My husband and I drove from our home in Colorado to the north west area of Montana in August to visit Glacier National Park. Glacier has always been a place I wanted to see, and I was very excited to be on the road again towards another National Park adventure! We drove north on CO 25 through eastern Colorado--as you can see from the photo above eastern Colorado is basically high plains, and beyond a farm or two, there is not that much scenery to see. (All photos in this post will enlarge for easier viewing when clicked on.)
When we crossed over the border to the state of Wyoming, we stopped at the Welcome Center in Cheyenne to stretch our legs--we had been driving over two hours. The Welcome Center was impressive and included a full mammoth skeleton--quite a sight to see!
Eastern Wyoming also consists of high plains and is not very populated, except for an occasional ranch or farm.
It was a long ride through Wyoming --almost five hours of driving, so any change in scenery was interesting to see. I liked the large metal sculptures some ranchers put on their property, which looked pretty real from a distance.
This one made me laugh--it was a mythical Wyoming "Jackolope" standing watch on a hill.
Since our drive was going to be long, we decided to stay in a hotel in Billings, Montana overnight. We also wanted to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument which would be located on our way to Billings. When we entered the Crow Nation Reservation we knew we were close to the monument.
As soon as one enters the Little Bighorn National Monument you will first see a national cemetery called Custer National Cemetery.
The national cemetery is a fascinating place to begin your visit, as you will see graves of the early west, including women and children from isolated frontier posts, Indians and scouts, and unknown and known soldiers from our nations wars, including Medal of Honor Recipients. The cemetery was closed for further burials in 1978 so as not to impede on the Little Bighorn Battlefield.
Next, we visited the Little Bighorn Visitor Center, which contains a museum and bookstore. We watched the 25 minute orientation movie about the history of the Battle of Little Bighorn, where on June 25 and 26, 1876, 210 men of various companies of the US 7th Calvary were killed in action by Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors, who were defending their way of life. Approximately 42 men were killed in close proximity on a hillside, including Lieutenant George Armstrong Custer, in his "last stand." You can read more about the battle on the National Park Service link here.
If you click on the photo collages above and below to enlarge them, you can see some of the informational displays within the visitors center. An effort has been made to show a representation of both the US Calvary and the Native Americans who were involved in the battle.
I found it interesting to learn that 42 percent of the 7th Calvary were foreign born-a melting pot of ethnic diversity. The youngest killed at Little Big Horn was 17, the oldest 56. The average age of the Native American warriors at Little Big Horn was 22. They fought as individuals and by choice, following tribal leaders such as Crazy Horse and Lame Man.
When I looked out at the Little Big Horn Battlefield I was astounded by its sparse desolation. Even today there is not much development in the surrounding area.
As you approach the battlefield there are two direction you can take. To the right is a path called the Deep Ravine Trail that leads to the lower battlefield......
...to the left is the path leading up towards the top of the hill, where Custer perished, and is called Last Stand Hill.
Walking along the Deep Ravine Trail first, we saw many markers for the places where both soldiers and Native Americans fell in the fierce battle. The 7th Calvary markers were placed in 1890, the markers for fallen Indians were placed in 1999.
The bodies of the 7th Calvary soldiers do not lie under these markers, as their bones were recovered years after the event in 1881, and buried in a mass grave at the top of the hill where a large granite marker stands. Many of the identified remains are buried in national cemeteries around the nation. Custer's remains are buried in West Point Cemetery. The exhibit above shows photos as to how the remains were discovered and identified at the time. Most are listed as "unknown soldier." The bodies of Natives Americans were removed by their families after the battle and buried according to their custom. Artifacts found on site determined where they fell.
The hilltop is surrounded by a fence to protect the area. You can see the location where the last stand took place and the markers for the fallen. Custer's marker is the one in the lower right of the collage above that is marked with black.
A close up of Custer's marker.
His remains now lie in West Point Military Academy's cemetery.
The large granite marker, on the top of Last Stand Hill, where many bones of the fallen 7th Calvary soldiers were re-interred, was built by Lieutenant Charles F. Roe and the 2nd Calvary.
There is also a marker in the area where the Calvary's horse's remains were buried. In the orientation film in the visitor center a descendant of a Native American Indian, who fought at the Little Bighorn Battle, told of his relative's story that was passed down through the generations, of how the soldiers, knowing they were surrounded in the fierce battle, shot their horses to use the horse's bodies as cover. The Indian said that to do that, those men knew their last moments were at hand. It was a chilling mental image.
An Indian Memorial, to honor the participation of Native Americans at the Battle of Little Bighorn was authorized in 1991 under President George H.W. Bush. The name of the national monument was also changed from Custer Battlefield National Monument to the Battle of Little Bighorn National Monument at that time. The monument is built into the plains in a circle.
Inside the circle are granite panels inscribed with quotes, narratives, names, artifacts and pictographs. Please click on each of the photo collages to enlarge them to see the panels in greater detail.
The theme of this beautiful memorial is "Peace Through Unity." To read more about it click here and here.
Sadly, although the Native Americans won the Battle of Little Bighorn, their way of nomadic life was soon to come to an end. Lakota Sioux hunting grounds were invaded by powerful Army forces and the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes were confined on reservations. One of the biggest losses for the Native American Plain Indians in this era was the destruction, by 1890, of almost all the bison from the plains, by professional hunters. Bison was the major food source of Native Americans and supplied them with many other uses, from their beard to their tail. Without them they were devastated.
My husband and I found the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument a fascinating place to visit and to learn about this pivotal era in western American history. The exhibits were compelling and seeing the battlefield in person brought the events to life in a chilling way.
We traveled on to the nice town of Billings for a night's rest, and then a drive across Montana towards Glacier the next day -- come back soon to see my first post about our visit there!
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