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If I were an Indian, I often think that I would greatly prefer to cast my lot among those of my people who had heard to the free open plains rather than submit to the confined limits of a reservation. There be the recipient of the blessed benefits of civilization with its vases thrown in without stint or measure. The Indian can never be permitted to view the question in this deliberate way. He is neither a luxury nor necessary of life. He can hunt, roam, and camp when and wheresover he pleases, provided always that in so doing, he does not run contrary to the requirements of civilization in its advancing tread. When the soil which he has claimed and hunted over for so long a time is demanded by this to him, insatiable monster, there is no appeal. He must yield. Or like the car of juggernaught, it will roll mercilessly over him, destroying as it advances. Destiny seems to have so willed it, and the world looks on and nods its approval. So, Dominic, that was George Armstrong Custer.


God, I see.


The flamboyant darling of the United States in the 1870s.




And that was from My Life on the Plains or My Lies on the Plains, as Major Benting called it. And it was published in... Is it a magazine called The Galaxy or a newspaper?


No, it was a magazine, I think, a journal.


It's a journal. Anyway, so that was in 1872. Yeah. I mean, this is articulating his paradoxical approach to, I guess, what he would call the Indian question.


It's hard to make out the paradox there, Tom, because I don't believe that Custer spoke like that.


I think he did. Oh, well. He's a jaunty, roaming the planes a guy, isn't he?


That was very jolly, and I don't think he was It's not a very jolly subject, is it? No, it's not. He's talking about the car of juggernaught running over the Native American. All right.


Well, maybe I should do it again.


No, God. You can do it again for me privately, Tom, but not for the listeners.


I just wanted to convey a sense of his vibrancy.


Yeah. That first bit is often quoted that Custer said, If I were an Indian, I would want to be roaming the plains, not on a reservation. But then, of course, he goes on to say, The Indians should not be allowed to view the question this way, that he's standing in the path of civilization, the Indian, as he would put it, and nature must take its course. As we will see, we talked a little bit about this last time when we were talking about Sitting Bull and American general's attitudes to Native Americans. There is this Darwinist element to it, and actually we'll talk about this a little bit later. Completely, yeah. Anyway, it's brilliant to have Custer back on the show, isn't it? Because last week, we left him having disgraced himself at the Washita River, having massacred a lot of Cheyenne and behaved very, very badly afterwards. And in the last two episodes, we introduced the Plains Indians and Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, and we ended with the exciting cliffhanger, Tom, of Sitting Bull discovering that Custer is advancing towards him on the Yellowstone River. So this episode will tell the story of that first meeting, Custer's expedition to the Black Hills that paves the way for their great showdown at the Little Big Horn.


But we left Custer back in the late 1860s. Actually, he's been drifting a bit in the meantime, hasn't he? He's just been hanging around. He's gone to Chicago, he's gone to Michigan. He's had a massive row with his wife Libby. We can tell that from their letters because he sent her a lot of letters saying, His eyes are blinded with tears. He's very sorry. He's let himself down. He's done something. We don't know what it is. I will not pretend to justify my conduct with others, measured by the strict laws of propriety or public opinion I was wrong. I know it then as plainly as I know it now. But what had he done? We don't know.


Well, he's given up alcohol. He struggles to give up gambling.


Well, he doesn't give it up.


We know that he does have a taste for womanizing.


He does. He does indeed.


So I would guess it's probably that.


I think so, too. I think it's absolutely that.


Could I just ask you, so way back in episode one, whenever that was, 2023 or whatever.


What episode are we now? Episode 47.


His father, the one with the beard.




He's very into God and repentance and all of that. Yes. What is the state of Custer's soul? Is he devout? Does he believe in repentance?


It's really hard to tell. His father does write to him throughout his life letters. He gets letters from his family talking about guilt, talking about improving your behavior, this thing. I don't think we get much of a sense of Custer as, as it were, a spiritual animal.


Religious man.


There's no sense of that coming through in the biographies or indeed in the letters of a particular religiosity I mean, there's nothing in life of the planes either. No, I don't think it's anti-religious or as it were, markedly irreligious. I think it just doesn't massively feature in his intellectual life, actually. But I do think he genuinely feels he has standards that he has failed consistently to live up to, as we all do. He's conscious of having to let himself down with the gambling stuff, but he just can't stop himself. He's a gambler by instinct. It's the way he campaigns, isn't it? He launches cavalry charges.


Well, and the womanizing is, in terms of his wife, the worst, because he does love his wife, doesn't he? Yeah, totally. I mean, they're very, very close. They're very devoted.




So that's the worst betrayal. I mean, he does love her.


I think, absolutely. Anyway, she forgives him. 1870, they're posted to Kansas. Hayes City, Kansas, where the Sheriff is Wild Bill Hickok.


It's so great. These intersection points with everything that makes the Wild West legendary.


Exactly. But actually, the weird thing you see, Tom, is that we think about Custer as being a man of the frontier, a man of the Yes, but he doesn't really want to be there. In his dreams, he wants to be back in New York. So in 1871, when he gets a long period of leave, he goes back to New York, he invests in a silver mine in the Rockies.


So this is what the clairvoyant had said.


You will get into mining.




And mining and railroads, which are the two things the Claire Voyant had said 27 episodes ago, they are great boom industries in the 1860s and 1870s. It makes total sense for Custer to get in on this. It's the equivalent of in the 1990s or something investing in the dot-com boom. That's what Custer is doing, and he does it very badly.


You amaze me.


So he spends lots of time in New York hanging around, networking, trying to make friends with Plutocrats and stuff, because that's the world he really wants, not the world of the planes.


Does he make mad, rash investments?


