My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Visit to the Site of the Battle of Little Bighorn

I have two weeks between meet-ups with friends, so I'm planning to drive three hundred miles or less on each leg, and spend a couple of days at each stop, provided I find interesting things to keep me there. I'm finding possible camping sites, and also looking at what might be interesting to visit. Then I'm just leaving time to visit possible interesting sites I stumble across on my journey.

The first "stumble across" site I found was the Battle of the Little Bighorn (also known as Custer's Last Stand).  I barely had to leave my route to reach it, so decided to take a couple of hours off and see what it was all about. I'm not a big history buff, but do enjoy history as seen through the eyes of individuals.

This is a very simple visitor center but it has lots of displays and a great store inside
I found this site very engaging and touching. First of all it is a national crematory and has received the bodies of soldiers from other sites that have closed down. The rows of mostly identical white markers, many without any names, against the view of the vast rolling hills was very touching.

A small part of the cemetery
Relatives of soldiers can also be buried here
I barely arrived in time  the last movie about the battle. The movie was very interesting since it was told from the perspective of both American historians and descendants of several of the Indian leaders. There was also a discussion of the battle by a ranger but I skipped that in order to walk and drive the refuge.

 Both the bodies of the American soldiers and the Indians (to a lesser extent) were marked - the site of the soldiers' bodies  with poles taken from the Indian village, and the Indian bodies' sites with rock cairns. Subsequently, the sites have been marked with markers.

Markers showing where soldiers fell during the battle
Markers for a few of the fallen Indians were added, starting in 1999
The only marker that had flowers by it
 So by walking the site, and using the booklets supplied by the staff, one can begin to "see" how the battle happened. There was another battle, led by Marcus Reno, the highest ranking officer under Custer, that took place 3-5 miles away. He was supposed to be helping Custer contain all the Indians within the village. (Custer's plan was to invade the village before the Indian warriors knew he was there and take the women and children captives and use them for human shields to prevent the warriors from firing on him.) He too, was quickly overrun by the Indians and later had to stand trial for possible misconduct during the battle after his troops ended up in an every-man-for-himself retreat, first to the woods near the Indian village, and then  the troops crossed the river and ran to the bluffs. That area is also part of the national monument.  I didn't get to tour it  as most of it requires long walks, the evening was getting late and I hoped to get to my destination before dark. Also, along the auto tour to this area, there are lots of stops with explanatory signs about what was happening in each area.

Markers along the trail to deep ravine

An explanation of the fighting in Deep Ravine

Deep Ravine as it looks today
The soldiers who died in this battle are buried in a mass grave here.

View of the mass grave area

A dead tree along the auto tour
And one living tree in a huge treeless landscape
A view of the Little Bighorn River from the auto tour  road
A herd of horses just beyond the battlefield area
But  the walks I did, especially into Deep Ravine, gave me time to think about how little we have changed for the better.  This war was directly due to the fact that the Americans were invading the Black Hills, the most sacred of all the places to the Indians, and to the complete refusal to respect the Indian's rights to any lands or to allow them to maintain their culture. I see the same attitude today when businesses build toxic waste plants in poor areas of cities and when industries are allowed to poison the air and water, with ordinary citizens not getting to have any say over this damage to their health. And most wars end up being about the haves wanting even more and figuring they can win a war against the people they are stealing from.  For instance, I saw the Iraq war as mostly a way to get control of more oil. So I was pretty sad when I left this place. 

Another thing that impressed me about this site was the respect I saw from the huge crowds that were there. Even small children were walking quietly with no running or loud voices.

Find more information about this site here

And there is an annual reenactment of this battle, held nearby.