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What is the significance of this obscure foray into the Black Hills? The short answer, as the author explains, is that Custer found gold. This discovery in the context of the worst economic depression the country had yet experienced spurred a gold rush that brought hordes of white prospectors to the Sioux's sacred grounds. The result was the trampling of an 1868 treaty that had granted the Black Hills to the Sioux and their inevitable retaliation against the white invasion.
The author brings the era of the Grant administration to life, with its "peace policy" of settling the Indians on reservations, corrupt federal Indian Bureau, Gilded Age excesses, the building of the western railroads, the white settlements that followed the tracks, the Crash of 1873, mining ventures, and the clash of white and Indian cultures with diametrically opposed values.
The discovery of gold in the Black Hills was the beginning of the end of Sioux territorial independence. By the end of the book it is clear why the Sioux leader Fast Bear called the trail cut by Custer to the Black Hills "thieves' road."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-12-15
- Reviewer: Staff
Though much has been written about the legendary confrontation between the Lakota Sioux and Gen. George Custer’s U.S. cavalry at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, Mort (The Wrath of Cochise) examines Custer’s less well-known 1874 expedition to South Dakota’s Black Hills, in this dense work of narrative history. Custer’s goal was to discover if this region, little known to white Americans, held extensive gold deposits, and though he was careful not to exaggerate how much gold he found, word soon spread, drawing prospectors from across the nation. In Mort’s view, Custer’s discovery of gold made it inevitable that the federal government would try to gain control of the Black Hills by any means necessary, a decision that spelled the end of the Lakota Sioux’s way of life. Although Mort’s book suffers from occasional overwriting, it is a lively and impressively researched account not only of the collision between two very different ways of life, but between ideas about the ownership and use of land—a collision whose outcome would have long-lasting significance for both the victors and the vanquished, far beyond the remote hills of South Dakota. Agent: Don Fehr, Trident Media Group. (Feb.)