Friday, October 15, 2010

The Battle Of Little Bighorn.

Back on September 27th, the Hawthornes made it to the most renowned historic site in Montana - Little Bighorn Battlefield. The preserved battlefield, monuments, and cemetery are lasting symbols of one of the most significant battles fought in the West. The Battle of Little Bighorn has been referred to as "Custer's Last Stand," "Sitting Bull's War," and the "Sioux War of 1876."
The battlefield is located near Crow Agency on Highway 212 (I 90 Exit 510). Little Bighorn Battlefield is about 15 miles east of Hardin, Montana.
First, Mr. Hawthorne and I visited the National Cemetery - shrines for the honored dead who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States. These are the graves of known and unknown veterans of our nation's wars, women and children from isolated frontier posts, Indians, scouts, and Medal of Honor recipients.
On fame's eternal camping-ground, Their silent tents are spread, And glory guards with solemn round The bivouac of the dead. A National Cemetery was established here to protect the graves of the Seventh Cavalrymen who fell in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Later, as the frontier era came to a close, the role of the cemetery was expanded. An 1886 executive order by President Grover Cleveland defined and set aside a larger area for military purposes. The following decade saw the abandonment of numerous forts throughout Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. The remains of military personnel and others, buried originally in the various post cemeteries, were moved here.
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat The soldier's last tattoo. No more on life's parade shall meet That brave and fallen few. Here, you will find the graves of soldiers killed in action at numerous skirmishes on the Northern Plains. More numerous are the graves of military personnel and their families who died from disease or by accident at isolated frontier posts. Here too, are the graves of Indian scouts who served with the army. The remains of veterans of other conflicts, from the Spanish-American War to Viet Nam, are buried here too.
To the officers and soldiers killed or who died by wounds received in action in the territory of Montana, while clearing the district of the Yellowstone of hostile Indians.
View from the cemetery.
"Know the power that is peace."
If you want to learn history like you never learned it in high school or college, go to a National Park and listen to the history interpreters there. They will explain the history to you that makes it all but come alive. Our park ranger, who's been doing this for 25 + years and who's been on the History Channel and other productions, started by describing how our perceptions are influenced by circumstances and events of the times. Here's his story, as interpreted and scribbled down by Rosie. (My apologies in advance for my screw-ups. Rosie can't take notes as fast as she used to.) Hundreds of thousands of people come here to encounter the story of Little Bighorn. They already have powerful preconceived notions about Custer and what happened here. Dominant thoughts. Strong opinions. Most of these come from myth and distortion. The Battle of Little Bighorn is probably the most mythologized military event in the United States. It's an international icon. An American legend. And it still haunts our consciousness today. 134 years after the fact. The Battle of Little Bighorn is a very controversial story. There are things - situations and events - that have influenced how people perceive and interpret this event. What was going on in the United States in 1941? Pearl Harbor. There was a movie made called "They Died With Their Boots On" with Errol Flynn. World War II had broken out, so at that time we have pro-military. In "They Died With their Boots On," there are several things going on : It's pro-government. It's pro-United States. There's a strong fervor and support for the war effort. Errol Flynn showed up on that Last Stand Hill - our Park Ranger points out the hill in question - with a giant American flag in the background, pistol in one hand, a saber in the other (although there were no sabers at Little Bighorn) and he's blazing away for truth, justice, and the American way. Every soldier in that movie was a decorated Eagle scout. Every Indian warrior and chief was a rotten cur. Any symbolism there? Now, fast forward to 1971. Viet Nam. Now the movie is Little Big Man with Dustin Hoffman. Now we have Custer on top of Last Stand Hill being portrayed as a raging lunatic, out of his mind, spiraling around in circles, ordering his companies that no longer exist to respond. Looks like he's dropped acid. Every soldier in that movie is portrayed as a serial killer. Every Indian is an environmentalist. So at that time, in 1971, we have anti-war, anti-government, and anti-establishment. The veterans are coming home, getting