Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer has agreed to come with me to Wild Deadwood Reads in South Dakota on June 10th.
This isn’t the only time Custer has been in Black Hills country. Way back in July of 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant issued orders for Custer to scout a suitable site for a military post in the Black Hills. Custer himself told me his big mistake was bringing along those two prospectors. It had been rumored for years that the Black Hills were rich in gold, and those damn prospectors found it. “The beginning of the end,” he told me in genuine sorrow, “of the Plains Indians and their way of life.”
A quick background: In 1868, the year before Grant took office, the United States signed a treaty with the Lakota Sioux that stated, “from this day forward, all war between the parties to this agreement shall forever cease.”
Under the treaty, the U.S. designated all of present-day South Dakota west of the Missouri River – including the Black Hills – as the Great Sioux Reservation, for the Lakota’s “absolute and undisturbed use and occupation.” (To be accurate and fair, the Lakota Sioux had taken this land from the Kiowas and the Crows.)
The treaty also reserved much of present-day northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana as Unceded Indian Territory, “off limits to whites without the express permission of the Sioux.”
Custer told me his official mission that summer – finding a site for a new Army post – was permitted under the 1868 treaty. He and his party looking for gold, however, was not!
Custer was, and still is, a true Army officer. He takes the “public” blame for what happened at the LBH (as he refers to the Little Bighorn battle) and its consequences. But in private he will tell you it was President Grant who wanted to go to war. “He needed that damn gold,” he told me last October, right before I published my book The Custer Conspiracy.
At the time, America was in its second year of a crippling economic depression and desperately needed a financial lift. Grant needed that Black Hills gold in order to save his presidency. He knew he had no legal “right” to seize the Black Hills, so he simply invented one.
“General Crook himself told me,” Custer said while we were making plans for our summer trip to Deadwood, “that President Grant believed the non-treaty Lakotas (meaning Sitting Bull and his band) had intimidated the peaceful reservation Indians such that they would not sell their mining rights in the Black Hills to the US government. Grant told me as far back as November of 1875 that if we crushed the non-treaty Indians, the Indians on the reservations could be persuaded to give up those mining rights.”
** For substantiated proof of this, I urge you to see the November 2016 edition of the Smithsonian magazine, and read the article titled Grant’s Uncivil War (some of which I unashamedly copied for this post). It lays out in detail much of what I include above.
Click here to Pre-Order my latest book, or come by my table at Wild Deadwood Reads on June 10th and I’ll introduce you to The Custer Conspiracy (as well as my other two mystery-thrillers, The Oath and Kissed By The Snow).