Our last stop in the USA was the site of the Little Big Horn Battlefield in Montana, more popularly known as being the site of Custer’s Last Stand. I can remember reading about this at a very early age, and while I had a mental image of what had happened, I never had an appreciation for how or why. One could argue that this event was the death knell for the traditional way of life of the native North American peoples, and as such even though they won the battle it was their own last stand as much as it was Custer’s.
Unlike most of the locations of famous battles we have visited previously in Europe and the Middle East, battle sites such as this one and other North American mid-west locations still preserve some of the remoteness and unsettled aspects that marked them when the event happened. Then, as still to a degree today, the overriding impression one has is of wide open spaces and ‘big’ sky over head, with wind whipped tall grasses and scrub. Towns appear as little surprises one happens upon along the highway, in what still looks to be a largely unsettled land, and it is not hard at all to imagine a cavalry unit or native raiding party thundering along on horse back in the distance.
The site where Custer fell is on the south slope, just below the top of a ridge that runs more or less west to the east on the north side of the Little Big Horn River. Below the ridge, down at the river on the south side was the native encampment of some several thousand men, women and children predominately from the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne tribes. The 7th Cavalry had about 700 men. The battle took place over two days, and at the end of the day June 26th, 1876, 268 Cavalry men, plus horses and an unknown number of natives were dead. Today, it is a peaceful, almost thoughtful place with markers showing where bodies were found. This is not the manicured grave site one sees in France or Belgium, with rows and rows of well-ordered markers all tidily arranged – here each stone marker is placed where the body was found and so as you look down the slope, you can easily envision the last desperate moments of each combatant on both sides as the markers either singly, or clustered in small haphazard groupings are strewn here and there on the grassy slopes and ravines down toward the river. The single markers in some ways are the most poignant – you start to notice them slowly, as your eye picks them out of the tall grasses here and there where they fell, both the red granite ones for the natives and white marble ones for the cavalrymen. I’m glad I visited – recommended.
From here, it was a straight shot home to Calgary over the next couple of days and I have to say that it was nice to finally sleep in our own bed ! The total trip worked out to be 10, 416 km (6472 miles) and we passed through 15 states on our travels. Having been lucky enough to dodge the snow in many places along the way, one of the first things we did on arrival home was to arrange for the snow tires to be installed on the car !
After a bit of maintenance work around the house to prepare for winter, both SWMBO’d and I are ready to get back into our usual routines. I have two bikes I want to work on and hopefully get completed before the spring – a 1973 GT750 Suzuki and a 1977 GT500 Suzuki, so it is time to get busy again !