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Montana: Little Bighorn

The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument consists of museum exhibits, an interpretive centre, and ranger-led programs that commemorate the site of the Native American victory over Custer’s 7th Cavalry which was one of the last armed efforts of the Northern Plains Indians to preserve their ancestral way of life. Here in the valley of the Little Bighorn River on June 25 and 26, 1876, more than 260 US Army soldiers and attached personnel met defeat and death at the hands of several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. Among the dead were Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and every member of his immediate command.

Although the Native Americans won this battle, they lost the war against the white man’s efforts to end their independent plains culture.

We were lucky enough to arrive in time for the Ranger-led presentation on the battle. Apart from the memorial and markers in the fields, there is little here to distinguish this hillside from any other in the surrounding country. Fortunately for us, the Ranger was an excellent raconteur and bought the story to life. The events leading to this battle began when the Civil War ended when settlers encroached on the Indian hunting grounds or the terms of former treaties. The Indians resisted. In 1868, at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, representatives of the Lakota, Cheyenne and other tribes of the Great Plains signed a treaty with the U.S. government. Just six years later, in 1874, gold was discovered in the Black Hills, the heart of the new Indian reservation. News of the strike spread quickly, and soon thousands of fortune seekers moved in on the region in violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty. The Army tried to keep them out but to no avail. The peace agreement in 1868 was dishonoured when the Lakota and Cheyenne, in growing defiance, began to leave the reservation. In December 1875, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered them to return before January 31, 1876, or thereafter be regarded as hostiles to be “treated accordingly by the military force.” When the Indians did not comply, the Army was called in to enforce the order.

The Indians moved west toward the Little Bighorn. In June the 7th Cavalry, numbering about 600 men, located the Indian camp on June 25. Custer, probably underestimating the fighting power of the Indian forces, believed it safe to divide his regiment into three battalions. In the ensuing battle, the 7th Cavalry lost the five companies that were under Custer; about 210 men. The Native American losses were no more than 100 men killed. The tribes and families scattered, some going south, some north. Most of them returned to the reservations and surrendered in the next few years.

It is quite an eerie feeling to walk across a battlefield, knowing many men lost their lives possibly on the spot where you are now standing. Jack and Emily have not been exposed to the Western genre but Mark in particular is well versed and the experience for him is all the more moving. At the summit of the hill of Custer’s last stand is a monument to the 7th Cavalry, listing the names of the fallen. Just a short walk is another monument; this time for the Native American, which in some way is much more poignant with quotations from participants in the battle and scenes depicted in wrought iron statues.

Planning your visit to the Little Bighorn Battle Site

Location:I-90 Frontage Rd, Crow Agency, MT
Telephone:T:(406) 638-2621

SUMMER HOURS: Memorial Day through Labor Day
Visitor Center: 8:00 A.M.- 6:00 P.M.
Entrance Gate 8:00 A.M. – 6:00 P.M.

Visitor Center /Museum/Bookstore 8:00 A.M. – 6:00 P.M.
Entrance Gate – Open Daily 8:00 A.M – Closed 6:00 P.M.

WINTER HOURS: November 1st through March 31st
Visitor Center/ Museum/ Bookstore: 8:00 A.M. – 4:30 P.M.
Entrance Gate: 8:00 A.M. – 4:30 P.M.

Fees:Private, non-commercial vehicle $25.00
Motorcycle $20.00
Per person, walk-in or bicycle $15.00
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