HARDIN, Mont. -- On Dec. 17, a frayed American flag, found under a dead soldier on the Little Bighorn battlefield, brought $1.9 million at an auction at Sotheby's in New York. The swallowtail Culbertson guidon, named after the soldier who found it, had been owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts for more than 100 years.
That sale is just the most recent evidence of our fascination with the Battle of the Little Bighorn, a pivotal moment in U.S. history. Dozens of books have been written about every imaginable aspect and key player of the June 1876 battle.
The story of the battle, also known as Custer's Last Stand, has been retold in movies and song, mostly painting the swaggering Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry as heroes. Nearly all -- about 270 men -- were wiped out in the battle. Estimates of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho casualties vary widely, from just 36 to 300. There is no argument that the Indians were victors in the battle, but the clash between two cultures would not end well for them. They ultimately lost the buffalo grazing grounds that sustained their nomadic life.