01x03 - Blood & Gold

Episode transcripts for the 2016 TV miniseries "The American West". Aired: June 2016 to July 2016
"The American West" transports viewers into the violent world of cowboys, Indians, outlaws and law men and chronicle the intimate, little-known stories of Western legends such as Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. Spanning the years 1865 to 1890, the limited event series will show how, in the aftermath of the Civil w*r, the opportunity of land transforms the United States into the "land of opportunity" and creates modern America.
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01x03 - Blood & Gold

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Narrator: Previously on "The American West"...

Not even 100 years old, America finds itself in a crippling depression and on the verge of a w*r on two fronts. In Missouri, ex-Confederates like Jesse James are terrorizing Northern banks and railroads...

C'mon, Frank.

Forcing businesses to hire famed private detective Allan Pinkerton to take him down.

He's ruthlessly violent and good with a g*n.

When do I leave?

Narrator: Further west, George Armstrong Custer has confirmed rumors of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota, setting off a massive gold rush. But the country's solution to its financial crisis may lie in the heart of sacred Indian territory, land that Lakota leaders Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull aren't going to give up without a fight.

(theme music playing)

(birds chirping)

Narrator: Midway through his second term as president, Ulysses S. Grant has watched the push to settle the West and heal the nation come to a halt as America suffers through a brutal depression.

If you are president during an economic depression, your standing is gonna fall.

And this was the worst economic depression in American history up to that time.

Narrator: But Grant believes he's found a solution... the gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The only problem... it's on land that Grant surrendered to the Lakota Sioux nine years earlier.

Mark Lee Gardner: The United States government wanted the Black Hills, merchants wanted the Black Hills, gold seekers wanted the Black Hills.

They had a treaty. They couldn't just take the Black Hills.

Narrator: Maintaining a peaceful relationship with the Indians has been one of Grant's proudest achievements since taking office, and he knows that going back on his peace policy would only reignite the conflict. In a last-ditch effort to avoid all-out w*r with the Indians, Grant proposes a deal. The government offers to buy back the Black Hills from the Lakota Sioux for six million dollars... $100 million in today's money. Over 1,200 miles away from Washington... word of the offer soon reaches respected leader Sitting Bull...

(speaking Lakota language)

who knows his people now need to make a decision. He gathers a council of Lakota leaders, including the fierce warrior Crazy Horse.

Robert Redford: I think Native Americans' relationship with the land was very tight and had a spiritual component because they believed that they were connected to the land, they came from the land.

So they had a very close relationship with the land, much more than people from outside did, who looked at the land in a more superficial way.

Narrator: To the Lakota, the Black Hills are more than just a place to live and hunt... they're essential to their culture.

The Black Hills is important and sacred to us because that's where our creation story comes from.

There's a place called Wood Cave there that many of us believe that's where we came from. We value the land and the animals just as much as we do people.

Gold had no meaning, no value to us.

Karl Jacoby: Of all the places the United States could've wanted the Lakota to sell... the Black Hills were the worst place that they could've chosen. Sitting Bull famously picks up a little pinch of dirt and he holds it up, and he says "I don't wanna sell any more land, not even as much as this little pinch of dirt."

These just came in.

Narrator: The Lakota Sioux reject the government's offer, and Grant's hope for peace is slipping away.

H.W. Brands: Grant sympathized with the plight of the Indians. But he also understood that he was losing that battle. He was losing the battle with respect to Indian policy.

Ultimately, unless the American people were gonna tolerate this, it simply wouldn't stand.

With all due respect, sir, you have exhausted every political option available in dealing with the Sioux.

Our own people are starving.

It is no longer a sustainable objective.

It's time we start looking at military options.

Issue a proclamation.

All the members of the Sioux tribe must report to an appointed Indian reservation no later than February 1st, 1876.

And those that don't report?

They will be considered hostile and treated as such.

Narrator: After years of trying to establish peace with the Indians, President Grant is now provoking a w*r.

This was the administration's way of defeating these uncooperative... at least in their mind, uncooperative Indians and bringing them to terms.

(train whistle blows)

Narrator: While the government prepares for conflict with the Indians, nearly 700 miles away another battle is being fought. Jesse James has been on a crime spree across Missouri and Iowa...

Come on. Let's go, let's go.

Narrator: fighting for the Confederate cause by robbing the Northern railroads of their funds.

Thank you.

Narrator: In Chicago, famed private detective Allan Pinkerton is looking to put a stop to it. He orders an ambitious agent named Joseph Whicher to travel to Missouri and track down the notorious outlaw.

Once the Pinkertons get on your trail, man, they're not gonna stop until you are done and out of business, one way or the other.

Sir, may I trouble you for a moment?

Chicago. You're a long way from home.

