Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
We had a four-hour drive from Fairmont to our next stop in Billings, MT. Along the way, we hit a few showers with some interesting clouds as we drove through the hills of western Montana.
In Billings, we stayed at Billings Trailer Village RV Park. Trailer Village has full hookups including cable TV. There is a charge for Wi-Fi. The roads and pads are paved, and there is grass between the sites. The site width isn't too bad for a private campground, but having to park your tow vehicle or toad beside the RV takes up some of your space. The photo below shows our site at Trailer Village RV Park.
While in Billings, we visited with some old friends from church years ago back in Pittsburgh. At that time the Morup family led the puppet ministry of which Lora was a part. Seeing Mary and her daughter, Marianne, was great. We enjoyed dinner with them and appreciated their showing us around Billings.
While in Billings, we also drove about an hour to the east to see the Little Bighorn National Monument. Of course, the Battle of the Little Bighorn was where Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his soldiers were defeated by several thousand Indian warriors on June 25, 1876.
Outside the visitor center is a National Cemetery. Veterans of the U. S. Military and their immediate families are buried here. The cemetery was established in 1886, and there are soldiers from the Indian Wars through WWII and the Korean War.
arrived at the visitor center, there was a ranger talk in progress on the back porch. The
rangers are always very knowledgeable, so it was a good way to learn
more about the events that took place at the Little Bighorn River back
Inside the visitor center, we watched a movie about the battle, then looked around the small museum. There was a display showing a typical 7th Cavalry soldier and one showing a typical Indian warrior.
The cavalryman was a reflection of America's diversity. Forty-two percent of the soldiers were foreign-born. The Army offered hope to immigrants for a new life, an opportunity to learn English, and an opportunity to learn about the customs of their newly-adopted country. They were probably under trained and were poorly equipped. For example, although repeating rifles had been around since the 1850s, the cavalrymen were still using single-shot rifles. On top of that, their rifles had a reputation for jamming when they overheated from being fired in rapid succession. Repeating rifles were considered to be too expensive.
The Indians were mostly Lakota-Souix and Cheyenne. They were well-trained in hunting, and those skills were applied to fighting. The Indians were fighting to preserve their nomadic way of life.
We also learned a little about the years of strife between the Euro-Americans and the Indians that led up to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The conflict went back to the arrival of the first Europeans in North America. By the mid
1800s, settlers began moving west. The settlers had little regard for the sanctity of the Indians' culture, hunting grounds, or of the terms of former treaties.
President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act providing free land to
anyone who would settle and develop that land. Following the Civil War,
emigrants resumed their westward migration with renewed vigor. Skirmishes with the Indians also increased.
The U. S. Government decided it was better to try to make peace with the Indians then try to fight them, so they signed a treaty with the Lakota, Cheyenne, and other tribes of the Great Plains giving the Indians a large area of land in western Wyoming. However, gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874, and large numbers of gold seekers flocked to the region in violation of the treaty.
The Army tried to keep the prospectors out of the Black Hills to no avail, and attempts to buy the Black Hills from the Indians were unsuccessful. When the Indians resumed raids on nearby settlements and on travelers, the Army was called in to enforce order.
In 1876, three expeditions against the Plains Indians departed from three separate western forts. General George Crook, Colonel John Gibbon, and General Alfred Terry, who led these expeditions, were to converge on a large group if Indians concentrated in eastern Montana.
General Crook met up with a large band of Indians at Rosebud Creek south of the intended rendezvous point. He was essentially defeated in the battle that ensued and was forced to stop to regroup. Meanwhile, Colonel Gibbon and General Terry, unaware of Crook's battle, joined forces north of the Little Bighorn River. General Terry ordered Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer to take the 7th Cavalry (about 700 men) and approach the area along the Little Bighorn where the Indians were congregated from the south while General Terry and Colonel Gibbon would approach from the north.
Custer's greatest fear was that the Indians would scatter before the Army had a chance to attack. Convinced the Indians had detected the presence of his troops, Custer ordered the attack on June 25 instead of waiting for General Terry and his forces to arrive a day later.
In order to prevent the Indians from scattering, Custer split his forces and sent Major Marcus Reno to approach the Indian camp from the south while he continued on to approach from the northeast. There are two main battle sites in the national monument connected by a road that is about five miles long. At what is currently the eastern end of the park, Major Reno attacked a group of Indians camped there, but was surprised by their large numbers. Reno was forced to retreat to the nearby woods where his men were pinned down.
We concentrated our visit on where Custer and his men made their Last Stand at the western end of the national monument near the visitor center. Since Custer and all the men in his immediate command (about 250) were killed, the precise details of his route after he left Major Reno and what occurred along the way are unknown. What is known is that he greatly underestimated the number of Indians and was undoubtedly overwhelmed.
Custer thought there were only about 800 Indian Warriors in the area along the Little Bighorn River. His assumption was based on old information. In reality, there were a total of 7,000 to 8,000 Indians camped there, and about 1,500 to 2,000 of them were warriors.
Custer and his last 41 remaining men took a stand on the hill overlooking the spot where the visitor center is now located. The photo below shows the Indians' view up the hill. The 7th Cavalry Memorial is at the top on the left, and the individual markers indicate the place where the men fell in battle on June 25, 1876. The bodies of the enlisted men are buried in a common grave at the base of the memorial at the top of the hill. Officers' bodies were moved to various cemeteries around the country. Custer is buried at West Point.
The museum had an excellent diorama depicting the Last Stand. Although the detail in the scene almost makes it look real, the standing figure is only about 8 inches tall.
The next photo shows the soldiers' view down into the valley from approximately the same vantage point as the diorama.
The next photo is a closeup of the marker indicating where Custer fell.
Also at the top of the hill there is also a memorial to the estimated 60 to 100 Indians who fell in the battle.
Although the Indians won a decisive victory at Little Bighorn, the death of Custer strengthened the resolve to control the Indians and force them onto reservations. Custer was a Civil War hero, and his death angered the country.
The Indians were led in the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. After the battle, Sitting Bull and many of his followers fled to Canada. He returned to the United States to surrender in 1881. He toured briefly with Buffalo Bill's Wild West, then returned to South Dakota where he was shot and killed by an Indian policeman in 1890.
Crazy Horse (whose name actually means "his horse is crazy"), led the war party that delayed General Crook at Rosebud Creek. Crazy Horse returned to the Little Bighorn and possibly may have also led the battle against Major Reno. After the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse continued to skirmish with the Army until his eventual surrender in 1877. He was stabbed by a soldier with a bayonet during a possible escape attempt later in 1877.
We had always heard about "Custer's Last Stand," and it was great to finally see where it took place and to learn why the battle was fought and to learn some of the details about the battle. It was also moving to learn about the soldiers who fought bravely in the face of overwhelming odds and about the Native Americans who fought bravely to preserve their traditions and way of life.
The next morning, we departed Billings and headed to our next destination. We'll tell you about it in our next post.