The history of Gen. George Custer’s 1,000-man exploration across 300 miles of Dakota Plains in search of gold.
Mort’s (The Wrath of Cochise, 2013, etc.) enlightening works about Native Americans are remarkable not only for their depth, but also for the poetic beauty of his descriptions of their lives, religions and cultures. The Sioux had no concept of private property. The land was theirs by right of conquest—of the Kiowa, Cheyenne and Crow—and due to the fact that they occupied it. The white man defined ownership as working the land—e.g., farming, which was work that male Indians felt was only for squaws. President Ulysses Grant’s peace plan involved containing the tribes on reservations, training them in agriculture and taking their children into missionary schools. That was the best way to extinguish the Native American way of life, and the Sioux knew it was so. The stated objective of Custer’s expedition in 1874 was to find a site for a permanent military installation, but the implicit goal was to find gold. It was hoped that the finding of gold in the Black Hills would help offset the country’s massive Civil War debt. It would also bolster the stock and bonds tied to the Northern Pacific Railroad, an important project for the general. The Sioux called Custer’s trail the Thieves’ Road since it stole into their territory and foretold the end of their freedom and way of life. They had already dealt with incursion before, during the Red Cloud War, when Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe joined to destroy the Bozeman Trail. The 1868 Treaty of Laramie closed forts along that trail and ceded a million acres with hunting rights outside the reservation.
Mort’s delightful prose will entice readers of history, geography, Native American studies and sociology. All will revel in the feeling of being in the Dakotas at the end of the 19th century.