blamed for the war. We have a whole different climate and of course Hollywood responds to this. It's amazing the views people already have when they come to Little Bighorn. Let's look at some other tidbits that influence us. Custer graduated last in his class at West Point. Here's a thought - what happens when you graduate last in your class from medical school? They call you doctor. A very common belief people held was that Custer was an idiot. He graduated last. They perceived him as arrogant, vain, overconfident. A glory hunter. He was supposed to wait for other soldiers and he disobeyed his orders and rode to his death. Let's take a look at his orders - orders given to him by General Terry, commander of this operation, in writing, three days before the fight: "General Custer, I place too much confidence in your energy, zeal, and experience to hamper you with specific instructions when in close proximity to the hostile force. Use your own judgment. And hang on to your wounded. Expect to act independently." What was the fight over? LAND - Who would occupy it, how it would be used, and who would be allowed to traverse across it. We're talking economics, because in 1873, we have a war going on in this country - the Panic of 1873. A depression. The country is broke, the stock market is tanking, banks are failing, businesses are not hiring, factories are laying off people, the railways are coming to a screeching halt, and we've got an economic crisis. We all would probably agree what was really needed was an economic stimulus package and George Custer is going to find it. You know where he found it? In the Black Hills of South Dakota. Gold. In the sacred Black Hills. The Black Hills that belonged to the Sioux guaranteed by the Treaty of 1868, signed at Fort Laramie. The Black Hills of Dakota are sacred to the Sioux Indians and under the Fort Laramie Treaty, the United States recognized the Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, set aside for exclusive use by the Sioux people. Then General Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills, accompanied by miners, seeking gold. Once gold was discovered, the white man flooded into the Black Hills - miners, prospectors, and entrepreneurs. Moving into the Sioux hunting grounds. Demanding protection from the US Army. Ten thousand people in Deadwood. First the army tries to get the miners out, but they can't. The prospectors keep coming back. So President Grant comes up with an idea - he's going to try to buy the Black Hills from the Indians by offering them $7 million. The charismatic war leader and chief named Sitting Bull says, "No, you don't sell the ground your ancestors walked on and now their bones lie beneath. It's not for sale." Well somebody came up with this brilliant scheme: "How about we lease the land? We'll give it back when we're done." That's not going to fly. So Grant goes and knocks on the door of the War Department. He goes to talk to two old buddies of his - William Tecumseh Sherman and William Sheridan. Together, these two had burned down nearly half the south. They know what total war is. And they're going to try and wage it on the Northern Plains. They're going to issue an ultimatum to the Sioux Chief. Straightforward. "Get out of the Black Hills. Get out of Powder River country. Get out of Rosebud country and go back to your respective reservations and stay there and do so by January 31, 1876, because if you don't, you will be considered hostile and the army will come and get you and force you to return to the reservation." Economics, folks. The Panic of 1873. We need an economic stimulus package. Well, out here on the plains, the Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Arapaho, and other Plains tribes are having their own economic crisis. What does their economy revolve around? The buffalo. And they have big problems out here, because in 1840, there are 60 MILLION buffalo on the Plains and by 1890, 16 years after this fight, there are fewer than 500 on the face of the earth. By 1876, the numbers are staggering. This is the last best place - Powder River country, Rosebud, and Little Bighorn. The Indians are starving to death out here, trying to find economic sustenance. So, we have these two issues going on at once. We have a culture on one hand - EuroAmericans, and they come out here and look around and they see all this vast quantity of territory and they think the Indians here are just wasting it. They see grass, water, timber, minerals in the ground. When the EuroAmericans see all these resources, they envision farms, towns, ranches, railroads, telegraphs, barbed wire fences - all this driven by a madness called Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny - the belief that EuroAmericans were ordained by God to spread across the continent, conquer it, subdue it from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea. There's just one problem with that idea. There