Wednesday, July 18, 2018

My Visit to Custer's Last Stand -- the Little Big Horn

Where Custer Fell 
(Custer's stone is the one in the middle
with a black face)
My wife and I took a vacation last month, a bus tour of South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.  One of our more memorable stops was at the sight of Custer's Last Stand in Southeastern Montana.  General Custer and his 7th Cavalry were there to force the Lakota Sioux back onto their reservation, and get off the Crow reservation that the Lakota had invaded.  The battle took place on June 25-26, 1876, 142 years to the month that we were there.

The Sioux had some legitimate grievances (getting kicked out of the Black Hills of South Dakota, that had been previously granted to them as a homeland  -- the reason:  gold was discovered therein).

Scattered Tombstones
Where Dead Fell & Were Originally Buried
The Crow had some legitimate grievances against the Sioux, who had taken over one-third of the Crow reservation.  The Crow, among other tribes, had supplied Indian Scouts to assist Custer, as they wanted their land back.

Custer had received bad intelligence from the army, indicating the number of Sioux warriors was much smaller than the 2,000 that were there.  So he ordered Major Marcus Reno to attack the village where women and children were present, and Reno killed a number of wives and children.  Understandably annoyed, the braves counterattacked and killed 40+ of Reno's troopers, and his remaining force was barely able to escape. Then they attacked Custer's force, cutting off his path of escape, forcing it into a less than defensible hilltop, where all soldiers and Custer were quickly killed.

Monument to the Dead
(Buried Around this Stone)
Two days after the battle, other army soldiers arrived on site and buried the dead, roughly in the same spot where they died.  The spot where each man was found was marked with a wooden stake, later to be replaced by marble headstones.

Today the marble tombstones are still there, marking the places of burial, but the soldier's remains are not.  The remains of the soldiers were removed (in July 1877)  from their shallow graves and reburied atop the hill behind the death site, where they are better protected from weather and predators.  The site is today marked with a large granite monument listing the names of the soldiers and Indian Scouts who died there.

The remains of the officers, however, were placed in coffins and shipped back to their families.  Custer's remains were reburied at West Point.

It was sobering for me to stand behind the place where the Last Stand took place, only 20 feet behind the spot where Custer died.  His tombstone there has a black painted face to make it stand out.

To see actual size of images, click on each.

Note:  The monument picture only shows one side listing names.  The actual monument has names listed on all four sides.

My Take:  I used to think the Indians were the good guys, the troopers the victims and Custer the prize ass who got them all killed.  I don't think that any more.  Maybe it's because blood is thicker than water and the troopers were "my tribe," and the Sioux were not.  Sitting Bull had called Indians to come off their reservation and join him in a great, last fight against the white man, knowing full well it was a fight he could not win.  A lot of lives were lost for nothing.  Also, I resent the wholesale slaughter of wounded troopers and the mutiliation of their bodies:  limbs were cut off, scalps were taken, Tom Custer's head was beaten into jelly, and others were disemboweled.  The US Army took care of the Sioux in later battles in 1876 and 1877, and good riddance.

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