I think he does make bad investments at this point. So his silver mine, we don't really know why or how he got involved with it. His business partner is a guy from Michigan, from the Michigan Infantry, who had served in the Civil War, as Costa had. But there's a restlessness to him. He never gets enough money for the mine. People will have lunch with him because he's a Civil War hero. But then the money that they said they might invest never quite materializes. So at the end of 1871, he's still in the army, and he's then posted to Kentucky. And this is a good example of how the... I know you don't find the politics as exciting as I do, Tom, but the politics of Reconstruction is really important in Custer's story. Kentucky had been neutral in the Civil War. It had a lot of slaves, so about a fifth of the population were slaves. Part of it had been occupied by the Confederates. At the end of the war, there's terrible guerrilla warfare in Kentucky, and it has a very, very large paramilitary Ku Klux Klan population. That's basically what Custer has been sent to repress.


Custer is very, very weak on this issue. So he and Libby, actually, remember that his father is very racist. Custer is a Democrat, so he doesn't really believe in an interventionist Washington government, actively demolishing the institutions of white supremacy in the South or in the border states. Actually, what they do is they spend a lot of their time hanging out with people in Kentucky who are supportive of the clan, or indeed members of the clan, and he doesn't really lift a finger.


You quote him, sounding very, very, gone with the wind, The women are as charmingly beautiful as the men are proverbially chivalrous.


Yeah, he totally buys into that. Remember at West Point, he had all those Southern friends, and he was very sympathetic to the South. The important thing about that is that puts him on the wrong side of an argument in which General Sheridan, his great patron, and Ulysses S. Grant, the President of the United States, they are on the opposite side. So that, again, widens the political breach between him and in particular with Grant.


I mean, the weird thing is he must really believe it then.


Totally believes it.


To be willing to sacrifice his, I mean, compromise his career.


Yeah, totally. He believes it. I think that's the interesting thing. That as TJ Style says, he absolutely had a choice, and he chooses the option that is least politically advantageous for him, Which is a sign that Daddy has- Yeah, had his influence. Daddy's influence lingers and has left a real mark in him. It's not all racism, to be fair. He goes out, Sheridan, drags him out one day to go and meet the grand Duke Alexis of Russia, along with Buffalo Bill. So Buffalo Bill will be returning to the story at the very end.


Yeah, he will. So this is one of the aspects of the Great Plains in this period I find most interesting, I guess, being European myself. The way in which Europeans are going out, even as the Indian Wars are happening. Aristocrats are going out and going on hunting. And there's a French guy, isn't there, in the 1880s, who goes out and builds a Loire château?


That's right. Yes.


Yeah, there is. Right in the middle. What's his name? The Marquis de Moret. Yeah. In North Dakota. Just really odd. And I suppose that Etonian guy who isn't going on a grand tour, he's actually enlisting with the seventh Cavalry, and he ends up feathered like St. Sebastian. But I suppose the The fact that there is the threat of violence, and as they would see it, exotic violence, is a part of the appeal. Totally is.


Yeah. It appeals to the proto Lawrence of Arabia strain in European culture, doesn't it? This is a world of people would perceive the world as becoming increasingly standardized, homogenized, and so on.


What's the ride haggard thing that we talked about in the Solomon's Minds. Yeah.


He was a man of the planes. Yes. Weather beaten. Big game. Yeah, a big game hunter. Exactly. All of that stuff. Anyway, what Libby really wants is for him to be a big literary star. That stuff that you read from My Love From The Plane, so he started writing those articles about this point. Custer is not... It's It's really easy to paint him as this reckless, boorish clown, and I think that's completely wrong. He's really interested in lots. Like you, Tom, he loves fossils, mad on fossils, collects fossils.


The sneer on your face as you say that. No. Curling of the lip.


What? That wasn't a curly lip. Was it? No.


That was a wholehearted sharing in my enthusiasm.


That was a look of affection and respect. That's what that was, Tom.


I'm so touched.


You mentioned Darwin. Custer is interested in all those ideas. He's interested in science and natural history. When he writes about the Native Americans, the Indians, the Lakota, call them what you will, he really goes into this in his writings, and he says, They're not less than human.


Well, I mean, they're the descendants of the 10 tribes of Israel. We've already mentioned that.


Yeah, he's really interested in that idea. And he's interested in how do we deal with the fearless horsemen warriors of the plains. The way he reconciles his genuine, I think, interest and respect in and for these people with his belief that they do have to be swept aside is that he says they can never be civilized. Nature intended the Indian for a savage state. Every instinct, every impulse of his soul inclines him to it. He cannot be himself and be civilized. He must fade away and die. Custer, I think he really believes that. That's not just a fig leaf. He thinks This is the law of nature and of science, that this is the fate of the plains Indians.


I wonder, maybe I'm overemphasizing it because I am interested in the subject, but whether the discovery that all of these territories in the West are full of extraordinary ordinary fossils, dinosaurs, giant mammals, whatever. They're stacked in layers of sediment so that you can see the layers of life that cycles of existence have risen and fallen, and it's stamped in the rocks, in the hills, in the ground that the seventh Cavalry are roaming, and that scientists and paleontologists are bringing it to light in this very period, is casting the idea that human civilizations follow the same route, that just as dinosaurs have been superseded by mammals, so Indians, as Custer would put it, must be superseded by the white man.


I don't think that's too fanciful at all, Tom. I think clearly, Custer is a man of his age, he reads widely. People are talking about all of these ideas. They're talking about Darwin's theories. It's not even when they're consciously talking about them, but the language, as we know from Custer's own writings. The Darwin-ish language permeates into conversation. The way he writes about the Indians, at one point, he says, They're not animals, they're humans like us, but they are like a species that is basically doomed by the laws of nature and whatnot. I think that, as you say, the fact that it's taking place in this landscape with layers upon layers of deep, deep history, obviously, I think there must be some indirect psychological link.


