Little Big Man

First Line: “I am, beyond a doubt, the last of the old-timers. My name is Jack Crabb. And I am the sole white survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn, uh, uh, popularly known as Custer's Last Stand.”

 

Even though Little Big Man is a comedy it was one of the first movie westerns to portray Native American’s in a positive light and our treatment of them as the horror it often was.

The film is handled as a long flashback as a 121-year-old Jack Crabb relates his life story to a young oral historian.  Dustin Hoffman portrays the young (and old) Jack who was raised by the Cheyenne after the wagon train containing his family is attacked and Jack and his sister are left as the only survivors.  They are found by a small group of the Cheyenne who take the two back to their camp and raise them as part of their tribe. The movie follows him through his life as he is “rescued” from the “savage Indians” and returned to civilization, returns to Native American life and back again, and again until his involvement with the battle at Little Big Horn.   


Little Big man, like life. is made of up of situations that often only seem humorous when looked back upon in retrospect or looked upon as an outsider looking in. By its humor, it managed to overcome fact that many of my generation and those before mine were taught that the Native Americans were the villains in the history of U.S. westward expansion and we were only beginning to find out otherwise. I watched this film in 1970 and it was the first time that I remember finding myself rooting for the Indians rather than the soldiers. It has been said that history is written by the victor. Thankfully the truth does tend to come out in the end.   The movie presented our mistreatment of the tribes with enough humor and tenderness to make those of my generation understand the truth behind our western expansion and gave many of us a lot to think about. For that I am thankful.

This is not to say that the story is only about Native American life.  The film takes a poke at many of our conceptions of society, religion and history and does so in a very entertaining and often humorous way. I find that the film still holds up today and sadly some of the issues it deals with are still as relevant today as they were in 1970 when the film came out.