the West”. Beard’s claim is also supported by historian Jeffrey Wert in his book, Custer: The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer [c. 1996].
The use of decoys clears up a lot of the confusion surrounding Custer’s death. It is a historical fact that many different Sioux and Cheyenne warriors claimed to have actually killed Custer, or seen others do it, including White Bull of the Miniconjous, Rain-in-the-Face, Flat Lip, Brave Bear, and Joseph White Cow Bull. All of these men were able to recount details about the killing of a “long-haired officer wearing buckskins and a big hat”, but their accounts very in detail and in location. Other eye-witnesses claim that Custer was not killed by any of the Indians, but died of a self- inflicted pistol shot to the head.
If Custer did actually employ decoys, it not only confused the Indians, but likely led to a great deal of confusion among his own men, especially as their situation began to deteriorate and discipline evaporated. There are accounts that someone wearing “buckskins and a big hat” tried to ride away from the battle at a gallop accompanied by one other rider holding the battalion battle flag. The likelihood that Custer would abandon his men in order to try and save himself seems doubtful. However, this scenario is not beyond the realm of possibilities and does fit with some of the eye-witness accounts.
Adding support to this scenario is the fact that in 2005, after a hundred years of silence on this very issue, Cheyenne elders and history-keepers claimed that a woman named “Buffalo Calf Road Woman” was responsible for using a traditional war club to strike the blow that knocked “a galloping Custer off his horse”. Perhaps Road Woman’s blow struck down a decoy, or maybe she indeed felled the real Custer. The Cheyenne historians are adamant that a group of women were responsible for Custer’s death. Eye-witness accounts from some of the Lakota women, including Russell Means’ grandmother “Grandma Twinkle Stars”, also verify this story.
The women say they saw Custer galloping on a horse near the village and that a group of women chased him on foot with whatever weapons they could snatch up, cooking pots, sticks, and a few knives. When they finally surrounded him, they claim Custer pulled out his revolver and shot himself in the head. Other sources claim Custer was knocked off his horse while he was alive, and just as the women were preparing to torture him, an Indian warrior rode up, jumped of his horse and shot Custer in the head. Such an act of mercy seems very unlikely since it would have spared Custer from the unspeakable acts these women had in mind.
Custer ‘s body had only two bullet holes in it, one in his chest cavity just below his heart, and one through his temple possibly fired at close range. While there is a great deal of speculation about the head shot, it is a historic fact that unlike most of the other dead soldiers who were carved up and mutilated, Custer’s body was left remarkably untouched. The fact that Custer’s body was not mutilated puzzled General Terry when he arrived two days later to inspect the battlefield . This fact led to all sorts of wild speculation in the history books.
The answer to this mystery can be found in comparing and weighing the credibility of the stories passed down from the people involved. Among the Plains Indian tribes, Custer was despised beyond all men. He was considered a butcher, not a soldier, and this hatred of him should have insured that he received the slowest most painful death imaginable and that his dead body would have been desecrated beyond recognition.
According to the history keepers of the Cheyenne tribe, a group of women came forward in 1920 to say what really transpired. Just as some of the Lakota women were about to mutilate Custer’s body, several Cheyenne women yelled out, “Don’t do this! He is our relative!” They recognized Custer because he had engaged in a sexual relationship with one of their cousins. In Cheyenne culture such a relationship is traditionally equated with “marriage”. These women were obligated by tradition to plead with the other women not to mutilate one of their own “relatives”. However, these very same women also said that sewing awls were driven into Custer’s ears so that “he could hear better” in the next life. One other gruesome detail about the condition of Custor’s body was not released until after the death of Custer’s wife in 1933. The fact that an arrow had been shoved up Custer’s penis only confirms how these women truly felt about him.
The revelation that Custer had “married” into the Cheyenne tribe does offer the most likely explanation as to why Custer’s body was one of the few not mutilated to the same extent as the other soldiers. But you will not find this explanation written in any of the biographies of Custer or in any of our so-called “history” books until after 2005. Many of our history books are still published without these facts. Some claim that such revelations are extremely damaging to the country because they tamper with established American values and folk-lore.
