That the natives of the land had possessed and utilized the Black Hills was proven true by none other than George Armstrong Custer. A scout called Goose showed Custer a mysterious cave in the Hills. Inside the cave, inscriptions, carvings, and drawings adorned the walls while depictions of lightning flashed across its roof. Medicine men of the Sioux had attempted to interpret the “spirit-writing” but couldn’t. Even wise men from other tribes had tried, but had no better luck. The cave’s message was just too ancient for modern understanding.
From earliest times, the Indians who lived in this area had considered the cave an unearthly and sacred place. In respect and reverence they had left numerous offerings—bracelets, pipes, flints, and beads. When Custer visited this cave he discovered other “offerings” of a not so ancient time, though some went back in history a considerable way.
Among these more familiar items were a rusty knife blade, a shaving brush, an old flintlock horse pistol, and a Canadian penny. But most curious of all was a human skull, determined to be that of a white man. The fact that it contained three holes in the forehead only added to its silent story.
Ancient Indian Art
The walls of the cave, themselves, were a virtual ancient art gallery containing drawings of birds, reptiles, and fish. These, along with prints of human hands and feet, were the normal illustrations made by the ancients. But only if those walls could talk, perhaps they could write a new chapter in the history books by explaining other drawings—those of ships. But so much for the Indians’ sacred Hills, and their ownership. The newspapers of the time spelled out the general sentiment.
That Custer’s discovery of gold in the Black Hills would cause a stampede, there was no doubt. That the situation would eventually cause a war was a certainty. Custer understood this. The United States Government knew this. Perhaps they even counted on it. On June 17th the Bismarck Tribune spelled it out when it printed that:
This is God’s country. He peopled it with red men, and planted it with wild grasses, and permitted the white man to gain a foothold; and as the wild grasses disappear when the white clover gains a footing, so the Indian disappears before the advances of the white man.
Humanitarians may weep for poor Lo [Indians], and tell the wrongs he has suffered, but he is passing away. Their prayers, their entreaties, can not change the law of nature; can not arrest the causes which are carrying them on to their ultimate destiny—extinction.
The American people need the country the Indians now occupy; many of our people are out of employment; the masses need some new excitement. The war is over, and the era of railroad building has been brought to a termination by the greed of capitalists and the folly of the grangers; and depression prevails on every hand. An Indian war would do no harm, for it must come, sooner or later. . .