Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Little Big Horn National Monument

By Chuck

I had always wanted to visit the site of Custer's Last Stand. Today was the day. Decades ago a decision was reached to honor all of the fallen heroes of the battle and the name became that of the site rather than that of one of the combatants. I found myself strangely moved by our guide's account of the actions in the battle and the horrible slaughter. It is especially poignant when considered against the backdrop of ongoing tensions between Native Americans and the U.S. Government. I recall going to a lecture by Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling who was lobbying for a nuclear armistice between the USSR and the U.S. in the early 60's. Young Republicans were picketing, asserting that Russia could not be trusted to keep its word; Pauling responded that the U.S. had signed over 1,000 treaties with Native Americans and had broken them all.

A brief background to the Battle of the Little Bighorn: The U.S. signed a treaty with (some of the) Native Americans in the area in 1868--including Lakota and Cheyenne. The Black Hills of South Dakota were sacred to the Lakota and guaranteed under the Treaty. But, the U.S. had a recession, gold was discovered in the Hills, and thousands of gold seekers flocked to the Native American grounds. The army tried to keep them out, but failed. The government tried to buy the land from the Native Americans in an attempt to avoid further confrontations; but, the Indians refused to sell their sacred grounds. Our guide told us that the proffered funds are still sitting in a bank account, gathering interest and that they are now worth $1.3 billion; but, the Native Americans refuse to accede to the sale of their land.

In response to the abrogation of the treaty, some Native Americans took up arms and left their reservations. In December, 1875, the commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered the tribes to return to their reservations by January 31, 1876 or be treated as hostiles by the military force. The Indians did not respond, and the Army sent Custer and others to enforce the order. This overlooks the extreme difficulty of moving encampments in the dead of winter in Montana and the fact that Indians calculate time by the sun and moon, not by timepieces and Western calendars.

The result was the infamous Battle of Little Bighorn.

The Little Bighorn Battlefield

There are grave markers for both Native Americans and U.S. Soldiers in the battle areas, marking the spots where warriors fell. Red markers for Native Americans, white for U.S. soldiers.

Our excellent tour guide, Rose

Reading the AAA Tour Guide, Claire discovered that there was a guided bus tour of the Battlefield, conducted by Native Americans. Better still, the price for Seniors was only $5.

Even the poor horses deserved a memorial.  Many of the soldiers shot their horses and used them as cover.

This is a shot of the National Cemetery, taken from the path to the Soldiers' Memorial. The tipi is obvious; the building to the right is the Visitor Center and Museum. They showed an excellent film on the battle and the events leading up to it.

A few of the many markers indicating where soldiers fell scattered throughout the area.

The soldiers' memorial plaque

The monument to the U.S. Soldiers at the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Markers for Last Stand Hill, where George Armstrong Custer and the last of his men fell on July 25, 1876--the Centennial of our Nation's birth.

This marker purports to show where Custer actually fell. All of the testimony regarding the Last Stand is from Native Americans, as Custer's party was entirely wiped out.

This Native American victory was short-lived; it was their last  win and signaled the final stage of the Indian Wars, which had gone on for decades.

The National Cemetery at Little Bighorn National Monument. There are two soldiers here from the battle; in addition, veterans from the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, The Korean War and Vietnam are buried here.


We think Ben Foster would be great in the role of George Armstrong Custer.  What do you think?

Finally arriving at our motel, a Rodeway Inn, we immediately decided to try their $2.50 Margaritas in the Casino next door. It really hit the spot.

By the way, I think I neglected to mention that there is no sales tax in Montana--a pleasant surprise for us. But, for locals, this means that government is supported by property taxes--a sore point.

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tatoo.
No more on life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
   ~ Memorial Sign at Little Bighorn National Cemetery