Dewey Beard was the last living survivor of both the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the 1890 Indian massacre at Wounded Knee Creek. At Wounded Knee he lost his father, mother, two brothers, a sister, his wife and infant son. Beard was shot twice but lived to recount both of these historic events to many people, including his adopted granddaughter “Celene Not Help Him” and my grandfather, Bill Scanlan. So, who really cares? What does all this mean for those of us who are alive today?
“Six months after the [Wounded Knee] bloodbath, Beard – who also survived the Battle of the Little Big Horn – entered the Pine Ridge Indian Agent’s office with a revolver, fully intent on killing the man he considered responsible for the death of his family and friends. But before he could pull the trigger he had a change of heart. An Indian friend named Little Finger explains, “He realized that there was no need for recrimination, there was no need for retribution.” Little Finger attributed Beard’s change of heart to an insight into the traditional spiritual beliefs of the Lakota. Beliefs that One Horn, Big Foot and the rest of the Flying River Band shared – among which is the certainty that there is a place in the heavens and a place on Earth where there is peace, and in that place of peace is the act of forgiveness.”
Ironically, descendants of many of the Indians who fought against the 7th Calvary, are now fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq on behalf of all Americans. While it is an established fact that many of Sitting Bull’s own descendants are proud to fly the American flag and offer their lives in sacrifice to protect the land of their ancestors, it is not out of the realm of possibilities that one of these Indian patriots, a man or woman of Cheyenne ancestry, is also a direct descendent of George Armstrong Custer.
“The commitment of the Native American Peoples to the defense of the United States is unparalleled by any other population sector of the United States. [Emphasis added] As a people, we are the smallest ethnic group of the American population, and yet on a per capita basis we provide more members to the Armed Forces than any other population sector. The Native American People provide more members to the elite force structure of the Armed Forces than any other population sector. Native American Veterans however, utilize their Veteran Benefits the least of any population sector.” 
Russell Means and his A.I.M. protestors can help us understand why so many returning Indian vets fail to claim their well deserved V.A. benefits. In 1972, A.I.M. protestors disrupted several of Sen. George McGovern’s campaign speeches. Sen. McGovern was running for the Presidency of the United States on a platform of ending the war, expanding welfare to the poor, and granting amnesty to war protestors, draft dodgers and deserters.
At one campaign event Means barged in carrying a sign that read, “George Custer McGovern ignores Article VI of the U.S. Constitution”. While Sen. McGovern cowered behind the podium, Means shouted at him that Indians wanted to exercise their rights for self determination under the laws of the United States. Means yelled, “Indians don’t want welfare, it’s dehumanizing and degrading!”  The protestors dumped bags of white flour and other government commodities, donated clothing, mismatched shoes, and other worthless items onto the floor. Both men died this week. The Constitution patriot Russel Means outlived his Socialist adversary, George McGovern, by exactly one day. So much for small victories.
The American Indian Movement was much maligned and mis-characterized in the media as a “terrorist” organization. Although they practiced civil disobedience to gain attention, the group was formed for the purpose of securing Indian Treaty rights as guaranteed under the authority of the United States Constitution. Sadly, many Americans still believe that the poverty and despair seen within the reservation system, while tragic, is not only well deserved, but of the Indians own making.
It is a fact of life that those who win the wars get to write the history books. But when we really try to discover the truth of a matter, it leads to one conclusion. History teaches us that while some people behave like devils, none of us are angels. We are all flawed human beings, and we are all related.
 Alain Finkielkraut, Remembering in Vain: The Klaus Barbie Trial and Crimes Against Humanity. Trans. Roxanne Lapidus with Sima Godfrey. (New York, Columbia University Press. 1992.) p. 90
 Grandma “Twinkle Stars” as recorded in Where White Men Fear to Tread [c. 1995] p. 16
 Russell Means, Where White Men Fear to Tread [c. 1995] pg 159.