I mean, it's also that the Native Americans themselves are very familiar with fossils and tell all kinds of stories about them, say stories of Thunderbirds and so on. And now that the paleontologists are coming out with their chisels and saying, actually, this was from the Jurassic period or whatever. Again, it's just sharpening an idea that is obviously very useful for the army and for the government that the army are the cutting edge of, and for settlers and railroad builders and all kinds of things.


Well, railroads, I think that's the thing that's That's advancing the whole time. I mean, literally advancing. They're building more track. The railroads are coming through. So in the spring of 1873, Custer ends up in the Dakota Territory, a place called Fort Abraham Lincoln on the Missouri River opposite the town of Bismarck. These are important places.


And just to reiterate, Dakota is... I mean, it's just another pronunciation of Lakota.


Yeah. And here, Custer, who's actually pretty miserable in all the accounts of him from other soldiers, because he hates being a pen pushing general. He hates all that, and he's very bad at it. But he gets a chance for a bit of action because the Northern Pacific railway is planning to come through this territory. Now, the Northern Pacific is the perfect symbol of the modernity against which people set the Plains Indians, because it is the project of America's first really big investment banker, a guy called Jay Cook, who had basically bankrolled the Union war effort, the North, in the Civil War. He is by far the best known, at this point, financier in America. It's railroad, and the plan is for it to go right through the Lakota territory. Now, everybody knows that this means death to the bison.




That railroads bring settlers. They bring people leaning out of the windows, taking pot shots at bison.


So from 1872 to 1874, non-indian hunters on the Southern Plains alone killed more than 3 million bison. By the mid-1870s, bison were nearly extinct on the Central Plains. And so that leaves the region where the Lakota are as its last holdout. Exactly. And it's obvious to everyone that they're not going to be around for long.


So first of all, everybody knows and once they want the bison to be exterminated. So General Sheridan, General Sherman, in their correspondence, they say again and again, here we go, let them kill and skin until the Buffalo are exterminated. And that word exterminated, which to us has such terrifying connotations, they use that a lot. Not talking not just of the bison, but of the plains Indians. They equate the two. Sherman, the white public, a clamorous for extermination, which is easier said than done. But he says, We're not moved by mere human sentiments. Now, he then goes on to say, I'm very happy to exterminate Indians who send out thieving, murdering parties, but I would not sanction the extermination of Indians who are just quiet and do what they're told.


That's big of him.


That's so kind, isn't it? But I think they have, as Custer does, an assumption that actually, extermination is the natural endpoint, and that what they are doing is they are just smoothing that process, but as humanely as possible. That's how they think of it.


It's very chilling because, of course, this scientific approach to eradicating entire peoples, it's going to blow back into Europe. This Darwinian justification for effectively genocide is spreading out into the imperial regions, the areas that are being colonized. But they will go back to Europe, and we know what happens there.


Of course.


I mean, is it fair to equate the plans of the US Army to those of the Nazis?


Well, it's definitely fair to have the conversation. It'd be weird not to, but I don't think it's fair to equate the two. If Sherman or Sheridan were here, they would say, Listen, we don't believe in wholesale slaughter of innocent people. Absolutely not. But we believe that their way of life has to go. Assimilation is what they want.


Assimilation. We talked about this before, that their plan basically is not a racial campaign of eradication. It's a cultural suppression. Essentially, the dream is that the Native American peoples become American in the way that Italians or Irish or Germans are becoming American.


Exactly. The melting pot, that they're melted in the melting pot with everybody else. Now, of course, they would say, We are much more progressive and humane than the people who preceded us because A, we're honest about our intentions. We're not trying to hide behind treaties and stuff that we intend to break. We don't intend to break our deals. We'll give them the reservations, we'll give them supplies, and we'll give them school rooms and clothes and stuff.


And farms.


And farms, and they will become Americans. And they would say, Listen, this is a peace policy. This is not a war policy. It's not a policy of letting miners and settlers pick them off. We want to regularize it, systematize it, do a deal with them that we stick to, and their way of life will disappear, but such is the law of... That's what they would say. Now, we in the 21st century, it's easy to judge that and say, Oh, this has terrible baleful consequences, and all this thing. The other thing was we know the Plains Indians were not doomed to extinction. I mean, they're still around. Actually, the funny thing is that for all their interest in cultural differences and history and science and stuff. They massively underestimated the resilience of those ethnic identities, I would say.


I mean, you could say more than that, that the Native American understanding of what happens in the 1860s and 1870s has now become normative. That effectively, we are representing it in this discussion.


Yeah. It'd be interesting, Tom, and lots of our American listeners may already be thinking this. It'd be interesting how we would have this conversation if we were American, right? We'd have more skin in the game, as it were. We would have a stake in it.


Well, I'm sure that we will be having these discussions when and if we do say the British in South Africa. Yeah. Or indeed in Tasmania.


Yeah, of course. Okay. We can't lose sight of the narrative, Tom. We've lost sight of the narrative. Shocking scenes. No. So they send out a survey mission 1871. Fine. No problem. Then they send one out in 1872. And this is actually the moment when Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse really come together, isn't it? Because they haven't massively collaborated before now.


Massive crossover. Yeah.


It's a superhero style team up. They team up to intimidate the survey party.


Brilliant action with a pipe, isn't it?


Yeah, great pipe action. So Crazy Horse rides around waving a lance and terrifies the surveyors. And then sitting bull, he's just carrying a pipe. He's otherwise unarmed. He sits down and starts smoking his pipe. And the American soldiers are shooting at him because he's within range. And it speaks volumes about their training and ability. But he's just sitting smoking his pipe on the ground, and they're missing no bullets flying around him, but none of them hit him.


