Little Bighorn Battlefield Monument

09/06/17 Wednesday in Billings, MT

After a long trip of 535 miles (unthinkable in our RV, pretty manageable in our car), we got to Billings from Spokane by 4:15, then settled in before we enjoyed a simple supper of sandwiches. We brought 2 bins of kitchen supplies in hopes of sort of replicating our RV cooking experience. We’ll see how that goes.

When we left, Spokane was covered with smoke from nearby fires and even blown in from the Montana fires so we were concerned how it would be as we traveled east. Fortunately, the smoke lessened as we got further into Montana, starting in Missoula. Butte was still smokey but by Billings it was pretty clear. Our prayers go out to those still suffering in Spokane and throughout the north west.

The next morning our breakfast was amazing with scrambled eggs, sausages, cooked oatmeal, and waffles – our favorites. We even slept pretty well last night.

At the battle of the Little Bighorn (river), Indians from the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, gathered in a village of about 20,000, fought against the US Army. The Indians fought to save their families and culture as buffalo hunters while the Army was following Grant’s orders to remove the Sioux and Cheyenne peoples to the Sioux Reservation in Dakota Territory. Never mind that they had treaty rights to be where they were in the Unceded Territory. This was during a Depression, gold had been found in the Black Hills and settlers started swarming in. The Army tried to keep them out, to no avail. Then the USA tried to purchase the Black Hills from the Indians but this was very sacred land for them. The Lakota and Cheyenne resumed raids on settlements and travelers, so the Army was sent to get them back into the reservation.

Bighorn River

Bighorn River

The plan was for a unit under Gen. Crook to come from the south, another under Gen. Terry and Col. Gibbon from the west and a third from the east under Custer.

Chief Sitting Bull was a spiritual leader more than a warrior, inspiring his people to keep their way of life. He had a dream where he saw soldiers falling upside down and hearing the message that they were falling because they’d lost their ears. You could say that communication was the major reason for the failure of the Army at Little Bighorn. Remember, no cell phones, no Internet in those days.

Gen. Crook was knocked out of contention in mid-June and were forced to withdraw at the Rosebud River. Now confident, the Indians moved west to the Little Bighorn River. Terry and Gibbon met near the mouth of the Rosebud. Hoping to find Indians in the Little Bighorn Valley, Terry ordered Custer and the 7th Cavalry up the Rosebud to approach from the south. Terry would join Gibbon up the Yellowstone River to approach from the north. The 7th Cavalry, about 600 men, found the Indian village, possibly underestimating it’s size. The warriors weren’t visible, so they thought they were out hunting, but probably they were sleeping off a very long night of celebrating the Sun party the night before. So Custer divided his men into 3 battalions, under Reno, Benteen and one to guard the slow-moving pack train. Reno’s group met heavy resistance and retreated to woods, then further up a bluff. Benteen was to scout the bluffs, but upon receiving orders from Custer “Come on; Big village, be quick, bring packs.” hurried to join Reno. They could see heavy smoke/dust to the north and started to move northward. An advance company went ahead about a mile but by now the firing had stopped and nothing could be seen of Custer and his men. When the rest of the soldiers arrived they were attacked by a large force of Indians so Reno ordered a withdrawal back to the bluff where they held their defenses throughout that day and most of the next. The Indians withdrew when they learned of the approach of Terry and Gibbon’s forces. Note that these 350 men of the 7th Cavalry did survive the battle.

Reno/Benteen bluff

Reno bluff 1

Reno/Benteen bluff

Last Stand Hill

The remains of the 7th Cavalry are scattered around this area, with a group that included Custer concentrated at the top of this hill. Markers (white to indicate Army personnel, red to indicate Indians) show were men fell. They were so lightly buried at the time that later the exposed remains were reburied in a group under a monument to them. Across the road are buried their horses. From the position of the bodies and stories from the Indians, the men positioned their horses in a circle, shot their own horses in the head, so when they fell they formed a barricade for the men. When the Indians saw this they realized the men were probably sure they wouldn’t get out of this predicament alive.

Across from Last Stand Hill, on the other side of the road, is the Indian Monument

Custer National Cemetery

Trail to the Deep Ravine

Many bodies were found along the Deep Ravine, although markers were mistakenly placed along the trail to that ravine. Apparently the Indians preferred this heavy cover to shoot from and the soldiers were drawn to it in their attempt to escape.

As we ended our walk on the Deep Ravine trail we came upon this adorable Western Meadowlark, taking a bath. She even let me take photos!


Western Meadowlark

After all that excitement we got some groceries and gas, then home for TV dinner supper. Ahhhh.

I love this motel (Fairfield Inn and Suites), for not only the delicious hot breakfasts but also the very quiet A/C and comfortable bed.


About Patricia Elser

I've always loved the loose, flowing, transparent look of watercolors, of Chinese paintings and their calligraphy, but alas, no watercolor classes were available when I was in school, so that interest remained buried until my children were grown. Even then, I was afraid that I couldn't really paint, so upon my sister's advice, I actually started to take classes. I signed up for every class available, determined to learn no matter how afraid I was. I came upon a teacher, Stan Miller, who inspired me, who opened the door to success in watercolor. I love to look at beautiful images. I want to capture them forever. All my life, photography was how I gathered images of the beauty I saw. Thanks to all that photography, I enjoy composing pictures, especially up close. Watercolors allow me to add more of me in their translation of that beauty. My paintings reflect my love for music and dance, with their rhythm and flow. I am fascinated by the play of light, so it appears in my pictures as drama for they are filled with darks and lights. Maybe it's the challenge, maybe it's the beauty, but now, when a work comes together, it fills my soul.
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