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I’m trying to figure out where I first came across this “parable of Little Big Horn”. I think (but I’m not 100% sure) that this was a story told by a narrator at the beginning of a novel.

The gist of the parable was that Custer had murdered a soldier and engineered the massacre to cover up the death. It’s possible that there was an implication that Custer had had a relationship with the soldier he killed, but I’m not certain.

I read this about 10 years ago, though the book I read it in was almost definitely not newly published at the time. I think it was in a novel, but it may possibly have been a collection of short stories.

I can’t remember much else about the novel, this short section really stood apart from it in my memory. I have a feeling that the genre was something like magical realism. Possibly Gabriel Garcia Marquez or David Mitchell, I’m not 100% sure about that though. I think it was a high brow-ish book; the kind of book that you might find on a short list for the Booker Prize… I read it in English.

Has anyone heard of this story? And if so, where?

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    Welcome to Literature Stack Exchange, take our tour! When did you read this? What was the rest of the novel like? Could you provide any other details about the parable? See the identification-request wiki for more information which could help narrow this down into something more easily answerable. – bobble Jun 9 at 22:11
  • @bobble thanks for the suggestion and link to the wiki! I’ve gone back and added as much detail as I can, even where I’m not sure. My memory is really hazy on this one – Jack O'Neill Jun 9 at 22:33
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    Thanks for adding more detail. This is probably unnecessary, but just to confirm - you read this in English, yes? – bobble Jun 9 at 22:37
  • Yes, I did. I’d meant to include that. Question updated! – Jack O'Neill Jun 9 at 22:42
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Sounds a lot like The Sign of the Broken Sword, a story in the Father Brown series by G.K. Chesterton. It's a short story in a collection.

It wasn't Custer, it was a fictional British soldier.

You can read it here.

Here's a quote:

Flambeau seemed suddenly galvanised into existence. "You mean," he cried hoarsely, "that General St. Clare hated Murray, and murdered him on the field of battle because——"

"You are still full of good and pure thoughts," said the other. "It was worse than that."

"Well," said the large man, "my stock of evil imagination is used up."

The priest seemed really doubtful where to begin, and at last he said again:

"Where would a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest."

The other did not answer.

"If there were no forest, he would make a forest. And if he wished to hide a dead leaf, he would make a dead forest."

There was still no reply, and the priest added still more mildly and quietly:

"And if a man had to hide a dead body, he would make a field of dead bodies to hide it in."
...

"But another man had talked to Espado the Vulture as well as he. Somehow the dark, grim young major from Ulster had guessed the hideous truth; and when they walked slowly together down that road towards the bridge Murray was telling the general that he must resign instantly, or be court-martialled and shot. The general temporised with him till they came to the fringe of tropic trees by the bridge; and there by the singing river and the sunlit palms (for I can see the picture) the general drew his sabre and plunged it through the body of the major." ... He saw that men must find the unaccountable corpse; must extract the unaccountable sword-point; must notice the unaccountable broken sword—or absence of sword. He had killed, but not silenced. But his imperious intellect rose against the facer; there was one way yet. He could make the corpse less unaccountable. He could create a hill of corpses to cover this one. In twenty minutes eight hundred English soldiers were marching down to their death."

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  • Ah, that's it, exactly! I'm very impressed you managed to get it even with all the red herrings I'd misremembered. Thank you! – Jack O'Neill Jun 11 at 6:36
  • Well, the central concept of starting a battle to hide a murder was close enough on its own. – Pete Jun 11 at 10:02

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