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Diane Merkel

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Fort Meade & The Black Hills

by Robert Lee
1991, University of Nebraska Press
ISBN 0-8032-7961-2

Review by Brad J. Buttruff

Lee's book Fort Meade and the Black Hills is an essential library item for anybody interested in the history of the Army in the Black Hills during the frontier era. This book does not go greatly into the events of the 1876 Sioux War since Fort Meade wasn't actually established until after the Little Bighorn. What it does do is tell the story of the establishment of the fort and it does devote some attention to the role the 7th Cavalry had in the post's history.

There is one chapter dedicated to the sad saga of the fall of Major Marcus Reno in an incident involving Ella Sturgis. From reading this book you can conclude that Reno had bad judgement in becoming overly fond of Ella. When you consider that Ella's father, Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis, held Reno personally responsible for the death of his son James G. Sturgis at the Little Bighorn then Reno's judgement with his personal relations seems questionable.

There are brief mentions of two other officers of the 7th that were at the Little Bighorn and who also served at Fort Meade. These two would be Frederick Benteen and Charles DeRudio. It does not go at length into their activities at Fort Meade but does mention that Benteen was one of the few who came to Reno's defense during the court-martial proceedings.

The book does go at some length into the fort's participation in the events around Wounded Knee and various other incidents in the Dakotas. Lee does take a fairly objective position about Wounded Knee pointing out the confusion and charged atmosphere leading up to the bloody confrontation. He does not take sides in his description other than to paint a picture of both sides stumbling blindly into a tragedy.

The book covers the fort's history right up to the final closure as a regular army post. The post was instrumental in the transition from mounted cavalry to mechanized cavalry. I think the real reason why most people would want to read this book is to see how Fort Meade fit into the great picture of the closing frontier.


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