Thursday, May 4, 2017

Little Big Horn Battlefield (Custer's last stand)

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana preserves the site of the June 25 and 26, 1876, Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Originally created as the  Custer Battlefield National Monument in 1946, the area was renamed by President Bush in 1991 and now memorializes the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne in one of the Indian's last armed efforts to preserve their way of life. If you don't quite remember all the details from your history classes, you can look them up here:  Battle of Little Big Horn.

This monument marks the site of Custer's last stand, the white markers show where soldiers were killed. There is also a memorial designed by the five tribes who fought as well. We do not have pictures,but you can see the Indian Memorial by clicking on the link.

The average age of fighters on both sides was just 22. Makes you thoughtful.  Basically, its like you students riding far, far from home to fight.  The black spotted marker in the center is where Custer was killed.

Apart from the historic significance which I will leave you all to ponder, this site is also interesting from an ecological point of view. As a park brochure explains, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is an ecotone, or a mix of two ecosystems: northern mixed grassland and sagebrush steppe. First designated a National Cemetery less than three years after the battle, the area was soon fenced and protected from grazing by farm animals. Today the park is home to over 100 species of native plants, 25 species of mammals, 70 bird species, and thirteen reptile and amphibian species.

In 1983, a wildfire burned 90% of the park, which killed much of the big sagebrush in the area. However, the native grasses thrived since. Another effect of the fire was that, with the vegetation mostly cleared from 600 acres, a thorough archaeological survey was possible. Artifacts and skeletal remains were recovered and studied. Modern forensics and reconstruction literally put a face on some of the battle's participants.

Here's the view from the top of Little Big Horn.

Note semi truck for scale in the picture below.

The line of trees in the background marks the Little Bighorn River.  There were actually three battles, one of which was back by the river.

I think its a good thing for everyone to visit battlefields on a regular basis.  I think we need to all understand the price of war.  I thought a lot about this battle.  The long-term outcome was already pretty well decided long before these two armies met.  There's no way the Indian way of life would continue to exist, no matter what happened here, yet there was no way both sides could not fight to protect their way of life.  It pretty much sucked for everyone.  And, these soldiers were basically the same age as my students or my son.  The thought of them traveling a couple thousand miles out to the middle of nowhere just to kill and be killed is troubling to me.

I was especially taken by just how late in our history this battle was.  My grandfather was born just a few years later.  My house was actually built 16 years before the battle.  Astoria, OR where we visited on the west coast, was already a thriving city.  1876 is really just not that long ago.  You'll read soon in other blog posts about mining and hot springs that were established in the area at almost at the same time.  The Indians won this battle, but it really marked the end of the Indian way of life.  

We read a Indian quote at the Crazy Horse Monument today that said (paraphrased), the white man has made many promises, but kept just one - the one where he promised to take our land...

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