I couldn’t help myself and I got sucked into another episode of America Unearthed. This one about the lost treasure of George Custer, yeah, that guy who managed to get about half of the Seventh Cavalry killed in June, 1876. Contrary to what the program said, he wasn’t that smart of a guy and his problem at the Little Big Horn was that he didn’t have another Union unit out there to come to his rescue. This had happened during the Civil War, where he rode too far forward to an attack and another unit had to bail him out.
Anyway, there was talk that Custer left the Dakotas on the campaign into Montana taking the payroll for the Seventh with him. Legend had it that it was made up of gold and silver and after the battle no one could find the money. Maybe the Lakota took it and hid it. Or maybe it was the Cheyenne who got it. Rumor was that a fellow named Two Moon was instrumental in hiding the treasure and even had a map to the point where it was buried. He entrusted this map to a Caucasian for some inexplicable reason, and when Two Moon died, he was buried in a skinny pyramid that contained some artifacts and an envelope with the map inside. Of course, long before Scott Wolter got there the map was stolen… if it had ever been in the envelope… a fact that no one bothered to check.
One thing that annoyed me about this episode was the claim that the Seventh had been decimated at the battle. Well, no. If you are referring to the five companies that followed Custer to the end, they weren’t decimated. They were wiped out completely. If they have been decimated, there would have been at least nine survivors. A trivial complaint based on semantics? Of course, but if you’re going to rewrite history, you should get the facts right and the language right and this isn’t only point that they failed on.
So, anyway Wolter heads off to talk to a journalist friend who lives in a neat looking house, but doesn’t seem to know much about the battle or the missing treasure. He suggests that Wolter talk to a coin dealer who wants a hundred and forty bucks before he’ll talk. He holds up a Buffalo Nickel that has a price of $140.00 on it. Wolter insists on calling it an Indian Head Nickel and then starts talking about Indian Head pennies, telling us that the Indian on the penny is really Lady Liberty so that coin is misnamed… Well, she’s wearing what looks like a Lakota war bonnet but this is just more trivia and completely irrelevant.
They finally get to talking about the Custer treasure, which the coin dealer seems to be sure exists and that the value of it was something like $25,000.00 in 1876, but with today’s prices for gold and silver it would be much more, not to mention the premium value on each coin minted prior to 1876. Each one could fetch $50,000.00 or more from a collector. Suddenly the value of the treasure has skyrocketed into the millions and no one has found any evidence that it even exists.
So off to Montana goes Wolter. He talks to a guy who knows the tale of Two Moon and shows Wolter a magazine article written more than half a century ago that mentions the envelope containing the treasure map, but that envelope disappeared a long time ago… and there is no evidence that there was a map inside because no one alive today ever saw it, but since we’re looking for Custer’s treasure, well, there just has to be a map.
Now, rather than take a look at some of the research on Custer that has been done since the battle including Evan Connell’s Son of the Morning Star, Wolter is off to the battlefield… or a facsimile there of. He meets up with a group of re-enactors (a hobby that I have never really understood) who suggest that Custer was loved by his men (yeah, sure, especially after he had ordered several of them gunned down for desertion but that’s another story).
The re-enactor who is Wolter’s escort into this says that the Lakota had been waiting for Custer because they had spotted the cavalry earlier that day. But that just doesn’t square with history and in fact, had Major Marcus Reno pressed his attack rather than stopping and then retreating, the outcome might have been different. The Lakota had been caught by surprise according to what they said in the years that followed the battle.
Wolter and his boys mention two of the chiefs in the battle, Sitting Bull, who didn’t participate and wasn’t a chief but a medicine man and Crazy Horse. They show pictures of both and while the picture of Sitting Bull has been authenticated; there are no known pictures of Crazy Horse… They sort of imply the picture is Crazy Horse but never mind.
So, now Wolter is signed up as a private in this fake Seventh Cavalry re-enactor group and there seems to be hints that it is some sort of official government organization but it’s not. We are treated to Wolter riding around in his fake Army uniform, charging down into the Lakota camp or whatever, and then he tells us about the thrill of such an adventure. Okay, maybe it was thrilling for him, but then no one was shooting real bullets at him and this has nothing to do with the hunt for Custer’s treasure. What this is, is filler because they just don’t have anything else to use to fill the hour… no documents, no records, no witness testimony, nothing but this rumor that Custer carried gold and silver coins to pay his soldiers… yeah, that’s what I want to do… ride into combat with a pocketful of loose change.
Now, Wolter, using his IPad or whatever, learns that a stash of gold coins had been found in California and he wonders if this somehow isn’t related to the Custer treasure. Estimated value of the gold coins found there is ten million… So back in Minnesota, he asks the coin dealer if there is any possibility that this is the lost Custer stash… but some of the coins are dated long after the fight at the Little Big Horn, so no… except, well, maybe it started with the Custer treasure and these newer coins were added to it afterwards. Never let the facts get in the way of a treasure hunt.
Anyway, had they done any real research into this and not become fascinated by re-enactors, or had Wolter read Son of the Morning Star (he referred to Custer as the Warrior of the Morning Star because he always attacked at dawn… really? Where did you pick up that tidbit?) Wolter would have known that the soldiers were paid with paper money. In fact, some of that money was found later, being used as “saddle blankets” on toy horses made for the Lakota and Cheyenne children. So much for the historical evidence that Custer had all that gold and silver with him.
Here was a whole hour devoted to a treasure that never existed and that anyone who had spent twenty minutes on the Internet, or who had called me, could have learned was merely rumor. About the only facts presented were that Custer did attack the Lakota and Cheyenne on the Greasy Grass (Lakota name for the Little Big Horn, which they did actually mention) and that about half of the Seventh was killed in the battle. They offered no evidence that the gold and silver treasure ever existed and I had to wonder what was this sudden fascination with treasure… we’d already learned about the Aztec treasure in Utah that they didn’t find and had no facts to establish it… and the Lost Dutchman Mine (with Wolter telling us repeatedly that the Dutchman had been German) but he didn’t find it… personally, I don’t think the mine exists. If it had, at one time, an earthquake in the mid-eighteenth century probably destroyed it… and now we have a search for a nonexistent Custer treasure.
Well, all this tells me all I need to know. He’s no longer offering alternative history; he’s just out chasing ratings… I mean, he’s at the Alamo and now the Little Big Horn… next he’ll probably be out at Area 51 telling us about the secret projects there and then off to Roswell with a metal detector to find saucer wreckage (yeah, I’ve seen the rest of the schedule for the season and those things aren’t there but just wait)… anything to boost ratings. But as for his claim that we didn’t learn the “real” history in school, well, that seems to be just more hype because he hasn’t offered much in the way of evidence that his alternative history is accurate.