Custer\'s last battle at Little Big Horn

Hardin Travel Blog

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7th Calvary memorial at Last Stand Hill

Wyoming landscape is much more diverse than I’d thought.  I’d pictured it as consisting of craggy mountains and meadows sprinkled with various kinds of wildlife.  It certainly has that in the Tetons and Yellowstone Park but it also has the Painted Hills and the small towns on high plains that we’d seen yesterday.  Today we went from Greybull to Buffalo through the scenic byway of the Cloud Peak Highway.  We saw brown hills dotted with sage brush threaded together with green ribbons of rivers and trees.  There was the occasional oil pumping station, many not operating (are they waiting for oil to reach $100 a barrel before the pumping will be profitable?)  Suddenly we were driving through red cliffs that matched anything in Utah followed by mountain passes.

Cloud Peak highway
The scenery and the variety were breath-taking.

 

Our next stop was Little Big Horn and Custer’s last battlefield.  (We have a National Park Pass and try to visit as many of the parks as possible.  We also try to hear as many of the Park Ranger talks as possible.)   The Little Big Horn is where in June 1876 about 600 soldiers of the 7th Calvary attacked over 7,000 Plains Indians.  Three separate US expeditions (under Gen. Crook from the Wyoming Territory, Col. Gibbon from the Montana Territory, and Gen. Terry, who was Custer’s superior officer, from Ft. Abraham Lincoln in Dakota Territory) had met in mid-June 1876 to get the Indians in southeastern Montana to move onto reservations.  These Northern Plains Indians were Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho under the leadership of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and others.

in the Cloud Peaks
 

 

Crook’s troopers were taken out early in a battle at the Rosebud River.  After sighting a large Indian encampment of over 7,000 people, Terry split up the remaining troops with Terry and Gibbon going north along the Yellowstone River.  He sent Gen. Custer and the 7th Cavalry of about 600 men to the south along Rosebud Creek.  The campaign leadership was handed over to Gen. George Armstrong Custer, probably in the belief that he would know how to conduct the campaign since he had fought Indians before and was a Civil War hero.  He was also the kind of leader who believed that he could fight 7,000 armed Indians with 600 men.

 

Custer split his forces further into three parties with Major Reno’s battalion sweeping down from the hills onto the eastern side of the large Indian camp along the river.

red cliffs and house
  Not surprisingly, Reno had to retreat back into the eastern hilltops and was joined by Capt. Benteen’s battalion and the supply train.  Custer, meanwhile, has taken 225 men and gone behind the hills to attack the Indian camp from the western side.  Also not surprisingly this didn’t go well either as Custer and his men fled to the top of the highest western hill (now called the Last Stand Hill) for the final battle where they died. 

 

This story was narrated to us by a Park Ranger who happened to be Lakota and told it in the manner of an Indian storyteller.  She did a superb job of relating the actions and probable motives of the fighters.  She also gave the story the depth and resonance that comes from seeing both sides of the story.

 

We walked around the Last Stand Hill in 100 degree plus heat (not unlike the day of the battle) and the memorial stones for the fighters shimmered in the hot air.

Gen. Custer's grave
  White stones mark where the cavalrymen fell and red granite ones mark where Indians fell.  The prairie grassland rustled in the dry wind and dust made the sky a milky color.  It was downright eerie. 

 

Next we drove the seven-mile length of the entire battlefield, along the golden grassland hills overlooking the green river below where the Indians had camped.  We were tracing the engagement from the first skirmish of Maj. Reno to the final stand for Custer and his 225 men. 

 

Silently we got back onto I-90 and drove to Hardin, Montana which has a Visitor Center and Museum.

early gas station
  The museum is an outdoor collection of buildings from 1911 thru 1936 fully furnished and arranged like a village.  I love this kind of stuff that shows me the life and surroundings that my grandparents would have known.  It’s a look back in time that photos and genealogy alone can’t give.  It was 5:30 in hot summer dusk and nobody else was around to spoil the illusion of time travel.

Aditu says:
That sounds amazing! I'll be heading here in August and can't wait. I hope we get a similar guide I think it's important to get both points of view. Thanks for sharing.
Posted on: May 06, 2008
kingelvis14 says:
Pam, check out my Yellowstone blog. It has some pics from the same places you have been. Happy travels:)
Posted on: Jan 22, 2008
Sybaritic says:
I've been here too -- twice. The first time was with my dad in August, during bike week in Sturgis, SD. The parking lot was full of motorcycles. It was that trip that made me want my own bike. I thought it was interesting that much of the park is on Indian land.
Posted on: Aug 04, 2007
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7th Calvary memorial at Last Stand…
7th Calvary memorial at Last Stan…
Cloud Peak highway
Cloud Peak highway
in the Cloud Peaks
in the Cloud Peaks
red cliffs and house
red cliffs and house
Gen. Custers grave
Gen. Custer's grave
early gas station
early gas station
early refrigerator
early refrigerator
Hardin
photo by: nonna