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Published: Tuesday, 9/29/2009

Custer regarded highly by historian whose ancestor helped defeat him


MONROE - As the descendant of a Native American warrior who fought at the Battle of Little Big Horn, Donovin Sprague might be expected to harbor resentment toward George Armstrong Custer.

But that is not the case. In fact it is far from the truth.

Mr. Sprague, who is a Minnicoujou Lahota, has nothing but the utmost respect for the Civil War and Indian wars military leader who led the surprise attack in 1876 on the combined forces of Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors in the Montana river valley.

"The highest honor in Lakota society is participating in the military and being a veteran," he said in a recent interview. "Custer and all of his men are looked up to in that regard. They were very brave. It is honorable to celebrate their lives."

Mr. Sprague, a historian and college teacher, is the great-great-grandson of Hump, who fought alongside Crazy Horse against Lieutenant Colonel Custer's 7th Cavalry.

The author of Native American history and culture books, he will speak at 1 p.m. Sunday in the River Raisin Centre for the Arts, 114 South Monroe St.

His appearance is part of the annual weeklong celebration honoring Colonel Custer, Monroe's most famous resident and military commander.

Mr. Sprague is a professor of Native American studies at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D., near the Wyoming border.

He has written six books on aspects of Native American history and culture. A recently completed book on the history of the Lakota tribe is scheduled to be released next year.

Educated at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, he grew up in the 1950s and 1960s on a South Dakota reservation.

His ancestor Hump, a name that refers to the high backbone of buffalo, was a mentor to Crazy Horse and fought alongside Crazy Horse in the battle against Colonel Custer's army.

Hump survived the Battle of Little Big Horn and surrendered to the government in 1877.

Mr. Sprague appears each year for the anniversary marking the massacre on June 25, 1876, at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

He has met descendants of Custer and other military leaders of the battle.

"It really is a nice thing and powerful thing," he said. "We can learn for the future about understanding each other."

The events sponsored by the Monroe County Historical Museums in conjunction with Custer Week are:

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