Home Away From Home, Montana

Little Bighorn National Monument

If I had known what I know now I would have planned our stay here for only one night. Little Bighorn National Monument though nice does not take a long time to visit. We could have easily done part of it yesterday, checked out of the campground, gone by RV to the monument this morning – they have RV parking – and then gone on to our next stop. Little did I know.

The address of the campground is Garryowen and as we were driving over today, I mentioned that I had not seen Garryowen so Jerry drove over there. It is a privately-owned town and consists of a couple of gas pumps and one building that is a gift shop/museum combined. We went in and browsed the shop for a few minutes but didn’t see anything that was interesting to us. The most striking part was the monument outside that honored the unknown soldier. It was definitely the smallest town I’ve ever been to.

Before we left the campground this morning, we had stopped by the office and to ask where we could get a loaf of bread – Hardin, 20 miles away, too far for a loaf of bread – and if there was a restaurant nearby. There was a restaurant plus a gift shop, recognizable by the teepees in the front located very near the monument. Thinking of going there for dinner tonight Jerry pulled in to check it out. While browsing I saw some bundles and asked what they were – sage, cedar, and sweetgrass. They are used for smudging.

Native people use herbs in a sacred manner to be helped into the sacred realm. The smudging ceremony occurs when they burn certain herbs, take the smoke in their hands and then rub it all over their body. The sage is burned to drive out ill feelings or influences, protecting the place of the ceremony. Cedar is burned for cleansing and while praying. The prayers rise on the smoke of the cedar to their creator. Sweetgrass is the most sacred of the plants and is frequently burned after either the sage or the cedar to bring positive influences and energies.

After deciding that we’d have leftovers for dinner tonight and save going out to eat for our next stop, we headed on to the monument. Since we had already been in the Visitor’s Center, we headed to the Deep Ravine Trail, a self-guided ¾ mile hike to the site that leads to the ravine where the remains of soldiers from Company F were found. The trail is a dirt path dotted with white monuments indicating where a soldier died. There are also a few red monuments which indicate that an Indian died there. The trail was liberally sprinkled with plentiful grasshoppers plus some type of no-seeums, or at least that’s what we call them in NC. My white Tee was dotted with black specks and they bite!

After that very hot walk – who takes a walk in 90-degree weather with no shade, I told Jerry I surely would like to see a few of the cottonwoods that we had seen elsewhere. We walked back to the cool museum for a few minutes and then to the car to take a tour of the battlefield.

Riding the five-mile road through the battlefield emphasized the difference in the two cultures. The Native people were fighting for their right to continue living as they had. Sitting Bull did not want to live on a reservation. Rather he wanted to be free to go as he pleased. The Calvary was on a mission but were so outmanned. What made them think with such a small number they could defeat a force of almost two thousand? Very definitively the Lakota and Sioux won the battle but as the old saying goes they won the battle but lost the war.

Of course, the center focused on Lt. Col. George A. Custer who was the 7th Calvary commander but equally vital in the battle were Maj. Marcus A. Reno and then Capt. Frederick W. Benteen who was credited with outstanding leadership. Custer had divided his regiment into three battalions, five under his immediate command and then three each to Reno and Benteen. Benteen was ordered to scout the bluffs while Custer and Reno headed toward the Indian camp in the valley of the Little Bighorn. When they neared the river, Custer turned toward the north and Reno was ordered to cross the river and attack. Reno had no idea what he would be facing as he was sorely outnumbered so was forced to retreat to the bluffs. He was joined by Benteen who was bringing orders from Custer to “Come on; Big Village, be quick, bring packs”. No one knew exactly where Custer was as his precise movements after he left Reno have never been determined. Indian accounts tell of his command being surrounded and destroyed. Custer did lose his life there.

Word of the crushing loss got back to the president and with anger, he increased the effort and thus the Northern Plains Indians lost their way of life, their culture. What a travesty.

Periodically along the road were numbered signs indicating what had happened at that particular place. We were able to call a specific phone number and listen to recordings that more fully explained what occurred at each stop.

Though it was a very nice national monument and we learned a lot it is certainly off the beaten path. In fact, we will have to backtrack tomorrow back to Billings to get to Cody. In hindsight, I’m not sure that we should have taken two days out of our trip for this visit. Garryowen is located between Billings and Sheridan and I can’t help but wonder if it is on the road to something more special. It appears that the campground has been full every night and other than Little Bighorn there really is nothing else around.

We used the afternoon to clean the motor home both inside and out. Jerry washed it and the lady at the office was right. You only need half the soap. Soap scum is obvious everywhere. A good rain would help!

This was our last night in Montana for a while until we get to West Yellowstone next week. It is truly a beautiful state with wide-open skies, open land and the ever-visible mountains in the distance. The roads are some of the best we’ve traveled on. In fact, roads in the west do seem to be better than the roads in the east. Wonder why?
Leftovers for dinner and reading as our attempts at surfing the Internet failed due to poor connectivity. I think the connectivity is good around 5:30 in the morning!

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