July 31, 2015

7/26/15 - Little Bighorn Battlefield NM

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is in Montana, not Wyoming like I thought. We met up with friends at a nearby RV park and went together to the battlefield commonly known as "Custer's Last Stand". The monument is just off I-90 so it's handy for people traveling between actual points of civilization on their summer vacations to stop off to see the battlefield. (It wasn't designed that way; the battlefield was first; the freeway came later.)

We found a couple of parking places near the cemetery so we decided to check that out first. (It was okay...we already knew who won the battle.)  Custer isn't buried here; he's at West Point.

The Visitor Center was impossible.  It's outdated and way too small for the number of people trying to fit into it. You could barely squeeze your way through the poorly-lit museum to the auditorium where they were showing the movie. There wasn't even room left inside for standing room.  I like the painted buffalo hide which is an Indian representation of what the Lakota call the "Battle of Greasy Grass Creek". The rest of the display is pretty hokey though. (I really would have liked to have seen the movie--but that's okay, we already knew who won.)
We didn't want to wait another hour for the next movie, so we went outside to the patio for a Battle Talk by one of the rangers. This battle has been written about more than any other battle in US history. I think the ranger had read most of them.  People have very definite opinions on General George Armstrong Custer, even before they get here.  (Mine might have been changed a tiny little bit from what I learned about him at Civil War battlefields and Washita Battlefield in Oklahoma, but I'll never join the Friends of the Little Bighorn.) We had a great view of Last Stand Hill and the Trail to Deep Ravine (below).
After getting a crash course on the battle, we got in the truck to follow our friends Larry and Carolyn on the 4-1/2 mile tour road. (Yes, I know it looks just like a road through rolling prairie. That's pretty much what the whole place looks like.  Did you expect something different?)  There are 17 tour stops--four heading out to the Reno-Benteen Battlefield, and the rest on the way back. We, of course, stopped at all of them.
There are information signs explaining what happened in this gully or on that ridge, but I still wish we'd seen the movie... (No, never mind!  I already know who won.)  
Okay, I'm not going to explain anything about the battle here.  All I know is from the info signs (because I didn't get to see the movie and I haven't read the books.)  I did post pictures from each of the stops on Flickr, so you can check them out if you want.  If you want to know more, there are hundreds of books, even more websites--or you can come visit the battlefield yourself.  But I'll share some things that impressed me.

Custer had 600 soldiers and 263 of them died here. There were 7,000 Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho in an encampment on the Little Bighorn River.  1,500-2,000 of them were warriors and about 30 died. (I think Custer may have been mathematically challenged and would have bought lots of lottery tickets if he lived now. Obviously Sitting Bull had no problem with basic arithmetic.)

They've put up markers wherever they found a body--some are soldiers and some are Indians.  The Indians took their dead away, so it's more difficult to identify the actual locations. Red granite identifies Cheyenne and Lakota Warrior Markers, in contrast to the white marble headstones used for the Army. There were Indian scouts from other tribes who fought with Custer; there was even a civilian war correspondent and they have white markers too.
Even the horses that died have a marker.
At the turnaround, I thought we might get to see another kind of battle.  Because it's so close to I-90, a lot of people just drive in with their big motorhomes. There's not a lot of parking, and if several of them are already parked, it's hard for others to get past. Looked like it was going to be The Battle of the Giants, but they got it sorted out. They would have had to make HUGE markers after that!
The appropriately named "Last Stand Hill" is where Custer made his...ummm...last stand. The US Army Memorial is a big obelisk with everyone's name, and there's an enclosure with markers to show where the soldiers fell. The one with a black background near the center is Custer's. His brother's is directly in front of his. I didn't know his brother served with him.
Across the road is the Indian Memorial. The best view is from the hill, but I forgot to take a picture of it from there.  You can see most of it behind George in the picture (above). You enter the Memorial Circle through a Spirit Window. The inside walls are a memorial to the five tribes who fought here. The Spirit Window Sculpture represents the warriors who fought in the battle. Lots of symbolism.
Although I didn't get to see the movie--I know who won the battle...and I know who won the war. 

More pictures here:  Little Bighorn Battlefield Natl Monument

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