Well, let's also say it speaks volumes for his courage. Of course. And you might say his medicine.


Yeah, it's his powers.


The bullets are all missing him.


Yeah. So The Americans find this very, very unsettling, and actually, they end up retreating. They give up. They say, There's no way we can compete with this fellow with this pipe.


I mean, what a lad.


So when they get back, Sheridan is absolutely livid at this. Play with a pipe. I beat the Confederacy. What the hell are you doing? This is rubbish. So he sends another expedition. This is where Custer gets his chance. This is 1873. And Custer dresses the parts. He's now got the habit of every subsequent appearance he'll make in this podcast. He's wearing a ludicrous buckskin suit, a huge hat.


And his hair is long again at this point, isn't it?


His hair is long, exactly.


So the Indians call him long hair.


They do. And he sets off with the surveyors, the Society He's a scientific part of the team. There's the seventh Cavalry. He loves this. He goes hunting for fossils. It's like Maturin in the Master and Commander novels. He's got boxes and boxes of stuff.


I mean, he's a man of enthusiasm.


He is.


And the thing I really like about Custer is that he embraces opportunity, I think it's fair to say. There's a chance to go hunting or looking for fossils or whatever. He'll take it. Charging, fighting, whatever. He's a man of enthusiasm.


Yeah, totally. And his big new enthusiasm now, something that occurs from time to time on the rest of his history is taxidermy. This is when he really gets into taxidermy.


I mean, we've talked about how he loves animals, and he loves them so much that he wants to stuff them.


So Jacko Macaco, a great friend of the rest of his history, ended up being stuffed, the Fighting Monkey of the Westminster Pit. And we talked last time, I think, or a couple of podcasts together about your desire to stuff Ian Botham.


I suspect this is the first podcast series that's ever been done on Custer and the Little Big Horn. It featured the idea of stuffing England's great cricketing all rounder, Ian Botham.


Yeah, that's true.


I can't quite remember how we got onto that.


So anyway, he uses a non-regulation cooking stove. Wow. That gets him into massive trouble with the guy who's actually commanding the expedition, who's called Stanley. So he's held a very low regard by the guy running the expedition and actually sends him to the back of the column as a punishment, Tom, for using the wrong stove. Crazy scenes. But then Custer completely redeems himself. He has become pally with this scout called Bloody Knife.


He's a tremendous character.


I mean, he's worthy of a podcast series in himself.




He had a hunk Papa Lakota father and an Arikara mother, so a different group.


So this is very like 19th century boarding school stories.


Because he's bullied by the Lakota.


Because he has people from different tribal groupings as parents. He doesn't belong in the right house. He gets bullied.


No, he doesn't fit in. He gets hideously bullied, especially by this guy called Gaul, G-A-L-L.


The flashman of the Lakota, who will have a big role to play in Little Bighorn.


He's the flashman of the Lakota. He would be very prominent in the rugby team. Yeah, he's loud. He's...


He'd have been tossing poor bloody knife in a blanket like nobody's business.


Yeah, whereas because they're not in a public school, what he actually does is he scalps bloody knife's brothers and kills them. So yeah, bloody knife. Even though he's half Lakota, he hates the Lakota. Yeah, he hates them with an absolute passion, and he ends up working as a scout for the US Army.


He's quite rude, isn't he? To Custer's face. He laughs at him and says that he can't shoot. Custer sees him as a bit of a Joker, like the court jester, that thing.


Right. A fool. I was going to say he's like his fool, isn't he? Anyway, Anyway, Custer loves scouts, generally. He spends loads of time with them. He always gets on really well with them. I think it reflects well on Custer, actually, that he always gets on well with the scouts. In the early days of August, Bloody Knife says to Custer, I think we're being followed. I've seen signs. I don't know what a scout sees, but anyway, he's seen them.Trails.


I think.


Trails and people preparing to ambush us. And early on the fourth of August, this is exactly what happens. The Lakota, they tried to do a Phetimen Massacre maneuver to lure Custer out. And But to cut a very long story short, what actually happens is that Custer and his men, and about 90 men, end up being trapped by three times as many Lakota in these woods by the Yellowstone River. And there are Lakota and their Cheyenne allies riding around them. They try and burn them out by setting fire to the grass. And Custer... Now, I think this is important because it's really important, I think, to question the idea that Custer is just a terrible commander who's really reckless. His His instinct is always to do the mad swashbuckling gamble.


It is, though, isn't it?


But here, he doesn't do that at all. He keeps his men together. He deploys them in a defensive line. He keeps order and discipline. He doesn't charge out. He says, We won't fall for that. They're trying to lure us out and to trap us. Custer does really well here, Tom, I think.


But his assumption is that the seventh Cavalry will always beat Native Americans. I mean, that's his guiding assumption. And in the event, that is going to be shown not necessarily to be true, isn't it? Of course, yes. But the reason that he's charging out, he's happy to venture into places where he may well be ambushed, where there may well be giant villages. And he assumes that he will always have the beating of them. I think that reflects a certain degree of swashbuckling confidence that in the event will come to see him misplaced.


I take your point that he's never frightened because he always thinks they'll win. But I think in this case, I think you're being a tiny bit harsh on Custer because I think it's the Lakota here have attacked him, not vice versa.


Yeah, but he's ridden into their territory.


He has, but he's under orders. He hasn't done it out of- Well, fine.


But that's no skin off the Lakota nose.


No, okay. Fair enough. Anyway, he does do well. He does really well.


Dominic, the other thing is the weaponry. I know that you love military hardware.


