Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Little Bighorn

It was a big day today -- we went to see Montana and Little Bighorn Battlefield. I'd visited both when I was 17, on a trip with my family and grandparents before leaving for college. While I remember the Badlands, Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore from that trip, I'd completely blocked out Little Bighorn, coming near the end of a long road trip. I guess I was burned out after too many scenic vistas and big pancake breakfasts.

The rockies still lined the western horizon, touching the heavy gray clouds, as we crossed into Montana and sped north on I-90 to Little Bighorn. We all were a little grumpy -- the minivan was beginning to resemble an attic on wheels, what with the bundles of clothing and piled-up furniture. Benny had rediscovered the paper airplane kit my mother had given him and was complaining because we wouldn't let him cut paper during the drive. The rocks along this stretch were a big yawner, all sandstones and shales. We stopped at a market to stock up the cooler, planning a picnic lunch at the national monument. But there were no picnic tables or areas at Little Bighorn, so we munched peanut butter sandwiches in the minivan while Ron read aloud about Gen. Custer and the battle.

The fine displays at the Little Bighorn visitors center cheered us up. Five years after I last visited in 1986, the Custer Battlefield National Monument was renamed Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Efforts were made to incorporate the Native American perspective and red granite blocks were added to mark spots where Native American warriors fell. We headed to the back porch where we listened to a mesmerizing talk that covered the geographic, social, military and economic causes of the battle. In 1868 a treaty had been signed giving the region to the natives, but gold was discovered six years later in the Black Hills and the army couldn't keep the settlers out. Although the Indians won the battle, they subsequently lost the war to protect their independent, nomadic way of life.

Ordered to attack the Indian encampment, Major Reno galloped down into this valley and crossed the Little Bighorn river. The attack failed and his shattered battalion retreated to the bluffs.

Benny with a red granite marker for Cheyenne warrior Lame White Man.

Soon we're on the road again. The sky has cleared and the Rockies are bigger now. We spend the night in Livingston, Montana, and plan to drive down to Yellowstone's north entrance in the morning.

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