Sitting in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan we had a choice to make. We could turn left and head up to my old stomping grounds when I was an underground miner earning money for University- Flin Flon, Manitoba. Past detours that I've made into my somewhat foggy past have proven entirely unsuccessful- not only have some of my former hometowns changed dramatically but my somewhat faulty memory has left us wandering aimlessly looking for something I might recognize.
Our other choice was to turn right and head back into the U.S. via Montana and, with a short backtrack, set up a visit to the legendary Yellowstone Park. On the way we could even stop at the site of Custer's Last Stand. Checking out the battle ground of one of the more notorious battles in U.S. history seemed much more appealing than wandering the streets of a northern Manitoba town that I should remember but can't (feeding DH's concern that I must have been a failed secret agent with a fabricated youth).
We pointed Billy Thunder south and charged into the Battle of The Little Bighorn.
Given that he managed to get himself and his entire command killed (only a single horse survived), people might be tempted to compare General George Custer's military acumen to that of Yosemite Sam but apparently he had been a very successful leader during the Civil War and in previous Indian campaigns. Unfortunately his leadership style seemed to be a whole lot of charging in like a crazy man and hope the other guys started running the other way. The Indians in this fight were running out of places to run.
In late 1875, Sioux and Cheyenne Indians defiantly left their reservations, outraged over the continued intrusions of whites into their sacred lands in the Black Hills. They gathered in Montana with the great warrior Sitting Bull to fight for their lands. To force the large Indian army back to the reservations, the Army dispatched three columns to attack in coordinated fashion, one of which contained Lt. Colonel George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry.
In addition to being hugely outnumbered and not waiting for reinforcements, Custer divided his force-marched and tired column into three groups, and charged in expecting the warriors to run and scatter (which they didn’t). As the Indians closed in, Custer ordered his men to shoot their horses and stack the carcasses to form a wall, but they provided little protection against bullets. In less than an hour, Custer and his men were killed in the worst American military disaster ever.
The Indian’s greatest victory was also the pinnacle of their success. Outraged over the death of a popular Civil War hero on the eve of the Centennial, the nation demanded and received harsh retribution. The Black Hills dispute was quickly settled by redrawing the boundary lines, placing the Black Hills outside the reservation and open to white settlement. Within a year, the Sioux nation was defeated and broken. "Custer's Last Stand" was their last stand as well.
For an empty field, with a little imagination, the site of Custer’s Last Stand is very well done- at the Visitor Center one of the Rangers treated us to one of the better historic presentations we’ve seen- it was the most drama we’d seen from a man in uniform since PFC was told he couldn’t go home early, "one hour- no lunch". There are markers all around the battlefield indicating where many of the participants fell (including two of Custer’s brothers and two other family members) and, although the officers were buried elsewhere, there’s a mass grave for the other soldiers. There has been more recent attempts to celebrate the Indian involvement as well.
A tragic event, but well worth a visit.