Can't get enough of it.


The assumption that the Americans have rifles and the Indians have bows and arrows is very hardwired, isn't it? Into the the popular mythology of it. It is. The Lakota actually have... I mean, they're pretty well-armed as well. Yeah, they have rifles.


The one problem the Lakota have is getting ammunition.


Do you know who gave the Lakota their first rifles? Make you feel very patriotic. It was the British. In 1811.


Really? Yeah. For the War of 812?


Just before the outbreak of war. So it was us.


Well, that's good behavior. Yeah. Oh, that's very pleasing.


And so Costa actually is often complaining about the fact that the state government is giving guns to the people that he's then having to go out and fight with. Well, of course.


So if you take the offer of going to a reservation, what you want to get is you want supplies, you want blankets, you want food and all that. But what the Lakota always asking the reservation agents and things for is to say, Please, can we have some guns? And that's a real source of contention, actually. They say, We want the guns to hunt the bison. It's really important for us to be able to do it. But of course, the Americans are often quite torn about this because why do we want to give them guns? Then they'll probably use them on us.


Yeah. So Custer in my life on the Plains, he talks about the wise foresight and strong love of fair play which prevails in the Indian Department, which seeing that its wars are determined to fight, is equally determined that there shall be no advantage taken, but that the two sides shall be armed alike. So Very heavy sarcasm there. Yeah. He says the red man is not far behind his more civilized brother in the art of war. But I think there is an element of exaggeration there, isn't there? A little bit. I mean, the guns that the Americans have are better quality.


By and large, often they They just have single-shot carbines, though. So it's not like they're going... There's a big difference between the Americans at this point, and let us say, if you think about the British in the Sudan or something, mowing people down with their machine guns, this This is absolutely not the case at this point on the Western frontier. Often, Custer's men, their guns don't work, they explode in their faces. The men themselves are terribly badly trained and don't know what they're doing.


All of which makes it weird. And I I guess, expressive of the sense of dash and self-confidence that makes Custer such an effective performer up until he no longer is, that he can ride into battle and get his men to believe that they can do this.


Yeah, because he does it again a few days later, the 11th of August, there's a Lakota attack. Again, Custer's men are cornered on the banks of the Yellowstone. Sitting Bull is watching this, by the way, from the bluffs across the river. So although Custer and Sitting Bull never actually, as it were, meet, this is the first time, I guess, that they've been, if you're making a film, it's the first time they're in the same shot.


Yeah. Sitting Bull sees long hair.


Exactly. And the Lakota are taunting Custer's men. Come out, come out. We're going to have those horses of yours at some stage. You may as well cross and have the fight and give them to us now. And Custer, again, Tom, I think, does well. He says, No, no, hold on, hold on. Let's buy that time. Don't do anything rash, all of this And then finally, a relief force arrives under Stanley, the guy commanding the expedition who by now actually has totally changed his mind about Custer and thinks that Custer is a great fellow. And then Custer makes a great Helms deep charge. He forms a line His hair is flying. They strike up this tune, Gary Owen, this Irish jig they like to do, and they all charge out. And it's very dramatic.


The thing about Custer's Charge is, as we said in the very first episode, he knows when to do it, but he does love a charge.


He does indeed. It works very well. The Lakota run away. Everybody says Custer has redeemed himself. The expedition has been a success, a relative success. Sheridan writes to him and says, Well done. Brilliant. Everyone thinks you're great. The newspaper to say, America's glorious boy is back. And Custer celebrates Tom. You've seen this? He celebrates by writing a letter to his wife about his penis.


Of course he does.


John has been making John. He calls him John. John has been making constant and earnest inquiries for his Bunky for a long time. And this morning, he seems more persistent than ever, probably due to the fact that he knows he is homeward bound. And homeward bound he is.


All right.


So on that rather overwhelming note, Tom, I think we should take a break. We will return after the break. There'll be no more such talk because Custer is going to the Black Hills. Hello.


Welcome back to The Rest is History. Custer has done very, very well on the Yellowstone expedition, redeemed himself. He's a hero again. And now, Dominic, we're in 1873. A chance is approaching for him to have another crack.


There is. There is another chance. So just to give people a bit of context in this, the big thing that 1873 is well known for in American history is a tremendous stock market crash. So it's called the Panic of 1873. People used to call this, by the way, the Great Depression, before the Great Depression happened. And it's railroads that crash, including Northern Pacific. And it's the empire of this guy, Jay Cooke, who we talked about in the first half, who was the great railroad banker and railroad financier. The impact of this crash is absolutely seismic. It's completely forgotten now because nobody studies the history of the 1870s and 1880s, really. But to give you an example, a quarter of all the people in New York City lost their jobs in in the next few months after this crash in September 1873. And why this matters is it puts enormous pressure on the frontier, because it means that there are a lot of people whose lives in the big cities of the East Coast have been destroyed and are desperate to start new lives as miners, as homesteaders, as farmers, in what they are beginning to see, having people that dismissed the Great Plains for decades, But now people are saying, well, maybe this is the promised land.


Maybe we can start new lives out here. Now, the fact that there are some people there already.


Yeah, that's the relevance. Who cares about that? Well, exactly. And also the prospect of finding gold. Oh, yeah. I mean, it's all very well setting up a farm. Yes, of course. But if you can go and find a large lump of gold, that's even better.


Because if you are 40 in 1873, pretty much all your life, certainly all your life that you can remember, you've grown up in a world of gold rushes. California, Colorado, They've been talking gold in Oregon, all of these kinds of places. So you dream of a new gold rush where you can be rich overnight, as people were in the California gold rush in the late 1840s and 1850s. So that's hanging over this whole thing. Maybe the Great Plains have these amazing untapped resources.


