Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Battle at Little Big Horn

Of everywhere we went on this vacation, this place affected me the most.  You can't help but feel the awesome waste of human life here.  Our park ranger who gave us the talk about the park was beyond ex history teacher and coach (30 years) who is now doing this as his retirement job.  He was truly excellent - he used a booming voice to talk about the culture clash that made up the heart of what went wrong here. He emphasised that this was war.  Not pretty, no way to make it pretty.  He didn't spare the children in the audience, either.  He told how killing the enemy, the Indians mutilated the bodies, believing that this kept them from entering heaven.

Custer, Reno, and Benteen along with Crow Indians for the cavalry against Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Indians under the leadership of a medicine man by the name of Crazy Horse. Custer and Crazy Horse were very similar personalities - they both had survived many battles without a scratch, and may have thought that they were invicible because of it.  All of the cavalry officers hated each other and were jealous of each other -- therefore they all wanted to be the hero of the day.  The Sioux and Cheyenne hated the Crow Indians.

After the talk by the ranger, we walked up to the monument at the top of the hill where the battle raged.  There are marble headstones sprinkled and scattered down all sides of the hill, stretching out as far as the eye can see.  These mark where soldiers and warriors fell defending their way of life.  It was solemn, quiet -- despite all of the visitors there.  We all stood taking it in, listening to the lite wind blow across the hillside.  Eerie...sad...agonizing.  Then we walked all around the monument reading the names of the soldiers and citizens who died there.  At some point, they all had to know that they were going to die - they even shot their horses to use them as breastplates (or shields) against the Indian's arrows. 
Then we drove over to the other battle site where the Reno and Benteen commands were attacked.  The rise and fall of the land here gave both sides in these battles gullies and washes to flee to, but I believe the Indian nation knew the land better than the soldiers.  More marble headstones.

If there's one place everyone should see when you go to Montana, this is the place.  There was right and wrong on both sides of this battle, and both sides were fighting to continue their own way of life.  No winners here.

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