2018-09-02.Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
As most of you know, the battle of the Little Bighorn pitted General George Armstrong Custer against the Cheyenne led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse and, was…Custer’s last stand. We visited the battlefield today. There was a very balanced film about the battle that explained the reasons for the battle and described what occurred here as the result of what was, in hindsight of course, very bad battle strategy on the part of the federal troops led by Lt. Col. Custer and a underestimation of both the number of Indians and their motivation to resist the attempt to move them to a reservation. There is an app that you can download to explain the various sites of the five mile long battlefield auto tour and you could get out to see the various points of importance. What we got from the information was that, the Native Americans were defending their home, their lifestyle and their families. The Cheyenne and their allies believed and believe today that they are part of but do not own the land. For the whites, it was all about owning land and the government had no trouble simply breaking its treaty with the Cheyenne, which had granted them the sacred lands of the Black Hills, when gold was discovered in the Black Hills. The strategy of the army was to force the Indians to the reservations and they did this primarily by attacking villages where only the old, young and women were to force the warriors to surrender. That was what Custer was trying to do when he launched an attack on a very large Indian camp along the Little Bighorn River. I was not aware that the name of the battle came from the name of the river but…there you have it. I also learned that the Army had as its allies the Crow and Arikara Indians. One of the Crow chiefs wrote that it was not that they liked the whites it was that the Cheyenne were trying to take the land that they inhabited for generations and that was “promised” to them by the whites.
The battlefield was a very desolate, windswept place among the ravines and bluffs leading to the river. Of course it was June when the battle occurred but still, there was absolutely no cover once the soldiers left the relative shelter of the trees lining the river and were sitting ducks for the arrows and bullets of the Indians who outnumbered them and had the motivation of home and family to fight for. There is a white headstone placed on each spot where a soldier fell and often, there were clusters of them while other places, a solitary headstone stood in the middle of an otherwise empty hill. The headstones for the Indian dead are of red granite chosen by them because of its connection to the land. But, when the Indians fell, their bodies were removed to the camp and buried in accordance with tradition. The whites, on the other hand, we left mutilated on the field of battle and it wasn’t until four days later, that reinforcements found the evidence of the great loss of life. Imagining what occurred was quite moving and sad; because ultimately, it was this victory by the Indians that caused the federal government to increase its persecution of the Indians by throwing troops at the process. So,in the end, it was a “win the battle but lose the war” scenario. Sad, but beautifully done and a worth it spot if you are in the Billings/Hardin Montana area.