The man who would eventually battle famous Native American warriors Crazy Horse and Geronimo came to Del Norte County during one of his first Army missions. In 1853 George Crook followed the Lost Coast from Fort Humboldt toward the Klamath River, where he encountered Gold Bluffs and everything they had to offer – gold and 49ers.
Crook was widely considered one of the Army’s best Indian fighters. In 1876, Crook went into the Black Hills of South Dakota to fight the rising Lakota and their chief, Sitting Bull. In a fight at Rosebud Creek, Crook and his company were forced to retreat from Lakota and Cheyenne warriors led by the indomitable Crazy Horse.
This may have contributed to the massacre of Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer at Little Bighorn because he did not have reinforcements. The last time Crook fought in the Indian War was from 1882 to 1886 against Geronimo, who was the leader of the Apache’s in Arizona.
During those four years, Crook was unable to subdue the ever-defiant and aggressive Geronimo. Crook was relieved of his command. His rival General Nelson Miles conquered the Apache leader and exiled him to Florida.
Returning to Crook’s northcoast exploits, the miner’s told Crook – who was one year out of the West Point military academy – that the area contained an estimated $40 million worth of gold. Unfortunately for the miners, their method of collecting the gold was so slow that the ocean would wash much of the precious metal out into the open sea.
From the Gold Bluffs, Crook continued north to fight Indians, notably the Rogue River and Yakima tribes of Oregon and Washington, respectively.
Even though Crook spent most of his career fighting and killing Indian’s, he was thoroughly respected by his adversaries. He was known just as much for his negotiating skills as for his tenacious pursuit of his enemies.
Red Cloud, a Lakota chief who fought against Crook, said about his adversary, “Crook never lied to us. His words gave the people hope.”
Crook died of a heart attack on March 2, 1890.