are people already here. People who have their own vision. And they're hunters and they're warriors. That's how they make their living. The EuroAmericans are not going to coax Sitting Bull and offer him an opportunity to be a Christian farmer. Sitting Bull is not going to go for that. He's not going to bend over and scratch the rock and the ground with a hoe and try to make a living. Crazy Horse is not going to turn in his war pony and hook him up to a plow. They're hunter-warriors. That is their vision. They have their horses. They can travel from Mexico to Canada in pursuit of the buffalo. Their food, shelter, clothing, remnants, utensils, medicines - all from the buffalo. Finally Grant gives up and hands the problem over to the War Department. The architect of this military campaign, William Sheridan, is going to be a sawed-off bulldog. Sheridan is going to bring three military columns out of the South from Wyoming territory. He's going to bring General George Crook, famed Apache fighter, out of the West with 1300 soldiers from Bozeman, Montana territory. John Gibbon is going to march down from the North from Yellowstone territory with 600 soldiers. Out of the East, from Fort Abraham Lincoln in North Dakota territory, about 1000 soldiers under direct command of General Alfred Terry are marching down. Lt. Col. Custer is one of Terry's staff officers. They want to fight the Sioux. They are under orders to subjugate the Sioux and Cheyennes. Terry is 49 years old and a desk soldier and he really doesn't want to be out here and he doesn't like to ride horses. He's never been married and lives with his sisters. He's an attorney and a Yale graduate and he's second in command. Each one of these military columns is supposed to act independently from one another. They can't communicate. And they're 100's of miles apart. June 17. We have a military campaign. Three columns are heading into this area. Their biggest fear is that the warriors are going to run and not fight. That's going to be their #1 biggest mistake in their thinking. #2, they're going to grossly underestimate the fighting power and tenacity of the Sioux and the Apache. Three military columns approaching this area. June 17. Eight days before this fight. George Crook is camped 30 miles to the South. Across the Wolf Mountains up on top of the horizon. On the other side on Rosebud Creek are 1300 troops - the two columns under Terry and Gibbon and Terry is laying plans to locate the Indians, believed to be in Little Bighorn Valley. Terry ordered Gibbons' column up the Yellowstone to approach the Valley from the North. He sent Custer and the seventh cavalry on a wide sweep to the South to approach it from the opposite direction. His strategy is to catch the Indians between the two forces. Now back in March, 1876, six companies of cavalry under the command of Crook gave unmistakable notice to the Indians that the soldiers meant war if the Indians did not move onto the reservations. They attacked an Indian camp on the Powder River that morning. The surprised Indians rallied and counterattacked. And the cavalry retreated. The victorious Indian warriors, consisting of about 100 lodges of Oglalas, Miniconjous, and Cheyennes reclaimed their village and headed downstream to the east fork of Powder River to unite with Crazy Horse. The combined tribes then went farther North about 60 miles on another branch of the Powder River to find Sitting Bull. As word of the war spread from one camp to another, the Indians all came together for self-defense. By June, they'd reached a strength of about 3000 including 800 warriors. On June 18, the Indians journeyed to Little Bighorn then turned south up the valley and pitched their tepees. Other Indians joined them here, increasing their numbers to about 8000 people and 2000 warriors. Inside of that Indian village, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse are talking about the approaching cavalries. They know Crook is to the south. They know he's a threat. The enigmatic warrior Crazy Horse rides around this village three times. At the end of the third trip, he has 1000 behind him. Legendary. Fearless. Aggressive. Relentless. He's killed a lot of white men. As a fourteen year old, Crazy Horse had a vision: The Great Protector told him, "You are to be a protector of your people. That's your life's mission. Bullets and arrows will never harm you. Be reserved. Do not be flamboyant. Do not brag. Do not boast. Be humble. This is your gift." Consequently, Crazy Horse is very different from the rest of his warrior culture. When he goes into battle, he doesn't paint himself lavishly. He does not wear his finest clothing. He simply goes into the fight by tying a brown pebble behind his ear. He paints a lightning bolt on his face. Hail spots on his body. He ties up his horse's tail, slips on the battle shirt given to him by his warrior culture, grabs his Winchester rifle, and goes to war. He's