We left Sundance and drove 135 miles to Buffalo, Wyoming. The drive was rather boring, just an endless straight road with open plains and the occasional herds of cattle and some horses. I will say the horses in this part of the country are beautiful, looking very much like the horses used by Indians in the old western movies and TV shows.
We arrived in Buffalo for our stay at a private campground. The temperature was pretty hot and they had some nice shady spots. Unfortunately in order to get our Dish satellite antenna to work we had to park in the section without a bit of shade.
The park provided internet and therefore we spent time researching and making reservations for November, December and January. We were shocked and somewhat dismayed to learn many Florida RV parks have a three month minimum stay and most of the popular state parks were already booked! Since we want to move around Florida during the winter, the three month minimum stay will not work for us. Foiled by those snowbirds yet again!
While in Buffalo we made the 90 minute drive north into Montana to visit the Little Bighorn National Monument. It was here in the valley of the Bighorn River that George Custer’s 7th Cavalry Regiment of 600 men met with a gigantic Indian village including several thousand Lakota, Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne braves. Custer divided the regiment into four battalions, keeping a force of 215 under his own command in June, 1876.
The 1.2 square mile site has a Visitors Center with Ranger talks throughout the day, a large memorial, a memorial to Native Americans and a drive around the battlefield with overlooks and descriptive signs. On the battlefield are approximately 263 white markers showing where human remains were found. Custer’s marker showing where he died is easy to locate due to its special black markings. Custer’s brother also died near him. In the park are two cemeteries. At the large memorial on Last Stand Hill is buried the remains of those who were found in shallow graves. The remains were buried together under the memorial. I asked the ranger why the remains were disturbed and not buried where they were found and he said at that time:
- they did not have the proper equipment to bury that many bodies in deep graves
- Custer was buried 18 inches deep
- in many cases only partial remains were found
- many wounded solders needed to be transported ASAP to a hospital 500 miles away
The Native American memorial was completed in 2013. The memorial is in the shape of a circle, which is considered sacred, and is open to ceremonial events. The inside walls display the names of many who fought here and the words of some. A “Spirit Warrior” sculpture is prominently displayed. Throughout the battlefield are several red granite markers to mark the location of fallen Indian warriors. The first red granite marker was placed on Memorial Day, 1999. The red granite was chosen by Native Americans. It was hard to locate the remains of Native Americans because they were removed from the battlefield by the Indians.
Also located in the park is a national cemetery established in 1879, which looks much like Arlington National Cemetery though much much smaller. Veterans of all wars can be buried there but at this time the cemetery is at its limit. Any man who fought at Little Bighorn and could be positively identified is denoted with a US flag next to the white marker.
Custer was buried at this location but his body was later moved to West Point. Custer is a controversial figure. He was said to have bravely fought against Confederate troops during the Civil War, supposedly having eleven horses shot out from under him. Some would say he was only following government orders in his various interactions with Native Americans. Others would call him vicious, boastful and arrogant.
Bill and I readily admit we are biased when it comes to battles between the settlers and the Native Americans. While we do not agree with everything the ranger said in his talk about the Battle of Little Bighorn, we cannot deny he did an excellent job in his presentation. We learned more about the U.S. invasion of Indian territories. The government was under pressure from people who wanted western expansion. The discovery of gold only intensified this push. As more settlers moved west the Native Americans saw more of their land being taken away with no regard to their way of life. The American government, feeling it was cheaper to feed the Indians rather than fight them, initiated peace treaties with them which they then turned around and broke. The 1868 Laramie peace treaty designated a large area of eastern Wyoming as a permanent Indian reservation and the government promised to protect them. The treaty was broken in 1874 as thousands of gold seekers rushed the territory. The government tried unsuccessfully to keep them out. The government then tried to buy the Black Hills from the Indians but they refused to sell. The Indians left the reservation and resumed raids on settlers and travelers. In January, 1876 the government then ordered free Plains Indians, who are labeled “hostiles” to return to the small reservations. When the Indians did not comply, the army was called in to enforce the order.
While this was Custer’s Last Stand, it was also the last stand for the Native Americans. A huge public outcry over Custer’s defeat led to such events as the Battle of Wounded Knee and the Indians relocation on reservations. At the Battle of Little Bighorn, the Indians may have won the battle but they lost their land, their culture, their way of life. They won the battle but lost the war.