FREE DAKOTA TERRITORY TIMES OLD TIME HISTORY OF THE BLACK HILLS SUMMER 2017 Custer leads expedition into Black Hills After months of plan- ning and preparation, Lt. Col. George A. Custer, age 34, left Fort Abraham Lin- coln in North Dakota July 2, 1874, and headed out with an expedition to the Black Hills. With him were 1,200 troopers, including 10 cav- alry and two infantry com- panies, an engineer and artillery detachment, 80 civilians, two miners, three newspaper correspondents, botanist, geologist, engi- neer, Indian scouts, a fe- male colored cook, 16-piece band mounted on white horses, photographer, 110 wagons (each pulled by six mules), 1,000 horses, 300 head of cattle, three Gatling guns and about a dozen greyhounds. It is reported, but not LT. COL. GEORGE ARM- STRONG CUSTER — He was only 34 years old when he commanded a regiment of 1,200 men on the 1874 expedition to the Black Hills. Heconfirmed, that Custer returned with the same number of cattle, because his soldiers enjoyed the wild game and were able to live off the land. The expedition lasted 60 days, 48 of those spent marching an average of 18 miles a day. Twelve days were spent resting. A total of 880 miles was covered in 60 days. First call on the trail was at 2:30 a.m. The cooks started rattling their pots and pans in preparation for serving a 3 a.m. breakfast which usually consisted of coffee, hardtack and bacon. Tents were struck and packed at 4:15 a.m. and wheels were turning and an- other travel day started at 5 a.m. Some days it was often midnight before the expedi- tion stopped for the night. By July 23, Custer was poised on the prairie just west of the Black Hills. He had no way of knowing what he might find, besides what he had been told by his Indian scouts. Military maps were blank except for the highest peaks. It is possible a few trappers and miners had seen the interior, but in 1874 there was not a single written account by anyone who had entered the Black Hills. Custer kept meticulous records of how far the ex- pedition marched each day and kept longitude and lati- tude readings of points along the route. That is why we know the precise mo- ment when the unknown Black Hills became known — from July 24 through Aug. 14, 1874 — and why we are able to retrace the route of his expedition with such accuracy. We know the valley where hard-bitten soldiers picked flowers from the saddle, the place where they came upon a small Indian village and the place where the first baseball game was played in the Black Hills on Aug. 11, 1874. Custer was a man with a lot of energy and seemed to be on the go all day long. He would most likely be found out in front of the main body with his scouts, where he did much of his hunting. He spent one day climb- ing Black Elk Peak, for- merly Harney Peak, and the next day he was off early in the morning on his way to Edgemont. He didn’t spend a lot of time in camp at all. Near Rapid City there is a break in a limestone wall known locally as “Custer’s Gap” because the expedi- tion passed through it on its way out of the Black Hills. On the plateau above is a stone marking the grave of Private James King, who died of dysentery a long way from home. He was one of four people to die on the expedition. To put things in histori- cal perspective, Custer’s ex- pedition into the Black Hills took place a quarter of a HE KILLED HIM A B’AR — From left, Custer’s Indian scout, Bloody Knife; Lt. Col. Custer, Private Noonan, and Captain William Ludlow shot this grizzly bear during the Black Hills Expedition of 1874. century after the discovery of gold in California. Lewis and Clark had gone home 68 years earlier. The Union Pacific and the telegraph had connected East Coast with West Coast, steamboats paddled on the Missouri River and Yellow- stone Park was getting ready to greet tourists. The invention of the telephone was less than two years away. The Black Hills had re- mained a mystery to the white world. They had been protected in part by their distance from the most- traveled routes and also by the single-mindedness of early travelers. Mountain men looked for plentiful beaver in the Rocky Mountains, Mor- mons longed for their Promised Land and farmers were drawn to the valleys of Oregon. These migrations along the North Platte turned into a flood during the Califor- nia Gold Rush, which led to other rushes in Oregon, Idaho and Montana. There was always a promise of something better at the end of the trail. When the isolation of the Black Hills came to an end in 1874, it was done so by perhaps the best-recorded expedition in modern his- tory.