Because it was acknowledged as a source in Dan Simmons’ Black Hills and I had it on the shelf already and because I’d just been to the area, I picked this book up.
Review: The Black Hills After Custer by Bob Lee
Bob Lee is reliable historian of South Dakota history, particularly the Black Hills area. In 1948, he was even dubbed Owa-tonla-wawa (“Writes Straight”) by the Oglala Lakota Tribal Council. for his writing on Indians.
I suspect this book may have started as a booster project for the area. Norwest Bank seems to have sponsored it. That company gets a whole paragraph in a section on recent business history in the Hills. The final paragraph seems aimed at a non-local audience: “Readers may be surprised to find themselves as captivated by this truly special section of South Dakota as the Black Hillers themselves!”
Nonetheless, it’s a decent introduction to the area, particularly on the years immediately before and after the 1874 expedition of Custer and how the Black Hills went from Indian to white hands. Of course, unlike his worthwhile Fort Meade and the Black Hills, Lee can’t go into a lot of detail. Still, he gets in murders and mining, presidents and veterans’ hospitals, stagecoaches and ranchers and covers the period from 1874 to 1997, the ground from Belle Fourche to Hot Springs, Rapid City to Sundance.
The book is also heavily illustrated with many photos I have not seen in other books of local history and few repeats of famous photos.
Still, I think the book probably would have more appeal for locals. For instance, I’m fairly familiar with the Northern Hills but the not Southern Hills, and Lee doesn’t skimp on covering any area. And, while I certainly knew about Poker Alice and Sturgis, I had not heard of Scooptown and “Grasshopper Jim” Fredricks.
This book is almost 20 years old, but I’d argue only one big change has hit the area since its writing: the closing of the Homestake Gold Mine in Lead in 2001. I also suspect, after September 11th, that the Black Hills has continued its tradition of supplying more than its share of military members.