Saturday, June 25, 2016

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Part I)

Out of our rv park, east to I90, then north we rode on a beautifully clear, chilly, and terrifically windy morning.  Destination--the Little Bighorn Battlesite.  Just over the Montana border we were greeted by this sign.

The Crow nation lucked out and got to keep this beautiful rolling hill area.

Crow house and horses.  The valley here is where the Sioux were camped prior to the battle.  The ridge beyond is the battle site.

Reminder that we are guests here.

Entering the park we learned that not only is this the centennial year of the the National Park system, but today was the 140th anniversary of the battle of Sioux v Custer.  Admission was free and the park was packed.

We managed to find a small spot to park the bikes that was near to the visitors' center.  We signed the register, stamped our passports, and introduced ourselves to the participants on both sides of the conflict.

Interesting that Sitting Bull was leader and medicine chief but didn't fight in this battle.
I90 view of the battlesite ridge.  The fighting ranged from the visitor's center area south (right) for 5 miles.

We opted for a guided tour via shuttle bus.  Our guide, a Crow nation member, gave us a good idea of the movements of both sides.  (Custer's scouts and guides were Crow.)  The conflict started when shortly after the Laramie Treaty was signed, the government opened the newly formed Sioux reservation to gold hunters and settlers fleeing the economic depression following the Civil War, claiming that they couldn't keep them out.  The Sioux moved off the reservation and refused to go back.  They kept moving north, camping and hunting along the way.  The army tracked them by their camps (7000 people (including 1500-2000 warriors) in one group aren't hard to track) and decided to round them up at the confluence of Reno Creek and the Little Bighorn River.  Generals Gibbon and Terry went west and south. Custer and 600 troops went south and east, and Crook was to cover the south.  Things started to go haywire when Crook, routed at the Battle of Rosebud, turned back to regroup and resupply.   Then on June 25 1876 Custer decided not to wait for Terry and Gibbon to arrive (on June 26th) for two reasons.  He saw a couple of stragglers headed for the main camp (which he couldn't see very well because of all the hills and ravines) and thought that the army had seen. Assuming that, he made another false assumption--that the Indians would run.     

Across from the visitors' center is the Indian Memorial.

A few yards away is Last Stand Hill and cemetery.  About 1/2 mile to the south of here Custer got his first good look at the village.  Too late.   Of the (approximately) 225 men that Custer led after he split with Generals Reno and Benteen, 41 made it to Last Stand Hill.  11 bodies are buried elsewhere by their families.  Custer is reburied at West Point, NY.  The remains of the rest of the command, 30 soldiers, are 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.

From Last Stand Hill soldiers and warriors engaged in a fight to the death for five miles along the twisty ridge.   From there Generals Reno and Benteen (who was guarding the pack train with the ammunition were to block retreat to the north.  Instead Reno was intercepted and outnumbered.  He managed to retreat to this hill where, rejoined by Benteen, survivors managed to hold out until Generals Terry and Gibbon arrived and caused the Indians to withdraw. 

This gives an idea of the space needed for just part of the army. 

Views of the valley from various points atop the ridge.  This helps to get a sense of the difficulty of  the army to keep track of itself.

The Sioux were camped along this valley for several miles.  They hunted all the way to the mountains for game.

Part of the Little Bighorn snaking its way along the valley.

Several of the fallen were identified by various means, but many of the soldiers were not.  Markers were placed where some of them fell.

This group disobeyed orders and tried to help Custer from the north.

Tomorrow, part II.

Louise and Duane

1 comment:

Paul and Marsha Weaver OCT. 17, 2009 said...

We have friends that did the tour and loved it. I would love it. Whenever there is a guide that knows exactly what he/she is talking about, history just comes alive.
I think Custer was bit of how shall we say....hard head!