And there's one place, isn't there, in particular, that it's thought that there might be gold. And this is a place called the Black Hills.


The Black Hills. The reason they end up in the Black Hills, first of all, is actually because Sheridan wants a fort there. So the Black Hills are just outside the Great Sioux Reservation. People may remember in the last episode, well, when we talked about the deal that had been done with Red Cloud, The American government had given Lakota this big reservation, the Great Sioux Reservation, covering much of South Dakota. But they said that all the land, basically to the west of it, was what was called unseeded Indian territory, which is a gray area. The army He can go in, but they need to get permission. Is it Indian? Is it American? Anyway, Sheridan wants to build a fort there. He doesn't like the fact the Sitting Bull and the Non-Treaty Indians, as they're called, are roaming around and are a little bit disputatious and stuff, and are fighting the crows and stuff. He wants to sort this out and regularize it. He says, I'd really like a fort in the Black Hills or just right next to the Black Hills. Now, the Black Hills, the Paha Sapa, as they are called, everybody thinks they're sacred to the Lakota.


Right. So I had always thought that.


Yeah, I did, too.


I'd always assumed this. I mean, this is the timeless spirit world of the Lakota stuff that I had completely bought into. I mean, basically, they've been there for three or four decades, something like that, and they've nicked them off. Is it the Crow or the Cheyenne? I can't remember. Yeah, exactly.


They'd fought for them. They're actually more sacred. They are sacred to the Cheyenne.


They are sacred to the Cheyenne, aren't they?


But not really to the the Lakota. The issue for the Lakota is, A, we've conquered them.


They're ours.


It's ours. And the Lakota would say, Hold on, that's how the United States thinks. Yeah, of course. They think that when they conquer something, it's theirs. This is our thing We should keep it.


They'd only conquered it a few decades before. That's the thing.


Of course they had. And they would reasonably say, That's true, the United States.


Yeah, I'm sure. But it's not primordially since the beginning of time, since the great spirit gave to them stuff. No, totally.


So everybody who thinks, These were men and women of the Earth. Their time, their spirituality was rooted in the Black Hills. That's tosh and rubbish. And what they really want it for is it's very, very rich in Buffalo. So there are sheltered meadows, where the Buffalo can graze. But there are also loads of pine trees, which they use for their poles and their lodges and stuff.


That sounds lovely. It's brilliant for them. Taran dinosaurs as well. Taran dinosaurs, skeletons.


Are there good dinosaurs in the Black Hills, Tom? Yeah, really good. Yeah. Wonderful. So the Lakota are very displeased at any talk of the Black Hills being taken from them. And of course, Sheridan, so you need to send out a survey mission. Where are we going to put the fort? And the person he sends out is Custer. Custer goes with 10 They've got 10 companies, rather, of the seventh Cavalry. They've got Gatlin guns. They have scouts. They have scientists. They have geologists, Tom. They have fossil hunters. And President Grant's son, Fred, goes along, too, because he thinks this sounds brilliant. What a great laugh this will be going to the Black Hills. Loads of newspapermen go. And at this point, Custer's activities in the West have become a great media sensation.


Well, he pays up to it, doesn't he?


Of course. It's really important.


Sheridan tends to say to Custer, Please don't take too many journalists. Yeah, he does. And so Custer's response to this is to recruit a few more.


Yeah. I mean, Custer is given so many opportunities by his superiors, isn't he? Sheridan is so tolerant of him. Custer keeps letting him down.


I think it's that quote from Ian Frazier that we had. Yeah. About 20 episodes ago. I think it does capture something about it.


It's fun.


Custer is the embodiment of what these desk occupying political generals dealing with an industrial army, as children maybe imagined being a soldier would be like, dashing around on cavalry, leading expeditions, all that thing.


I think they indulge him because people do sometimes indulge characters, don't they? And I think you're absolutely right.


And he's good for the reputation of the army, isn't he?


And he's got lots of credit from the Civil War. Loads of... And the Civil War, we shouldn't underestimate how important the Civil War is. The Civil War, argue with the world's first industrial war, seismic, psychological impact. And if you've got a good war record, as almost all the politicians of these decades do, then that will get you a very long way. And Custer can trade for years on his record in the Civil War.


But also journalists. So you quote here the young William E. Curtis, who writes of Custer, he's a great man. A noble man is General Custer. I mean, he's not a general, is he? I mean, that's important to say. He was a general, but he's now what? I think Colonel Lieutenant or something, if that's such a thing.


Then there is such a thing as a Colonel Lieutenant. Actually, were this an American podcast, Tom, they would undoubtedly know that detail.


They would. I don't know. But he's not a general. I mean, that's the salient point. His wife, a charming lady who has shared his marches and victories since early in the is as gentle and cultivated and yet as soldierly as a woman can be.


I mean, it's so like buckets of syrup being poured over Custer. That same guy who's from the Chicago Interocean, and he also reports for the New York world, He said, One day I went in to find Custer, and he was with two little girls, one white and one black, teaching them to read. It's just such an unbelievably implausible, clearly untrue story.


But also, I mean, Custer, he gives good copy. He does. So when he rides off on the Black Hills expedition, he takes a band. They canter off playing Gary Owen. And every morning when they break camp, the band serenades the troops to get them in a marching spirit.


Yeah, he loves all that stuff, doesn't he? Very Walter Scott.


Clamity Jane is there.


This is an interesting thing, Tom. This is a great example of the mythmaking that surrounds this whole thing, because actually, Clamity Jane may well not have been there. Oh, what? But she later says that she was there.


No. Oh, Dominic, you and your myth-busting.