highly revered. Almost mystical. Other warriors follow him time after time, not because he can order them to, but because he leads by inspiration. He's going to ride all night long - thirty miles with 1000 warriors behind him. He's going to over the top of that divide, ride down, and slam into George Crook thirty miles from here. The Battle of the Rosebud is on. The Crow and the Shoshone counterattack or Crook would have been destroyed right there. The fight rages back and forth for six hours. Crook fires 30,000 rounds of ammunition. He kills eleven warriors. At the end of the day, he's out of ammunition and food. And he leaves. He goes back to Sheridan, Wyoming, and goes fishing. He does not communicate with the other two military columns in the field because he can't. Crook's column is the biggest military contingency and he's out of the ballgame. Major Marcus Reno is only 40 miles away and knows nothing about this incident. No communication. Now, interestingly enough, Crook thinks he's won the battle because he's held the ground he was defending. Civil War mentality. Crazy Horse has just stopped 1300 soldiers, 30 miles from his camp. He's turned their tails and sent them home in one fight. When Crazy Horse returns to his village, there's a huge victory celebration. They party for a week long. And Chapter 1 of Sitting Bull's vision has just been completed. Prior to the Rosebud fight, Sitting Bull has led the Sun Dance. He has fifty pieces of flesh cut from each arm. He goes without food and water, staring at the sun for several days. He finally collapses and in his delirium, he sees soldiers falling upside down in the camp. They don't have any ears. They don't listen. They're all dead. The Great Spirit reveals this to him. He runs to the village crying out to the other people his vision. Chapter 1 has been written for Rosebud, but there's more to come. June 12, Custer is camped 26 miles from here. He goes into camp at 5PM with 647 troops. At 11 PM he rousts his men from slumber. A forced night march in the pitch black darkness up to the base of the Wolf Mountain. Scouts go out ahead and look down in the valley from their vantage point. They go back and get Custer and they arrive back about 8:30 AM. Custer looks down in that valley. He has field glasses, but he can't see a thing. The scouts tell him, "Look for worms in the grass." What they're referring to is the treeline right below at the Little Bighorn River. Across the valley to the next line of trees and the bluffs above the trees. On the morning of June 25, the day of the fight, there are 20,000 ponies grazing on those bluffs. 20,000 worms in the grass. Custer can't see them. One of his Indian scouts tells Custer, "If you and I go down there today, we'll go home on a road we do not know. You don't have enough bullets in your whole command to fight the Sioux." Custer say, "Oh, I think we'll get through all of them in one day." Vain. Arrogant. Over-confident. Custer's been in battle after battle after battle in the Civil War. Always charging ahead. Always in front. He's had 11 horses shot out from underneath him. No scars. Sometimes he's gotten so far ahead of his men that he was in Confederate territory. All by himself. When Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox, April 1865, the Civil War comes to an end. 630,000 Americans are dead. Surrender papers are signed. Ceremony completed. The table those papers were signed on is quickly picked up by William Sheridan and given to Libby Custer, with words to this effect - "I don't know of anyone who's played a greater role in ending this tragic conflict than your gallant husband." That table now sits in the Smithsonian. Arrogant. Vain. Overconfident. Aggressive. Fearless. Relentless. Always charging ahead. Time after time after time. He's victorious. He leads his men to victory because of his courage and inspiration. Does this sound familiar? Crazy Horse and Custer. Two warriors trapped in their own time. Prisoners of their own time. In a battle - right up on that hill. Custer's going to attack this village. He's going to come off that divide. He thinks this village is going to run away. He thinks they're going to scatter. He thinks they're not going to fight. Dividing his forces in three, Custer orders Captain Frederick Benteen off to the south with 125 soldiers to scout and prevent the Indians from escaping through the upper valley of the Little Bighorn River. Major Marcus Reno, with a squadron of 140 troops was to pursue the group of Indians, cross the river, and charge the village in a coordinated effort with the remaining troops under his command. Benteen hates Custer's guts. He has no use for him. Custer hates Benteen. Reno hates both of them. Benteen questions Custer's orders: "General, if this village is as big as they say it is, we're going to need everyman we got. You better keep your regiment together." "You have your orders, Benteen. Follow them. You're dismissed." Benteen is a disgruntled captain. Custer and Reno come down off the divide. 