There are wanted men in your area.

Jesse and Frank James, they were spotted nearby recently.

Is that right?

Have you seen them?

Afraid I can't help you.

Jesse and his brother are dangerous men.

I can't help ya.

I'm staying at Goodman's boardinghouse.

If anything occurs to you, I want to know.

Narrator: With no help from the local law, Whicher needs another way to learn Jesse's location. So he employs a tactic that the Pinkertons had perfected... going undercover.

Gardner: A key to the very long, successful career
of Jesse James is unless you grew up with him or unless you fought with him in the w*r, no one knows what he looks like. All the authorities have are some eyewitness descriptions which aren't very good. He can't really be identified.

Good day, sir. How are ya?

I wonder if you could help me out?

I'm a little new to the area... I was looking for the James farmhouse?

Gardner: It was very dangerous for Joseph Whicher, this Northerner from Chicago, to go into Clay County where Jesse had many friends and try to somehow sniff out the James g*ng.

Narrator: To ex-confederates across Missouri, Jesse's fight against the North has made him a hero, and they'll do anything to protect him.

Narrator: Pinkerton agent, Joseph Whicher, is on the hunt for Jesse James, hoping to end the outlaw's reign of terror against the North.

Hey. Good day, ma'am. How are ya?

Uh, my name is Henry. I'm looking for the James farmhouse.

Oh, yeah, yeah.

Do you know... yeah?

Narrator: After days of searching with no luck, Whicher finally lands a lead... the location of the farmhouse belonging to Jesse's mother, Zerelda.

Thank you so much, ma'am. You have a good day. Thank you, thank you.

Gardner: Jesse's mother, Zerelda James, was outspoken, dominating.

The neighbors referred to her as "Captain Zerelda."

There was a very, very strong bond between her and her children. Even the sheriff warned Joseph Whicher, "If the James boys don't sh**t ya,

Zerelda will sh**t ya."


Good day, ma'am. I'm Henry Johnson.

I saw your crops were nearly ripe.

I was wondering if you need an extra hand for the harvest.

Come on inside and let's talk.

I remember the days when no self-respecting white man would ever ask for farmwork.

Times sure have changed.

Yes... they have, ma'am.

Archie, will you fetch me the sugar, please?

This is Archie, my youngest.


Archie, say hello to Mr. Johnson.


Thank you, dear.


Yes, please.

Gardner: Joseph Whicher had pale skin, he had soft hands. And he was going out to the James' farm
as some guy looking for work as a hired hand, and he just did not fit that description.

Are you any good with a hammer?

I have a barn out back that needs some work.

Sure thing, ma'am.

Right this way.

Seems pretty straightforward.

Jesse: I hear you've been looking for me.

Which is funny because I been lookin' for you.

I just wanna talk.


But we don't talk to Northern spies.

(Whicher gagging)

Narrator: Jesse James and his brother Frank have just k*lled top Pinkerton agent Joseph Whicher.

Gardner: They k*ll him for a couple of reasons. They don't want anybody with any knowledge of what Jesse looks like, but he wants to send a message...

"Don't send these Northerners from Chicago to intimidate me and my family.

Stay out of my turf."

Narrator: As Jesse James claims another victory in his personal w*r against the North... nearly 1,000 miles away, the Lakota Sioux have been given an ultimatum by the U.S. government... move onto a reservation immediately... or risk w*r.

Narrator: Lakota leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse defy President Grant's order to move onto reservations, knowing full well that they'll now be considered enemies of the United States Government.

In reality, they all wanted the same thing, to protect their women and children.

We never wanted to fight anyone. But when the government got involved and the army came, then it just became a right or wrong.

Narrator: When President Grant learns of hostile Indians refusing to move onto reservations, he has no choice but to take action. He orders General William T. Sherman to mobilize the U.S. Army in the West, preparing for an att*ck on the bands of Indians led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. But one man won't be leading the charge this time. After announcing gold in the Black Hills, George Armstrong Custer is barred from taking part in the upcoming battle.

Brands: Grant eventually came to conclude
that Custer thought more about himself and the image that he cast than about the mission or about the broader outline of policy he was pursuing.

Eventually, Grant just threw up his hands.

"There's nothing I can do with Custer."

Narrator: Left out of the campaign against the Indians, Custer begins to set his sights beyond his military career.

It is a pleasure and a privilege as usual.

Narrator: As Grant's disastrous second term nears its end, Custer sees an opening to advance his own political ambitions. Using his celebrity, Custer begins meeting with influential politicians in Washington, forming powerful alliances that could help him achieve his new goal of becoming president.

A decorated w*r veteran like myself might well be able to pull off what you're planning.

Brands: Custer had a following all his own.

Members of Congress would invite him to come speak and Custer would talk, and he would persuade them.

