Once again we awoke to cold weather, about 29 degrees. Driving out of Billings on I-90, we saw several big refineries, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and other smaller ones, some with huge piles of coal visible from the interstate. I wasn’t aware that Billings was such a refinery center. About an hour out of Billings, on I-90 is a place that I have heard about since childhood. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, encompassing 765.34 acres, lies within the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana. Watching the 25-minute orientation provided a sobering perspective of this historic battle. Below are some photos from the museum.
The National Cemetery, originally created in 1879 to protect the graves of the 7thCavalry troopers buried there, was later designated to include burials of other campaigns and wars. We were told that the cemetery has since run out of space and is closed to burials. The last veterans buried there were from the Vietnam War era.
The Indian Monument, honoring Native Americans who died on this sacred ground on June 25 and 26, 1876, was authorized by law on December 10, 1991, and unveiled on June 25, 2003, on 127thanniversary of the battle. The same law changed the name of the monument from Custer Battlefield National Monument to Little Bighorn National Monument.
The Indian Encampment, consisting of about 7,000 Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho, including around 1,500-2,000 was entrenched along the Little Bighorn River. Under Sitting Bull, the designated leader, the people refused to go to reservations, preferring instead to continue their traditional nomadic way of life. From the Visitor Center we drove the 5-mile Battlefield Road to view the various sites of battles. The most well known site is Last Stand Hill. It was here that Custer and approximately 41, realizing that they were trapped, shot their horses for protection and to make a last stand. Approximately 10 men, including Custer, his brother Tom and others were found in the vicinity of the 7thCavalry Memorial. Other soldiers were found nearby. The Indians removed their dead, around 60-100, placing them on scaffolds and hillsides. Later Custer’s remains were reinterred at the US Military Academy at West Point. Later the remains of others were buried in a mass grave around the base of the memorial, bearing the names of soldiers, scouts, and civilians killed in the battle.
The drive was so impressive and historical. I could go on about the history, but the reader will have read other sources. I recommend a CD I heard not long ago, The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, by Nathaniel Philbrick.
We spent about 3 hours exploring the monument, then headed to the Custer Battlefield Trading Post, where we enjoyed Indian tacos (enough for two!).
Then we took the scenic route, Highway 212 for miles and miles. At Alzada, we turned toward Devils Tower. Almost immediately we crossed yet another state line into Wyoming.
Finally made it to Devils Tower just before dark.
Taking Rt. 16, we crossed into South Dakota.
Our home for several nights is the Rocket Motel, one of only 3 open in the winter in Custer.
397 miles today October 26, 2012