Our Military Life Blog

Black Hills – Week 4

Oh readers, what a treasure we have in store for this week’s reading! I think that I can say without a doubt that the section we are reading this week has been my favorite so far! I hope that ya’ll will enjoy it as well, and that you have enjoyed the book overall. I know that there were some bumps (seriously, why portray General Custer in that way), but the flowing theme through the book has kept me coming back wanting more. Enjoy the read this week!


Paha Sapa is off to New York to visit Libby Custer at her home. It is something that he has been planning to do for a while, but with time off being something hard to come by, he is just now getting the chance. Of course, having the voice of George Armstrong Custer in his head could not have been an easy thing to live with, but wanting to see his wife again after all those years, is somewhat understandable. So he gains permission from her to visit, and sets the date and time. When he gets close to visiting, he is nervous. How should he talk to her, and tell his story? It is something that he and his ghost have argued about for many years. Custer wants Paha Sapa to say something to Libby so that she will know that he was there, or say something that she would recognize, but Paha Sapa knows that it is risky to do so. How do you explain to someone that the ghost of their husband has been living in his head for the past fifty years? When he finally meets her, he is almost at a loss for the words that he needs or wants to say, but he knows that he must tell her that he was on the battlefield that day. When they begin to talk about that day, Libby becomes very guarded, almost as though he is wanting something from her, but all he wants is to be free of the promise he made to Custer. They have visited his wife, and just what he whispered in her ear as he was leaving, is a mystery to all.

As we have seen in past chapters, the past and present meld together, almost seamlessly. As the marriage of Paha Sapa and Rain begins, there is the tumor, and then the pregnancy. As they prepare to bring their small bundle into the world, they take a small trip into the Black Hills. There, for the first time in his life, he shares with this wife the vision he had when he was on his hanbleceya. He has never been able to share it with anyone else. He is almost ashamed of the events that kept him from repeating it, and the shame of knowing what happened to his people as well. As he shows her around the areas that he roamed as a boy, they are able to share some time together as a married couple as well. Being back in the area has brought a sense of peace and tranquility that he has not felt for a long time. After the birth of his son and the death of his wife, he moves on to try and provide the best he can. He takes work as a powder-man, and then of course, after several years, is hired to work on the Mount Rushmore project. One thing that he has kept to himself is the plan to blow the monument up. His chance finally arrives when the President announces that he is coming for the unveiling of the final monument. Paha Sapa knows that this is one of the last chances that he is going to have, but he does not count on the ghost of Custer to egg him on. As he enlists the help from a former worker on the site, the charges are carefully placed and set into holes that were previously sculpted out of the rock. When the day arrives however, he finds that he cannot do it. Everything that he has planned, spent years planning, is over. When his boss Guzman Borglum comes over after the event, he tells Paha Sapa that he knows what was planned. Borglum tells Paha Sapa that he needs to take a vacation and get out of the area. He also suggests that he consult another doctor in Chicago, instead of the one that he has been seeing in secret. Paha Sapa is shocked to learn that Borglum has the same talent. When they shook hands many years ago, their memories flashed to each other, the past and the future, and so the entire time that they have been working on the monument, the plan has been known. Borglum has not told anyone of what Paha Sapa planned to do, but kept it to himself. He surprises Paha Sapa even further when he tells him he has a job waiting for him when he returns.

As we delve even deeper into the life of Paha Sapa, we discover the death of his son. Robert died of pneumonia in France during the war. Paha Sapa has kept the motorcycle that they spent hours rebuilding together. Years have passed, but he still takes care of the bike, as a token of respect for his son. As he takes off from his home, he plans to never return to the area. Headed toward to area of the Little Big Horn battlefield, he plans to end his life and release the ghost of Custer at the same time.  When he gets to the battlefield, he has a note where he has requested to be cremated in his pocket, and the final conversations with Custer that he will have. He is ready to be free of the pain and suffering, not only from his illness, but from what he considers as failures in his life.

Just when he thinks he is finally alone and is ready to end his life, someone calls his name…

This week we are reading Chapters 20 – Epilogue


  1. Paha Sapa reveals his vision to his wife during their time in the Black Hills. Why did he feel so ashamed of it?
  2. Why do you think it was so important for Paha Sapa to meet with Libby Custer?
  3. Robert mentions meeting the old wise man, Robert Sweet Water, but never reveals the majority of what he was told. Do you think Paha Sapa should have told his son about his meeting with the wise man?
  4. Do you think the shock of meeting the two women at the battlefield caused Paha Sapa to have his stroke?
  5. What was the best part of this book for you?