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Published: December 26th 2012
"It was a terrible battle...a hard battle because both sides were brave warriors." (Red Feather, Lakota)
The first time I went to The Battle of Little Bighorn (sometime in the 1980's), it was called "Custer's Last Stand."
However, in 1991, Congress authorized the name of the area and National Monument to be changed from Custer Battlefield to Little Bighorn National Monument, signed into law by former President George W. Bush. (Public Law 102-201: "The public interest will best be served by establishing a memorial...to honor and recognize the Indians who fought to preserve their land and culture.")
An Indian Memorial was also designed to honor the Native American participation in Battle (before there was just the Memorial for the 7th Cavalry soldiers.)
The description of the Indian Memorial in the National Park pamphlet is better than on-line (unless I am just looking in the wrong place) but it describes the Memorial this way: "The circular earth and stone work is gently carved from the prairie...for many tribes, the circle is sacred and symbolic of the journey of life. A weeping wall symbolizes the tears of the Indian People and the suffering that resulted from their battle here
on the Greasy Grass to retain their nomadic way of life. The interior walls commemorate the five tribes that fought there: Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow and Arikara." The Memorial's theme is "Peace through Unity", and it was dedicated in June, 2003.
Basically, this marks the location of a TERRIBLE battle (well, the same could be said about any battle, actually, couldn't it?), which took place June 25 and 26, 1876 near the Little Bighorn River, in eastern Montana Territory, when General Alfred H. Terry sent Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer to the Rosebud and Little Bighorn area, to force the Indians back onto their reservations.
As we've previously briefly discussed (see Blog December 8th, about Crazy Horse), there was ALOT of anger and discontent, as treaties were made and broken, with the Native Americans, resulting in the Indians losing much of their sacred ground (every time something good was discovered on their land....like gold, in the Black Hills.)
The National Park Services information pamphlet describes that this conflict against the "relentless invasion of the white man" "reached its peak in the decade following the Civil War, when settlers resumed their vigorous westward movement. These western emigrants, possessing
little or no understanding of the Indian way of life, showed slight regard for the sanctity of hunting grounds or the terms of former treaties. The Indians' resistance to those encroachments on their domain only served to intensify hostilities."
In 1868, a treaty was signed by the US Government and the Lakota, Cheyenne and other tribes of the Great Plains, designating a large area as permanent Indian reservation., promising to protect the Indians "against the commission of all depredations by people of the United States."
But...then... in 1874 someone struck Gold in the Black Hills, which was in the heart of the reservation AND the Lakota's sacred ground, and their treaty was ignored and their protection was ... gone? So, in an effort to protect themselves and their land, the Lakota & Cheyenne left their reservation and raided settlements and travelers along the fringes of their land.
When they did not comply with the order to return to their reservation, the army was called in.
Which gets us (eventually) to the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Once there, Custer divided his forces (of about 600 men, including officers) into three groups - one under his command,
and the other two under Maj. Marcus Reno and one under Capt. Frederick Benteen. Benteen was to go to the South, and Custer and Reno were to go to the North. Custer and Reno then split up and Reno advanced down the valley.
What they didn't know, though, is that in the meantime, Chief Sitting Bull (who was already recognized as a strong and accomplished warrior, protecting his Lakota people, his culture, and his land, and who considered the US Army as an invasion of Lakota way of life) had formed an alliance with other neighboring tribes (the Cheyenne, Arapaho and other Agency Indians) - and so they had alot more warriors than the U.S. Army calculated.
A large force of Lakota warriors intercepted Reno, and Reno was eventually forced to retreat. He was joined by Benteen, and after hearing heaving gunfire to the north, marched on to help Custer.
However, by the time they arrived, the firing at the "Custer battlefield" had stopped. Reno and Benteen soon found themselves under attack, as well, and were forced to withdraw.
The battle continued - the army held their defenses, and the siege ended with the Indians withdrew.
(They withdrew, not because Benteen and Reno were winning, but because they heard that General Alfred H. Terry and Col. John Gibbon were coming; General Crook had been delayed in battle at Rosebud, by Crazy Horse (as previously discussed in the December 8 blog about Crazy Horse.)
The Battle was only 2 days long, but Custer and his entire company were killed (about 210 men), Reno and Benteen lost about 53, and about 100 Indians also died.
Mrs. Spotted Horn Bull (of the Lakota tribe) is quoted: "Since the Sioux first fought the men (white men) who are our friends now, they had not won so great a battle...so it was that the Sioux defeated Long Hair and his soldiers in the valley of the Greasy Grass River, which my people remember with regret, but without shame."
Despite the overwhelming victory, this marked the beginning of the end of the Indian Wars, and Sitting Bull exiled to Canada. Later, due to hunger and cold, he eventually was forced to return to Fort Buford, Montana, and surrendered.
After spending time here and there at various Forts, he and his band were allowed to return to the Standing
Rock Agency, in 1883. From there, In 1884, Sitting Bull was allowed to leave the reservation and joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show (see my blog of November 27th, 2012 - "Nebraska, the Cornhusker State"). He was with the show for 4 months, and then returned, again, to the Standing Rock Agency.
Because of Sitting Bull's enthusiasm for his culture and people, by 1890, the government started to fear an uprising, and decided to have him arrested. A group of Sioux rallied around him to prevent the arrest. A shoot-out followed and Sitting Bull was shot in the head... an all too familiar story...
Back to the Little Bighorn Battlefield site: You are allowed to tour around the Battlefield, but you must stay on the designated areas.
Markers are scattered around the site, and they are placed where bodies had fallen. The white markers represent soldiers and the brown markers represent Indian warriors.
There's also a Visitors' Center and the National Cemetery. There is an entrance fee (at the time we were there, it was $10 per vehicle.) http://www.nps.gov/libi/index.htm
You should go.
Sunday, we are going to be visiting the
Montana Grizzly Encounter, in Bozeman, Montana.
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