12 miles out. 7 miles out. 3 miles out. From the river crossing 7 miles to the south, 50 warriors are seen galloping toward the village. A Scout says, "There go your Indians, General, running like the devil." Custer sends immediate orders to Major Reno, "Reno, the village is just ahead and running away. Move forward at as rapid a pace as you deem prudent. Sweep everything before you. Pitch into anything. You'll be supported by the full outfit." Reno crosses the ridge headed down to the south and roars down into the valley as fast as he can. Inside that village is complete, total chaos. They're not expecting any battle. "Oh jah! Oh jah! The charges are coming! The long knives!" Old ladies hobbling on sticks are trying to get away. Young mothers race frantically trying to find their children who are swimming and playing. In that village is Sitting Bull. 45 years old. Too old to fight, but not to lead. He exhorts the younger warriors on. "Brave up! Brave up! Strong hearts to the front! Cowards to the rear. Oh ka hey! It's a good day to die." Warriors roar out of the village to face Reno. They ride back and forth creating a giant dust cloud. As Reno thunders down the valley floor, he gets closer and closer and closer. At 500 yards, he knows two things: The village is not running away and he's never fought the Sioux and the Cheyenne before. At 250 yards, he screams out the command: "Halt! Dismount! Form skirmish lines now! Fight on foot!" 140 men jump to rein in their horses. Two privates, Smith and Turley, can't even stop. They go right into the village, their heads later found on poles. 138 men dig in. Every 4th man is a horse holder. He takes his horse and 3 others and takes them off the battle line back into the timber along the river to protect the mounts and the ammunition packs from incoming fire. Now there are 100 men spread 5 yards apart in skirmish line formation. In ten minutes they'll face 1000 warriors. The company commanders order volley fire. They take out their big bore carbines. 45-55's. It's a big bullet. 405 grains of lead. If it hits you, something's going to fall off. They drop it into the carbine. The order is given: Ready. Aim. Fire! BOOM! 100 guns go off. They reload. Ready. Aim. Fire! BOOM! There go another 100 rounds. The big bullets crash into the tepees, dropping some of them on the ground. The first warriors, led by Gall, come raging out of the village. Gall is over 6 feet tall and weighs over 250 pounds. His 2 wives and 3 daughters have just been killed by Reno gunfire. When he finds out, he says, "It made my heart bad and I fought with a hatchet." Gall drives Reno off the battle line. Forces him back into the timber. They fight desperately for another twenty minutes but the warriors light the grass on fire. Reno screams out to the scout Bloody Knife, "Bloody Knife, what are the Indians going to do?" BOOM! Bloody Knife takes a bullet right in the head. His hot brains and blood spray out the back of his skull all over Reno's face. Reno has the first account of post traumatic stress syndrome. He barks out conflicting commands: "Mount! Dismount! Mount!" Soldiers are going up and down like yoyos. And then he screams out, "Those who want to make their escape and live, follow me!" Reno crashes out of the timber. Out onto the plain. Other soldiers are trying to catch up. It's a rout. There's no attempt to cover the retreat at all. Warriors armed with over 200 repeating rifles - Winchesters and Henry's - ride up next to the fleeing soldiers. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! It was a buffalo hunt. Soldiers raced towards the river, 2 miles away. Warriors ride up behind them, slide their bows over the soldiers' necks and jerk them off their horses. They pound them with clubs and take away their guns. "You're not brave. Why are you here? You did not bring enough soldiers. You better go get more!" It's total chaos. Forty men will die in this race with death. Through a gauntlet of hell. They get to the river. Horses crash off the bank, flounder in the stream. Men drown. Warriors pound the soldiers with war clubs. The river is red with blood. Reno scratches and claws up the other side of the bank. He gets on top of the high ground. His battalion is whipped and demoralized. This was war. It wasn't cowboys and Indians. It wasn't John Wayne. It was war. Five minutes later, Captain Frederick Benteen comes up. He's got 125 soldiers and a message in his pocket from Custer. Reno sees Benteen: "Thank God you're here. Halt your command. Help me. I've lost half my men." Benteen has 125. The pack train is a mile behind with 24,000 rounds of ammunition. He hands to note from Custer to Reno. It reads, "Benteen, big village. Come on. Be quick. Bring packs!" (Ammo packs) Neither Reno nor Benteen will respond with any sense of urgency to that order. It will haunt them to the rest of their days. In the meantime, Custer has ridden to the North with five companies on the high bluffs. 