Battle of Little Bighorn: 17 – Custer Enters the Black Hills

"The Custer Fight" by Charles Marion Russell. Lithograph. Shows the Battle of Little Bighorn, from the Indian side.

On July 25, 1874, Custer and his troop reached the Black Hills. The beauty that surrounded them was unbelievable. Wild flowers were so abundant that troopers picked armfuls and decorated their horses. And every kind of berry drooped there, ripe for the picking. There was abundant sign of game, and just as welcome there was no hint of flies, gnats, or mosquitoes.

The next three weeks were spent exploring. Throughout this time, only one small band of Indians was encountered consisting of twenty-seven Oglalas from Red Cloud Agency who were there to hunt. These Sioux were led by a chief called Stabber whose wife just happened to be the daughter of Red Cloud himself. If the Sioux hadn’t known previously that their sacred Black Hills had been invaded by white men, they would soon be informed when Stabber and his band returned to the agency.

Red Cloud

Custer explored and hunted. While the miners he’d brought along searched for gold, Custer climbed what would come to be called Harney Peak, the highest point in the Hills. He killed a bear, with Bloody Knife’s help. In fact it was Bloody Knife who made the killing finish but Custer, in his usual style, posed for a photo with the dead bear.

Custer and His Bear

Afterwards, he bragged constantly over the event, though the action failed to impress George Grinnell who later wrote that “Custer did no shooting that was notable. It was observed that, though he enjoyed telling of the remarkable shots that he himself commonly made, he did not seem greatly interested in the shooting done by other people.”

On another day, scout Luther North killed some deer, that were running, with three shots. Grinnell, probably grinning, took some of the venison to Custer’s tent and told of North’s feat. Custer’s response was merely, “Huh, I found two more horned toads today.”

Luther North

Previous to his association with Custer, Mississippi born Luther North and his brother Frank had followed their surveyor father to Omaha. There, both boys came to know the Pawnees on the Plains. Frank learned the Pawnee language fluently. Then in the mid-1860s they were the head of some 100 Pawnee scouts under General Curtis and later associated with Buffalo Bill Cody.

Frank North

Then on July 27th, while camped in Golden Valley, near present-day Custer, South Dakota, the miners reported that gold had been found on French Creek. In the next few days, more discoveries were made. Custer wrote his report, as did the newspapermen that were along. Then Custer sent scout “Lonesome” Charley Reynolds on a dangerous ride south to Fort Laramie, Wyoming. From there the news would be telegraphed to the country.