Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana

Bighorn Battlefield – last stand of Custer and 249 of his men

We were heading down U.S. 212 to I-90 in Montana on our way to Sheridan.

I am sure readers of this blog tire from repeated statements that we avoid Interstate highways because they are boring.  But we take them occasionally.

However, it was on 212 that we spotted a sign for the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, the famous site of “Custer’s Last Stand” where perhaps some 2000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors killed General Custer, his soldiers and the Crow and Arikara scouts with them June 25-26, 1876.

We went in because we are interested in history, but we were a little skeptical.  There is no doubt that for generations the history of the First Americans has been neglected or even deliberately been distorted.  On our travels, however, we became irritated by park service signs and videos telling us how bad our ancestors were for stealing the poor Indian’s land.  We believe invasions have occurred, cultures have clashed and people have lost their homelands throughout the millennia and across the world.  The First Americans frequently fought among themselves and invaded other tribes’ territories for hundreds of years.  They continued these wars among themselves even after Europeans arrived.  That does not excuse the behavior of our ancestors, but it puts it in perspective.

1881 Memorial

It was with this somewhat negative attitude that we went in to see the introductory video and museum before going out to walk the battlefield.

Perhaps a great benefit of low expectations is that you are often pleasantly surprised.  The video, the literature and signs were all very well done.  Not only were events leading up to the battle and the battle itself well explained, all parties were treated with respect for their cultures.

After the battle, Cheyenne and Sioux removed their dead.   The U.S. forces were buried in a mass grave.  The first memorial was created by the Army in 1881.  In 1890, the Army erected 249 headstones across the battlefield where Custer’s men were thought to have fallen.

Click on photos to enlarge.  Use the back arrow to return to the post.

In 1991, over a hundred years after that first memorial, the National Park Service began erecting headstones where known Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors died.  Subsequent oral history and paintings on animal hides told the story from the First American point of view.  The most recent “Indian Memorial” was interesting from both an historical and artistic point of view.  It included wall sections honoring not only the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, but also the Crow and Arikara scouts.

I really liked the memorial and would recommend stopping by if you are in Eastern Montana.  One sign noted Custer had Crow and Arikara scouts with him because the Sioux invaded their lands [killing many Arikara who were already diminished by smallpox and war].  But perhaps I am never fully satisfied.  The Sioux had a legitimate complaint that the U.S. went back on its treaty giving them the Black Hills.  But there are also frequent statements that the Black Hills were “sacred” to the Sioux.  I believe sometimes First Americans find it convenient to say all lands they once roamed are sacred.  Close to one such sign in the museum was another noting the Sioux had driven the Crow out of the Black Hills just forty years before the battle.  Forty years is a short time for the area to become “sacred.”

Noting that this post may be controversial to some, I have categorized it as Commentary as well as Travel.

Date of our visit: 15 September 2018


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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8 Responses to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana

  1. The most balanced and rational assessment of the battle I’ve ever read Ray. Context is so important, and this reminds me so much of a similar military confrontation in southern Africa just three years later between the British and the Zulus. Isandlwana was in many respects, Britain’s Little Big Horn, only minus the historically charismatic leading characters. For years – in part due to a guilt-nuanced education and Cy Enfield’s deeply flawed cinematic depiction (Zulu Dawn) – I had just assumed that the conflict was a classic case of the imperial bully suffering a justified whipping at the hands the sinned-against indigenous locals. It was only last year that I learned that the Zulu had invaded Natal from their northern heartlands about the same time as the white man, and that the Zulu war was in fact a clash of two expansionist empires. All of which reminds me of something I read recently, to the effect that we all became invaders the moment our prehistoric ancestors left the Rift Valley…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Dave Ply says:

    History is usually written by the winner of wars, so it’s nice that other perspectives are finally being honored. But I don’t know that it would take long for a site to be considered sacred. For example, I suspect there are already folks who would consider the memorial at World Trade Center sacred ground.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Rosemary Lakin says:

    Thanks Ray. My thoughts as well.

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  4. As an outsider to the history of the Americas, I can understand how difficult the subject remains. I like the way that you state your case.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Loraine Beckman says:

    Bill and I went through in about 1990 which was interesting to see. You get History in school but so different to actually see where history took place. Thanks again for another lesson. Love to you both.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. travelgarb says:

    Interesting perspective. There is a saying “your view of the world depends on which hill you stand”.

    Liked by 2 people

I am interested in your thoughts.

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