So it's just like with Sitting Bull, though, later on when he joins Buffalo Bill's show. Everything to do with this period and everything to do with the West, even as it is happening, is being merchandised and commodified for readers in the suburbs of cities on the East Coast. So it's actually really hard sometimes to work out who's there and who isn't, what's going on, because there's so much fiction being created even at the time.


And that's what's so fascinating about the arc of Custer's story, is that it's not that his death then results in a backward-looking mythologization. It's almost the other way around. It's the fact that Custer has been mythologized in the years before that makes his end the perfect climax, really.


It does. Perfect end to the story. It does. Absolutely. So off they go anyway into the Black Hills. Actually, the Lakota are nowhere to be found. They're off hunting Buffalo, most of them sitting bullets. Crazy horse. So he had a very checkered romantic history. He tried to steal the wife of another man, hadn't he? And He's gone in terrible trouble and been stripped of his offices. Isn't that right? Some complicated story like that.


But I'm sure he behaves very well throughout. Yeah, right.


And then he gets a wife and they have a daughter, but the age of, I think, two or three or something, she dies of cholera. And he then takes loads of time off and goes and mourns alone out on the planes and stuff. So he's nowhere to be seen, which is great for Custer because Custer, one historian says, The expedition took on the aspect of an armed picnic. So every day, they're picking flowers.


Yeah, beautiful meadows. Doing all that.


Custer kills a grizzly bear.


That's so Custer.


Which he thinks is very enjoyable.


And he could make a gift of the grease from the bear to the crow for their permade.


He could, to do it for their hair. And maybe for all time's sake, remembering his time at West Point when he put creams in his hair, he might have put some of that bear grease in his own hair, Tom. We don't know, do we?


Yeah, maybe. Cinnamon.


I think at this point, It's probably apparent to Custer that his hair is not quite what it was.


It is starting to retreat, isn't it?


It is retreating, and that's important because later on, it'll mean it's very difficult to scalp him because he doesn't have any hair. Anyway, end of July 1874, they're in the Black Hills, and suddenly, they find the one thing that they had dreamed of finding. It's gold. So they brought two miners with them. The miners have a little dig, and the scouts describe how suddenly they see people weeping, shouting, throwing their hats in the air. Yee-hah! Exactly. The miners say, We found a bit of gold. Now, actually, they haven't really found very much. They found this a pitiful trace of gold. But of course, because of the panic of 1873, because of the depression, people really want to believe it. The newspapers have been saying, Please find gold. Please tell us you found some gold. They find the gold, and then the newspapers are gold. These huge headlines, Struck it at last, prepare for lively times, and all this thing. Rush.


Hurry while stocks last.


Now, the irony is Custer actually never finds a place for this fort. So the forts that had been He went out to find.


Oh, yeah. Well, who cares about that?


He's like, no, there's probably no way where the fork can go. But Custer himself, as his biographer has put it, comes down with gold fever. And it's partly not just because he likes the idea of gold, but it's actually because he, all his life, has given newspapermen the copy that they wanted. And so when the journalists say to him, Is there gold? He says, Yeah, loads. Yes, sir. Yeah, you bet you. Loads of gold. Couldn't be more gold. Actually, the geologists, even at this point, saying, Hold on. Fred Grant, who's gone on this gap year type thing.


The son of Ulysses.


The son of the President. He gets back and he says, There's no gold at all. I don't know what they're talking about. But it's much too late because by the time it's appeared in the East Coast newspapers, people are pouring into the Black Hills.


And obviously, this is bad news for the Lakota.


It's terrible news for the Lakota. It's really, really bad news for the Lakota. Sheridan, at first, says, Hey, keep them out. They shouldn't be coming. This is going to cause tremendous difficulties. But it's not really possible. The general who gets to do it is a guy called General Crook. Crook, he will come up later on, Tom, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He will. Bizarrely, I mean, all these strange relationships among the generals. He had been Sheridan's roommate. Do you see this at West Point? Yeah. And they'd fallen out and we're not on speaking terms anymore.


Well, so Evan Connell has a brilliant description of Crook. And more beard action, Dominic. With a nose like a knife and his split beard, he looks undeniably imperial, much like Lucas Cranack's portrait of Augustus, Grand Duke of Saxony. So that's taking us back to our Luther episode.


So I believe that General Crook used to have his beard in braids.


He's like a angry badger.


That doesn't inspire any confidence in me, a braided beard. I'll tell you that now.


But he's a very astute and experienced Indian fighter, isn't he?


He is indeed. But they can't keep out this flood of people. So this is now putting enormous pressure on the existing political ecosystem, as it were, of this area. While all this is happening, the fact that the Americans have been messing around at all in the Black Hills is extremely disturbing to the Cheyenne because the Cheyenne take the Black Hills very seriously. And they're like, What's going on here? So it's in that context that in the summer of 1875, Sitting Bull says to the Cheyenne, Listen, why don't we all get together? We're clearly facing a real challenge.


Maybe have a Sundance?


We should have a Sundance. So they all meet, and they meet actually at Rosebud Creek, Tom.


Yeah, which will be playing a part in the story to come.


So they put a big display on the Lakota for the Cheyenne to please them. And the Sitting Bull, he dances with a pony. He smokes pipes with the chiefs of the Cheyenne and the hunk papa. He's dancing. He does loads of dancing. He does a mime of an ambush.


He mimes an ambush, doesn't he? Yeah. He does.


And then he shouts out, The great spirit has given our enemy into our power. And then he says, When the great spirit has given our enemies to us, we are to destroy them, and all this thing. So clearly, they're gearing up.


They're gearing up for a big one.


They know that there's this dribble. It's more than a dribble. It's a trickle of rogues, ruffians, rascals, speculators, frontier men, all that stuff. Oh, my God. What was that? That was the noise of a frontiersman.


