2010 Aug 31 – Day 20 – Gillette, WY to Hardin, MT (Little Bighorn)

My Daddy’s “Drive North America” books says, “Montana’s Crow Indian Reservation is the site of perhaps the most famous event in Plains Indian history.  Here, in 1876, along the cottonwood-shaded banks of the Little Bighorn River, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer made his legendary last stand – a rout of some 260 soldiers of the 7th Cavalry by almost 3,000 Sioux andCheyenne warriors.”

Another of Dad’s travel books, “Handpicked Tours of North America,” describes the situation like this: “The Cheyenne, a few Arapahos and Sioux  under the Sioux warrior Sitting Bull trespassed on Crow land in the biggest congregation of Indians ever assembled on the plains. The brochure I picked up at Monument gives some background: “The Lakota and Cheyenne left their reservation in the Black Hills in frustration over the invasion of their given lands by thousands of gold seekers who swarmed into the area in violation of the Ft. Laramie Treaty.  The government tried to keep the prospectors out to no avail and also tried to buy the land from the Indians to circumvent hostilities; also without success. Thus the indians resumed raids on settlements and travelers along the fringes of Indian domain.  They were ordered to return before Jan 31, 1876 or be treated as hostiles “by the military force.”  When the Indians did not comply, the army was called in to enforce the order.  Some Crow scouts accompanied the U.S. Cavalry units as they set out to force the trespassers back onto their own reservations.” “The Bureau of Indian Affairs, misjudging the situation, told the army that only 800 warriors were involved. The fact was that 10,000 to 12,000 Indians had joined Sitting Bull’s forces, including some 4,000 warriors who were among the best cavalrymen on earth, many of them armed with the latest repeating rifles, which they had obtained from reservation traders.”

“Unknown to Custer, another army unit had encounterd the natives on Rosebud Creek, east of Little Bighorn.  The army had been fought to a standstill and forced to withdraw.  This success further encouraged Sitting Bull to continue into Little Bighorn Valley and set up camp.”

“Custer was leading one arm of a pincer movement, and had rushed his cavalry unit into a position where he could block an expected Indian retreat as another army unit advanced.  He located the Indian camp at dawn on June 25 and divided his regiment into three battalions to surround and attack a superb, eager-to-fight army, which he was unaware outnumbered him five or six to one.”

The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument encompasses the land where the battles took place.  There are paved pathways on a self-guided interpretive trail that winds through the tall grass and past the grave markers.  The Rangers in the visitor’s center willingly answer questions and explain the events of the battle. “After the battle the bodies of Custer and his command were hastily buried in shallow graves at or near where they fell.  In 1877 the remains of 11 officers and two civilians were transferred to eastern cemeteries. Custer’s remains were reinterred at West Point.  In 1881 the remains of the rest of the command were buried in a mass grave around the base of the memorial shaft bearing the names of the soldiers, scouts and civilians killed in the battle.  In 1890 the Army erected 249 headstone markers across the battlefield to show where Custer’s men had fallen.  In 1999 the National Park Service began erecting red granite markers at known Cheyenne and Lakota warrior casualty sites throughout the battlefield to provide a balanced perspective of the fierce fighting that occured here in 1876.”There is now a memorial area commemorating the Indian’s that fought and a marker to honor the Cavalry horses that were intentionally shot to provide some amount of cover from the arrows and bullets. Little Bighorn Nationa Monument is also the site of Custer National Cemetery which is a military burial place still in use today. Once again, I was awed and moved to be walking the ground of an historical event I had learned about in grade school and seen immortalized on screen.


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