In some ways, he had political clout that Grant and Sherman didn't.

Now, they both outranked him, but Custer had a following.

Narrator: But Custer is convinced that if he's going to secure a presidential nomination, he's still missing one thing... another big military victory.

You draw a picture of me?

Look at that.

Frank, come here.

Look at this.

Do you recognize that place?

Hey, man, I believe that is to scale.


That is perfect.

Good job, little brother.
Narrator: After k*lling a top agent from the most powerful detective agency in the country, Jesse James and his brother Frank go back to life as usual.


Why am I frownin' and you smilin'?

I guess that is pretty accurate.

(door opens)

Thank you.

(door closes)

Narrator: For Allan Pinkerton, the brutal m*rder of his top agent has turned his hunt for Jesse James into a personal mission for revenge.

Eisenbach: Jesse James is a symbol of everything the Pinkertons are against...
lawlessness, unredeemed Southern insurrectionism.

If Jesse James was still out there as a symbol that you can get away with this stuff, he had to be k*lled.

Pinkerton: If we can get to this area here,
the mother's farmhouse... they all live there together...

we'll stage the final raid.

Narrator: As a private enforcement agency, the Pinkertons are able to operate outside the limits of the law.

Once everything's in place, we'll drive them from the house with this... a f*re b*mb.

A gift from an old Army friend at the Rock Island Arsenal.

We flush them out, and we take them down, all of them.

sh**t to k*ll.

Kiefer Sutherland: In many cases if you look back, a lot of people that implemented law and order were, in some cases, just as bad as the criminal element themselves.

We're gonna burn that damn house down.

Wipe it from the face of the earth.

Do I make myself clear?

Detectives: Yes, sir.

Sutherland: That defining line between a lawman and a criminal,

I think is much more blurred in the times of the James g*ng.

(crickets chirping)

Narrator: A group of Pinkerton agents surround the James family home after Jesse and Frank were spotted there earlier in the day.

Gardner: Pinkerton knew that the James boys
would at some point come to that house.

He had men ready, at least eight to ten.

Whenever they learned that Jesse and Frank were at that farm, he was gonna send those men in.

What are we waitin' for?

Allan Pinkerton plotted to bring about the demise of the James brothers.

His instructions were not just to att*ck or k*ll or capture Jesse.

His instructions were to burn that house to the ground.



Archie, get back!

Narrator: A late-night att*ck ordered by Detective Allan Pinkerton has destroyed the family farm of Jesse James. But the intended targets are miles away.

All right, boys, I want to go over this one more time.

We're gonna start...

Damn it, Frank.

What the hell took you so long?

Them Pinkertons came by Mama's.

She's hurt.

Archie's d*ad.


Gardner: The Pinkerton men threw this fireball into the James family home.

It exploded.

It rips off part of Zerelda's arm.

It sends a fragment into the stomach of little Archie, the half brother, who's only eight years old. It's a mortal wound. Jesse James, who really is already angry, he's angrier now at the Pinkertons, who he sees as representing Northern tyranny and oppressors.

So this gives Jesse even more cause to seek revenge.

Narrator: Five hundred miles away in the heart of the West, another conflict is escalating. Led by their chief, Sitting Bull, many Lakota have defied President Grant's order to report to a reservation. Sitting Bull knows Grant will see his actions as a declaration of w*r, so he begins building a unified w*r party, gathering tribes from across the West.

Pourier: At first it was individual tribes
that were protecting themselves against the government.

But, you know, at some point they figure out, "Okay, we gotta work together now."

Narrator: Nearly 4,000 warriors from tribes like the Cheyenne and the Arapaho flock from Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, and the Wyoming Territory to band together at the Little Bighorn River. It's the largest Indian force the U.S. Army has ever seen.


Sherman: Our reports indicate that around 1,000 Indian lodges are based here.

We deploy Custer 1,200 men to track down whatever remains of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull's w*r party.

And if necessary, wipe them out.


He has proven that he can take on these savages and win.

He's our best option.

Have Custer report to General Terry at Bismarck.

Eisenbach: Grant thought Custer was a complete hothead.

He was a loose cannon.

He wasn't the military guy that Grant liked, which was somebody who just followed orders.

But there's this popular outcry to get Grant to reinstate Custer for the big push into the Black Hills.

Narrator: After months of building his political connections, Custer is sent west to the Montana Territory to lead a regiment against one of the largest Indian w*r parties ever assembled in the U.S., giving him the opportunity that could carry him all the way to the White House.

Paul Hutton: Custer was ambitious. He had great dreams, he had the American dream.

There's been talk that Custer hoped to get the Democratic nomination for president.

He needs a big victory to win glory once again and, of course, move onward and upward.

