Monday, July 31, 2017

Attitude Adjustment Trip III

The hubby and I severely needed an attitude adjustment and we decided to run away and go see some sights, none of which I had seen before, some of which he had not seen, and some he was excited to share with me. I'm posting one day of the trip each day. I'm writing this mostly for me, as sort of a journal. You're welcome to read if you are interested in comments and pictures, though!

Day 3

Little Bighorn Monument

This picture says it all for me

We decided to do a fast food breakfast so we could hit the road fairly quickly  (It was edible, but disappointing, even for fast food.) and drove the 15 miles or so back to Little Bighorn. We hit the visitor's center first. There was a woman sort of arguing with a tour guide, saying she was from where Custer grew up and didn't want a one sided opinion. He promised her she wouldn't be disappointed. It appeared that the Apsaalooke Nation (the name the Crow give themselves) gives an hour long bus tour of the four mile stretch of the battle field several times a day. Four miles.  There was a tour starting fairly soon, so we purchased tickets and off we went.

The bus driver was clearly a Crow woman and contributed to the tour, but the main guy giving the tour really didn't look Native American at all. Turns out, due to his love of the history and his knowledge of the area, he has actually been formally adopted by the Crow. Due to an interesting twist, his mother and stepdad were also on the tour, and not for the first time. They did a good job of embarrassing him, but he still did an amazing job on the tour. 

I'm not going to go into many details of the battle, just maybe some points where I took pictures. I think the hubs and I had gone into this feeling that Custer was an idiot. A later presentation made us think twice about that. He made some bad judgement calls, but it was several things that occurred at different points of the battle that doomed the U.S. troops.
Saw these riders a few times on the bus ride out
This whole area where we had been for three days was essentially the site of a second gold rush. The US economy was in the tank, and long story short, the government wanted the land they had given to some of the tribes. A lot of the settler/miners were encroaching on the territory anyway. (That love of money being stronger than their fear of Indians.) They ordered them, in the dead of winter to retreat to the "new" boundaries of the reservation, and gave them less than a month to do so. The Sioux, in particular, did not want to give up their nomadic way of life. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in particular were rallying several nations to meet with them in resistance to this order.

At the furthest point out where the bus tour takes you, is this monument. The main thing I learned about this battle was mis-communication really took it's toll. Because of another leader's decision, the pack train never made it up to where Custer was fighting. His men ran out of ammunition.  The three surviving officers of the battle made their stand here.

Down where you can see all the trees is a river along where the Sioux (along with other nations) were camped, for a distance of something like a mile and a half, and at a number somewhere between 8,000-10,000.  Custer didn't believe his Crow scouts' estimate of the numbers because he himself couldn't see them. There was a battle a few days before this referred to as the Battle of Rosebud. (I had not heard of this battle before.) The camps had been up most of the night celebrating their victory there. It's possible that the warriors were "sleeping it off", so to speak, so the scouts figured they weren't in camp. Custer's strategy was to hold the women and children hostage.

The hill beyond the monument is where at least one unknown Native American sniper fired on those last troops. These troops included the only survivors of the battle. Custer's "last stand" was happening 4 miles away.

To the right, another view of the river where the Indian camp was. This included Sioux, Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapahoe. A link to the park service map, which will give you an idea of the scope is here:
Little Big Horn Map
There are tombstones dotting the landscape. No one is buried there, these mark where the bodies fell.  More on these later.
 To the right is "Last Stand Hill" where Custer and the last of his men fell as seen from the visitor's center.
This man. His name is Michael Donohue. He was introduced as a "rock star" of the presenters. Little did I know. He's one of the foremost experts on Custer and this battle. He's written a book (which I've ordered) and he's been featured on History Channel. His presentation was riveting. He brought so much of it to life, and I was touched by his present day comparisons. He told of Custer's heroics during the Civil War. One of the points he brought out was that on the day of the battle the temperature, the conditions were just like  what we were experiencing the day we were there. He had an obvious love for the subject. This is his 29th summer giving presentations at the site. I feel so fortunate to have heard him speak.

 There was a fire on the site in 1983. This gentleman was part of the team that excavated/preserved items left that could be found after the fire. They really gained a lot of knowledge they didn't have before as a result of this. I don't know why, I am so fascinated by the boot below. Pictures of beadwork, etc. from the visitor's center are at the end of the blog.

A monument was erected to the soldiers in 1879. Any soldiers that were buried in the field were moved to a mass grave under this monument. Officers were taken elsewhere, Custer is now buried at West Point. All four sides of the monument are engraved with the names of those who fought. Custer's brother was one of the other officers who died, as well as a nephew, who was not a soldier, just happened to be tagging along at the time.

The picture at the beginning of the blog shows where the men fell on "Last Stand Hill" Where Custer fell is marked by the black badge.

Wooden Leg is one of the warriors who fought Custer. His own account of the battle is published.

I didn't notice until the hubs pointed it out, and there were no signs, but because of the day before, we recognized a prayer tie. (Hard to see, but it's there.)
Then there are the horses. During that "last stand" many of the soldiers had to shoot their horses in order to have some protection from incoming fire. Apparently, this moved the Native American warriors as well. I'm glad they pay respect to those animals. Must have been awful.

 For a long time, there were  only white markers showing where the soldiers fell, no markers indicating where the warriors had fallen. The tribes came out and reclaimed their dead, so no one knew where they had fallen. Slowly, as histories of these fighters are being found, they are placing red granite memorials where the Native Americans fell. I hope they find more information and add to this.

On June 25, 2003, on the anniversary of the battle, a memorial to the Native Americans who fought was dedicated and named "Peace Through Unity".  It's beautiful and very appropriate.  It's a mound that is open in the center with these plaques on one side and the metal work of the warriors on the other. I'm so glad it's there now. It truly is important to hear both sides of this story. Much to be learned.

The cemetery at Little Bighorn is a national cemetery, just like Arlington. They took reservations for service members to be buried here until about 1976. They will still have an occasional burial here, but only for those who reserved their spot long ago. As Mr. Donahue spoke of those three officers that survived the battle, he painted a picture of the PTSD they must have endured. All had alcohol related deaths. Marcus Reno must have had horrific nightmares. Bloody Knife, the scout who served with him was shot through the head while he was right next to him. This seemed to put Reno into a state of shock (don't blame him!!) and some of his subsequent decisions were brought into question. He was publicly thought of as a coward at the time. His further military career was dogged by conduct often blamed on his drinking, and resulted in a couple of court martials. He was diagnosed with cancer, had surgery and died from pneumonia a few days later. in 1967 His nephew was able to get his court martial reversed, and Marcus Reno was buried then at Little Bighorn, probably the last place he wanted to be.

We left here and drove to Cody, Wyoming and decided to spend the night there. As I'm writing this a week later, all the emotions have come back. The stillness, the vastness, the wind, and yes, if you listened, the voices. At no time did I ever feel the stories told here were one sided. So many mistakes were made. Mr. Donohue summed up my feelings when he talked about destruction of some of our Civil War monuments. Part of our past isn't pretty. But if we erase everything how do we and our children learn from it?

No comments:

Design by Duane Miles, beaded by Kerry