After twenty years of researching and painting the historic Battle of Little Big Horn, Edgar S. Paxson finished Custer’s Last Stand in 1899. Because of its large scale, this is one of the most compelling interpretations of the Battle of Little Big Horn. The painting contains more than two hundred figures including portraits of key persons such as George Armstrong Custer, Chief Crazy Horse, and others. Click here for a biography of Paxson.
George Armstrong Custer
On June 25, 1876, Lieutenant Colonel Custer and over 200 soldiers attacked a large Lakota and Cheyenne village near the Big Horn River. He and his Seventh Cavalry died in this battle often known as the Battle of Little Big Horn. Paxson painted Custer as a hero in the center of the battlefield, recognized by his buckskin clothing, blond hair, and mustache.
Gall, Chief of the Hunkpapa Lakota, was a great warrior. He helped the Indians win the Battle of Little Big Horn with his plan to counterattack from the south and east. In his painting, Paxson depicted the Indian warriors on the edges of the canvas. Perhaps his less prominent placement of these figures reflects common late 19th century views of Plains Indian people at the periphery of society.
George Walter Yates
Paxson included portraits of soldiers in his painting, including Captain Yates. Yates commanded the F Company of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry Regiment led by Custer. Yates, a friend of Custer, was killed near him in battle. Notice the similar facial features of each of the soldiers. Paxson may have used the same model for each figure.
Chief Crazy Horse
The legendary Crazy Horse led a counterattack on the U.S. Seventh Cavalry from the north and west
at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Many believe that Crazy Horse was actually never photographed. Paxson likely read descriptions of Crazy Horse and used his imagination for this depiction.
Wounded Soldier, extracting cartridge shell with pocket knife
Paxson portrayed this character having trouble with his weapon, a Springfield Model 1873 carbine. These rifles jammed when overheated and the soldiers were forced to extract the shells manually with knives. However, the rifles the artist depicted are actually a later model. Though Paxson was praised for his historical accuracy, this is one aspect of the painting that is out of context.