Narrator: After a botched raid has left his young brother d*ad, Jesse James has declared a personal w*r on the Pinkertons.

Eisenbach: Jesse James sees the Pinkertons
as, like, the ultimate evil... guys who are breaking constitutional law in the interest of big business.

Narrator: As news of the raid on the James' home spreads throughout Missouri, one man sees an opportunity to use the tragedy to rally the South together for the Confederate cause.

I want to run this front page tomorrow.

"Men from Missouri... who fought under Anderson... it is not because of the robberies for which they are accused.

It is because, like you, they fought for the South.

Narrator: Newspaper editor John Newman Edwards frames the story of Pinkerton's raid as a direct att*ck on the South by a Northern enemy.

Gardner: The Pinkerton raid turns all kinds of sympathy to the James family. They already had a little sympathy from Southerners.

But now they see an eight-year-old boy has been k*lled, a mother has lost her child, so the press, including John Newman Edwards, have a field day over what this Chicago private firm has done here in Clay County, Missouri.

Narrator: The articles appeal to loyal southerners and support for Jesse James and his cause is at an all-time high. To show their support, Missouri residents give Edwards and his newspaper the names of anyone who may have aided the Pinkertons for him to print in his paper. And it isn't long before Jesse tracks them down.

Gardner: One man who's revealed to have helped Pinkerton was Daniel Askew.

Pinkerton had a man there acting as a hired hand keeping watch on the house.

Daniel Askew makes the mistake of not leaving Clay County.


Woman: Can you fetch us some water for the dishes?

Daniel Askew.

Do you know who I am?


That's good.

That seems like a nice family you got in there.


Please what?

Whatever you do, just please don't hurt my family.

That'd be... that'd be pretty low, wouldn't it, m*rder innocent women and children?

Yeah, I don't know if I could stoop to something like that.

But I guess, uh... (clicks) you're gonna have to take me at my word.

Gardner: No one is ever brought to trial for the m*rder of Jesse's half brother, which, again, gives Jesse a reason to seek his own justice.

If the law is not gonna bring these guys to justice, then Jesse's gonna do what he can.

Narrator: Five hundred miles away, Allan Pinkerton is dealing with the fallout from his botched raid.

It was Allan Pinkerton's greatest defeat, his greatest humiliation.

Narrator: Pinkerton's reputation for relentless justice is ruined. And he's forced to back away from the outlaw he's been pursuing for the past year, giving up on Jesse James for good.

General, we found them.


Camped along Little Bighorn.

Good job, soldier.


Narrator: In hopes of securing a presidential nomination, George Armstrong Custer is on a mission to track down and defeat a band of Sioux Indians. Custer's leading one of three columns of U.S. troops heading toward battle against Sitting Bull.

The campaign on the Northern Plains in 1876 is one of the largest the army had ever engaged in in the Indian Wars. Three great columns went forward... one coming up from the South, another coming out of Montana, and then Custer's column coming from Fort Abraham Lincoln.

Narrator: Together the battalions make up a force of nearly 1,500 troops... with one goal in mind... to destroy Sitting Bull's army. But what the commanders don't realize is that Lakota chief Sitting Bull has gathered nearly 4,000 Indian fighters... including the fearless warrior Crazy Horse. After hearing reports that the U.S. Army is closing in, Sitting Bull calls together other Lakota leaders and tells them of a powerful vision he's had.

Pourier: There's certain ceremonies where you go without food and water, sometimes for four days.

During those times because of what your body's going through, people call it a vision and because Sitting Bull is the chief, a medicine man, and a healer, his vision we all agreed and honored and respected.

Pourier: He knew they were gonna win. That's a powerful thing to know, it's a powerful faith to have.

Where can we cross the river?

Down south here. Up here, further north.

How many warriors?

I've never seen a gathering this large.

Sitting Bull's tribe, Crazy Horse's, too. Also Arapaho, Cheyenne.

Do they know we're here?

I don't think so.

One hour. Get the men ready.

I will not let Sitting Bull slip through my fingers.

Yes, sir.

Narrator: Instead of waiting for the remaining two columns of U.S. troops to arrive, Custer orders his regiment of just under 500 men to move out. He leaves all his heavy a*tillery behind, determined to get all the glory for defeating Sitting Bull and his warriors.

Eisenbach: Custer is a very ambitious man.

He thinks if he goes up there, eliminates the Indians, the windfall of all that gold comes into the economy, everybody sees him as a great hero who bailed out the federal government and now he can position himself to become the commander-in-chief.

"President Custer"... just think about that.

Narrator: As Custer rides out, the Indians prepare for battle, determined to fight for their people's survival.

Jacoby: They're defending their territory,
but they're also more immediately defending their families.

They're trying to protect all of them from the United States.
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