That's a frontiersman discovering gold, Dominic.


Wow, that is terrifying.


That's what they sounded like.


Okay, well, they're arriving. Frankly, if I heard that-You'd run, wouldn't you? I wouldn't run, no.


But that's because you're not a Lakota brave or you prepare for war.


I would prepare for war. The storm clouds of war would be gathering right there at some point.


They're massive. Because the thing is that Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse and everyone around them. Everything they're about is saying, We're going to fight. Now they've got all these people flooding towards them. Of course, they're going to fight. I mean, this is, as you say, the storm clouds of war are gathering.


They are indeed. First of all, President Grant, in the autumn of 1875, remember, he's had his peace policy. Remember, his whole policy has been about not having war, but about encouraging the Plains Indians to assimilate. He sends a commission under Iowa Senator William B. Allison. The vast majority of the people on this commission know absolutely nothing of the West or of the Plains peoples at all. The only one who does is a man called General Terry, who is the overall commander in the Dakota Territory. He will definitely be featuring.


He's a very smooth operator.


He is, but he has another tremendous beard. A big theme of this series.


Yeah, well, because they've all got beards. They've all got beards. But he's a master of giving ambiguous instructions, isn't he?


He is indeed. I quite like General Terrier. I admire his intelligence, his political intelligence. Anyway, this commission arrive at the Red Cloud Agency, and they have been sent basically to buy the hills from the Lakota. And they invite everybody to come. They invite Crazy Horse, they invite Sitting Bull. Crazy Horse says, I'm not going to come and talk to you. I'd rather fight you. Sitting Bull, supposedly when he's invited, he picks up a little pinch of dirt, of soil, and he says, I wouldn't even sell this to you. I'm not coming. And the issue is not because the hills are sacred, it is because they have been conquered by the Lakota, and it is a humiliation to give them away. That's the real issue, that politically, it would be disastrous for Lakota leaders to give up their conquest so meekly.


Because otherwise, all their talk about refusing to surrender would look like so much hot air, wouldn't it?


Of course it would. So this Council opens, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. A lot of their supporters actually go to intimidate the other chiefs and to say, You make a deal and we will kill you. That's literally what they say. But actually, the chiefs have no intention of selling the hills. Spotted Tale, who is their spokesman, says to the commissioners, We will sell them if you give us money that will sustain us for seven generations. I'm talking about $60 million. I mean, that's obviously billions and billions in today's money. And the commissioners, their blood drains from their faces because they've been authorized to offer about $5 million.For.




So the talks break up and the commissioners go back home and they say, The Lakota are clearly not going to compromise at all on this. And they say what they recommend is that Congress should decide arbitrarily itself a price, offer it to the Indians, and then if the Indians say no, that they should cut off all suppliers to the reservations and basically starve them out. So now, Grant Grant has this dilemma. What's he going to do? Is he going to follow that? Is he going to go for just war instead? Just go straight to the war option? Or is he going to let the issue lie and have peace, which is in keeping with his rhetoric earlier in his presidency? It could have done. The issue, though, Tom, is the panic of 1873 and the economic depression means he is under far more political pressure than he would have been otherwise, because all the time, all these miners are on their way.


So, Dominic, who's going to have a greater influence on him? An angry, needy electorate or the Lakota? That's the question, isn't it?


Well, we'll find out, because on the third of November, 1875, Grant says, Okay, let's settle this. He calls at the White House, General Crook and General Sheridan and some of his other top officials to a secret meeting, Tom. And the subject of this secret meeting will be peace or war. And on the outcome of this meeting, hangs the The fate of the Lakota and the life of George Armstrong Custer.


What a cliffhanger. And if you want to find out what happens, will there be war? What will happen to the Lakota? What will happen to Custer? Who knows? If you want to find out, you can listen right away, either if you're already a club member. If you're not, you can go to therestishistory. Com and sign up there, or you can wait. Our next episode, it will be the build up to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Then we will have the Battle of the Little Bighorn itself, maybe in one episode, maybe in two, who knows? We're so into this story that it's just spiraling out of control. Then we will be looking at the aftermath of it up to the tragic story of the Ghost Dance.


Yeah, very exciting. It's been an exciting times.


So lots still to come. I mean, this is really building up to an extraordinary climax. You don't want to miss it. Thanks so much for listening. Bye-bye.


Bye-bye. Tom, I've just learned some absolutely extraordinary and exciting news. And anybody who's a history lover, anybody who, like me, loves spending their summer at festivals, will delight and rejoice at this news, won't they?


They absolutely will. And the news is that in June, it is the Chalk History Festival in Broadchalk, in the Chalk Valley, the very village in which I grew up. My brother James and I, we talked about this the other day on a Restless History bonus episode. But for all of you who didn't hear that, I can't recommend the Festival enough. There's an unbelievable array of talks from top historians and others beside, plus a mass of other things to see and do. Live music every day, living history, performances, and of course, lots of food, drink, camping, all historically themed, and an absolutely stunning setting.


It's an amazing setting, Tom, and it's a real highlight of my year. I've had it inked into my diary for months. Really looking forward to it. And the highlight of the week, I have to say, has to be our special live performance of The Rest is History, which we will be doing on the Tuesday, weren't we? Tuesday, the 25th of June.


Yes. So that's the day you'll be there, Dominic. I know you've got to head off after that, but I will be still there doing a host of other things. And basically, I'll be there for most of the week. So please do join us. Tickets are on sale now, and you can get them at www. Chalkfestival. Com. And that's C-H-A-L-K-E. So chalk with an E on it, festival. Com. It'd be wonderful to see you there.