210 soldiers. He sends 2 columns down. They try to cross into the Cheyenne camp but can't get there because Cheyenne warriors pour bullets across the stream. The 2 columns have to fall back. They ride right back up the ridge. When they reunite on Calhoun Hill with James Calhoun Custer's brother-in-law, they dig in for all they have. But now, after pounding Reno into submission, Indian warriors Gall, Crow King, Two Moon, and Lone Dog roar in and smash into Calhoun. He fights for 45 minutes, desperately trying to hold the warriors back. Tom Custer, Medal of Honor winner, brother of George Custer, and captain of C Company, charges down the ridge, trying to drive the warriors away. Temporarily, there's a lull in the battle. But then, a Southern Cheyenne chief counterattacks. He rides his horse up the ridge and gets off. He turns around to scattering warriors and yells, "Come on! There are not that many soldiers. We can kill them all!" The warriors pound into C Company. They snap buffalo ropes and blankets trying to scare the horses. Capture the horses. Kill the horse holders. C Company is decimated. Over top of the ridge they go as Gall crashes into Calhoun, destroying Company L. Calhoun is dead. Company C is fractured. Many of the men, now on horse, run to the North. Custer rides out beyond this trying to get across the river to the non-combatants- capture the women and children. In the meantime, Crazy Horse rides down after pummeling Reno, crosses the river. He roars up over the top of the ridge with maybe 500-600 warriors behind him. He goes over the top of the hill and runs right into Myles Keogh, Company I commander. Myles Keogh - the Fighting Irishman. He was a guard for the Pope in Europe. Keogh has 40 men in skirmish line formation. Crazy Horse goes over the top of the ridge. All 40 guns ... BOOM! Bullets can't touch him. They reload. BOOM! Crazy Horse rides back and forth in front of them in a bravery run. They reload and fire again. BOOM! Another 40 bullets.; They cannot touch him. His vision is coming true. The other warriors see his courage. They drive up over the top of the ridge, crash into Keogh and grind him into Gall, who's coming from the South. Company I is blown of the planet. Koegh is dead. The only remnants of that firefight will be a horse named Comanche who will live another 14 years after this battle and become the only survivor of the Custer fight, now stuffed in a museum in Lawrence, Kansas. Custer tries to cross the river, but the Cheyenne and Sioux warriors slam the gates closed. He has to fight his way back to the current cemetery and drive warriors off the high ground where he digs in. It's a desperate, desperate fight. The soldiers look to the South. Where's Benteen and the packs? Benteen's not going to come. The soldiers dig in on Last Stand Hill. Gall, who lost 2 wives and 3 daughters, says the soldiers were fighting well. They were loading and firing. Loading and firing. But then 30 men bolted from the top of the hill, 5 or 6 on horseback, the rest running. They crashed down at the deep ravine. A Company. The Grayhorse troop. After this battle, 28 of them will be found dead in a heap. In a crack in the earth. On top of the hill, the soldiers keep fighting. But Lone Dog says, "The soldiers threw their carbines away. They took out their needle guns. Their little guns. They tried to kill us, but they shot wildly in the sky as their horses bucked and shied." On top of the hill, Wooden Leg, 20 years old, on the east side of the ridge, said it looked like a thousand dogs in a fight. He couldn't tell one from the other. "We had to take turns. There wasn't enough room for all of us." Two Moon: "We swirled around the soldiers like water around a stone." In a last ditch attempt to survive, the orders were given, "Shoot your horse!" BOOM! You put a bullet in your horse's head. Now, you're hiding behind a dead animal. There's nowhere to run. There's nowhere to hide. And you're not going home. Soldiers on top of that ridge are fighting frantically. And then, over 100 guns captured from the Reno dead at Calhoun Hill are turned on Custer. It's overwhelming. Gunfire, smoke, and dust. Screaming. The sky is raining arrows. And then the shots quit coming. Young boys and old men who'd been watching the fray, hiding in the timber line and ravines, mount their horses and storm into the crowd on top of the hill. They pound the soldiers with war clubs and kill them all. Then they raced down to meet Reno and Benteen, who'd made a feeble effort to advance to the sound of the gunfire. They drive them back. Pin them down five miles to the south. They're under siege for the next 24 hours. They would be destroyed if it were not for Captain Benteen who looks around, takes control, and yells to his men, "It's do or die! Dig rifle pits now!" The men begin to scratch and claw