As American settlers expanded westward during the mid- to late-nineteenth century, they pushed Native Americans out of their territories. A series of violent clashes ensued, as several tribes resisted forced removal.
In 1874, General George Custer was stationed on the western frontier with the 7th Cavalry at Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory. In the years that followed, Custer and his men carried out numerous attacks on Lakota, Sioux, and Cheyenne settlements. Often accompanied by journalists, Custer was portrayed in the media as a gallant champion of Manifest Destiny, the belief that American settlers were "destined" to spread across the continent.
By 1876, the discovery of gold in the Black Hills brought an influx of new white settlers, who further encroached on Native lands. In an effort to force native peoples onto established reservations, the U.S. government launched a large military campaign. Custer and his regiment marched west, where he located a sizable Native American settlement on the bank of the Little Bighorn River. Despite being significantly outnumbered, Custer ordered his men to attack. Most popularly known as "Custer's Last Stand," the battle resulted in an overwhelming Native American victory in which Custer and many of his men were killed.
Following Custer's death, his widow, Libbie, embarked on an extensive campaign to see her husband remembered as a war hero who fought valiantly against hostile forces. Custer's legacy draws largely from his actions at Little Big Horn. His life and his “Last Stand” remain the subject of close scrutiny today.
Custer discusses the frontier and conflicts with Native Americans in letters written to his cousin Agusta Frary on August 19, 1875, and April 25, 1876.