On our summer coast to coast trip, my boyfriend Roy and I had the opportunity to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. In talking with my brother Rick later, I believe that I had been there as an eight-year-old with my family on a cross country trailer trip. It would make sense since my dad was a history buff and what is known as “Custer’s Last Stand” would have been a place he would have wanted to visit. So, in driving from Devil’s Tower in Wyoming to Billings Montana, there appeared on the map Little Big Horn. We decided to venture into the park.
On June 25 and 26th of 1876, “Custer’s Last Stand” took place with the U.S. Army losing 268 and 55 severely wounded; 31 Native American warriors and 10 bystanders lost their lives. It was a great victory for Lakota leaders, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Among the Lakota people it is referred to as the Battle of Greasy Grass. It is a place for reverence for all who lost their lives.
Here are my highlights from the battlefield:
This place is in the middle of vast rolling grasslands. We arrived on an unusually hot, windy day. It was 113 degrees and it was very gusty. I almost felt transported back to the dust bowl. Dry, hot and windy. Amid this starkness and undulating grass are headstones, a single lane road and several monuments. It is barren. As you drive from one vantage point to the next or walk from one monument to another, there is nothing but wind and infinite space. Among that space are headstones dotted in hilltops, gullies, and plains. This place is stark and austere.
We spotted several groups of wild horse roaming free on the grasslands. There was a mix of graceful chestnut, palomino and pinto horses communing close to the banks of the Little Big Horn River. It’s fascinating to me that these beautiful beasts are roaming free in the Montana grasslands.
As we traveled across the west, many of the national parks have a good bit of their land that is Native American property. Depending on the tribe, that portion of the park can be closed. At Little Big Horn, we were able to travel through the whole park. I felt fortunate that we were able to see the whole park. I was really touched to see that the Crow people had donated a good portion of the land on which the national monument sits “in hopes that people of all races could enjoy this place of beauty together.” I felt honored to be able to enjoy it.
I felt as if the place was utterly serene. Roy described it as spiritual. There is reverence here. In the quiet beauty of the swaying grass, the roaming horses and the headstones dotting the hills where warriors fell. I was most struck by the headstones that were side by side. Two by two randomly across the countryside. There is the main graveyard where most of the U.S. Calvary and Lt. Col. Custer lost their lives but beyond that, scattered on the hillsides there are pairs of head stones. The white stones were of the fallen army soldiers and the red stones were of the fallen Native Americans. Somehow, I found it comforting to know that perhaps when they fell, they were not alone.
In 1992, this hollowed place was renamed Little Big Horn Battlefield (from Custer’s Battlefield) to recognize the Native Americans on both sides of the conflict, Custer had Crow and Arika scouts working for him while there were over one thousand Lakota and Northern Cheyenne warriors on the other side of the fight. There is a beautiful sculpture called “Peace through Unity” to create understanding between all races. It’s a place of serenity, reverence and stark beauty, I highly recommend taking it in.