at the ground with cups, spoons, pocket knives, their hands. Benteen, with his courage and leadership and 24,000 rounds of ammunition will save 360 men on top of that hill. 53 will die. On Monday, the village detects the advance of Terry and Gibbons from the north. They break up, exodus towards the Big Horn Mountains to the south, scatter, and disappear. And the Battle of the Little Bighorn is over. On Wednesday, Gibbons, Terry, Reno, and Benteen come down to bury the dead. They count 197 stripped and mutilated corpses along that ridge line. It's a ghastly scene. The soldiers identified the 7th Cavalry's dead as best they could and hastily buried them where they fell. Shallow graves for their comrades. Custer. Gunshot wound to the head. Gunshot wound to the chest. Thighs slashed. Finger tips cut off. Ears punctured by sewing awls by the Cheyenne women who'd warned him, "Do not hunt us down." An arrow shoved in his private parts. Custer didn't listen. His brother, Tom, lay next to him. Thrown in the same 15-inch hole. You can't recognize Tom Custer. His head is smashed to the thickness of a pancake. He's disemboweled. The only way to identify him is by a tattoo on his left arm. "TWC" Thomas Ward Custer. These were angry times. A year after this fight, Crazy Horse surrenders at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. His people have been hunted, hounded, and harassed. The women are freezing. The children are starving. And they are out of hope. "Custer's Last Stand" was their last stand as well. Crazy Horse was stabbed in the back with a bayonet. Dead at 36. For refusing to go into a guard house. Sitting Bull goes to Canada after this battle. Stays up there for 5 years. When he returns to the United States, he's allowed to tour the world with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. He finds this a demoralizing, revolting experience. He's often seen on street corners, handing out silver dollars to children. On a cold December dawn in 1890, Sitting Bull is killed by Indian Police, shot in the back of his head. As they try to arrest him, a gun battle breaks out just prior to Wounded Knee. His body is thrown into a pit with a sack of lime. Dead. This battle shattered lives.
Stones today mark where each soldier fell. This is the memorial on top of the hill.
The remains of about 220 soldiers, scouts, and civilians are buried around the base of this memorial. The white marble headstones scattered over the battlefield denote where the slain troopers were found and originally buried. In 1881 they were reinterred in a single grave on this site. The officers' remains were removed in 1877 to various cemeteries throughout the country. General Custer was buried at West Point.
We drove through the battlefield and saw all the markers showing where each man had fallen.
It's quite sobering.
The black headstone in the center is Custer's.
Along the drive through the battlefield, I got out at each marker to take a picture. Click to enlarge.
Headstones were everywhere.
Bear With Horns is still remembered today. Little Bighorn Battlefield was originally created in 1879 to honor only Lt. Col. George Custer and the US soldiers killed in battle June 25, 1876. In 1881, a memorial was erected at the mass grave site where the battle took place to honor the members of the US Seventh Cavalry and George Custer who were killed June 25, 1876. After many years, the Native Americans who fought Custer have also been memorialized in what was their last major armed effort to retain their lands against the continued encroachment by EuroAmericans.
Formerly known as the Custer Battlefield National Monument, the site was renamed by Congress in 1991 and is now known as the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and is part of the National Park Service. In that same law, Congress directed that an Indian Memorial be designed and constructed to formally acknowledge the Indian perspective and to honor and recognize the Native Americans who struggled and died in their attempt to preserve and defend their homeland, their culture, and their traditional way of life. An eleven-member Indian Memorial Advisory Committee was appointed in 1994 by Manuel Lujan, the Secretary of the Interior, to oversee the Indian memorial design competition and select a winning design. From a total of 554 entries, the winning design of John Collins and Allison Towers of Philadelphia, PA., was announced in 1997. The dedication ceremony included descendants of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull as well as many tribal leaders. 127 years later, on June 25, 2003, this memorial was dedicated, honoring the Indians who fought, on either side, to preserve their land and culture. The dedication theme was "Peace Through Unity" and it was sponsored by all the tribes involved in the battle.
Click to enlarge.
The Spirit Warriors will eternally ride across the plains. They are part of the Indian Memorial.

I, Enos Poor Bear Jr. , am very proud to represent the Oglala Lakota Nation on this historical event.

June 25, 2009 133rd Battle Anniversary 10 :00 am - Enos Poor Bear, Jr. scheduled speaker

For the past one hundred thirty three years, we the Lakota people have accomplished a battle in which our ancestors fought to preserve our land and culture and way of life . Every June 25 and 26 we honor those days.

When my father the late Enos Poor Bear Sr., worked to have the battle site name changed from Custer Battle Field to "The Little Bighorn National Monument it was after a hundred and thirty three years that this gave our Lakota, Nakota and Dakota the recognition we deserve.

Also the stories told in history portrayed in the battle were inaccurate, so now we can rewrite history in the Indian Memorial that has been put together in Montana.

As a son of my father, Enos Poor Bear Sr., I Enos Poor Bear Jr. have been doing the same to follow up on my father's great work. I am very, very, proud to represent the Oglala Lakota Nation on this historical event in which my father and ancestors have worked and fought to keep our great culture alive for the next generations to come.

During the time of our elders things were better for our Native Americans than they are today. The way that our elders made things better was through unity. Unity of purpose; unity of dedication; and unity of effort. When we look back over the pages of time, we observe that all major accomplishments of Native American people were brought about when unity was present. The major victory which our people enjoyed here on this very battlefield was the result of a unified effort among Indian people. Major progress among Indian people will come about only when there is unity of effort. The failures that we Indian people have experienced have come about when we were not united, and when divisiveness was the order of the day. If this Native American Memorial is to serve its total purpose, it must not only be a tribute to the dead; it must contain a message for the living. I earnestly suggest to you that power through unity would serve us well as an interpretative theme for this memorial.

Enos Poor Bear Sr.

Oglala Lakota elder

Peace Through Unity


Marilyn said...

Thank you, Rosie, for a thoughtful and insightful historical piece.

I have always thought that this battle was one that in the end had no winners.

This all reminds me of my old Ohio History teacher from Junior High School. He used to say when speaking of the treaties between the Native Americans and White men: 'The white man would say, "this land is yours for as long as the river flows, the green grass grows and the sky is blue - or ninety days, whichever comes first."'

zzzadig said...

Ditto. Thanks, that is a wonderful post that wonderfully paced and constructed.

No, really. Excellent.

gee said...

custer was killed long before he arrived at last stand hill, he got shot crossing a river