Scattered white tombstones in a yellow grassy field overlooking rolling hills. Little Bighorn National Monument, Montana.

Little Bighorn Battlefield, Montana – American Road Trip (pt18)

Little Bighorn, Montana.   Driving across Montana exactly how I imagined it.  Very long stretches of wide open plains lined with ranches and the occasion farms.  Very peaceful.  And very remote.  I don’t remember the last time I drove for hours without cell service anywhere in the U.S.  But I guess that’s the point when you live out there.

 

 

And in the midst of all this, I just happened to stumble upon another major American landmark.  After driving for hours on remote two lane roads, I was finally about 10 miles from an interstate when I passed a brown national landmark sign that read, “Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.”  I remember forming that confused, squinted brow look on my face and saying, “Naah, couldn’t be the same Little Bighorn where Custer’s Last Stand took place.”  At the next road sign a couple of miles on, I slowed down to confirm I hadn’t lost my mind in the middle of Montana.  It was indeed the Little Bighorn battlefield where Custer’s Last Stand took place against the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes.  For some reason, my mental picture had the battle taking place more in the mid-west or further south in Wyoming.  No idea why, but this didn’t feel like it was the right spot.  But it obviously was.  So much for retaining high school history.

As with most National Monuments, there is museum and gift shop.  Little Bighorn’s museum also has a 30-minute film that tells the story of what happened here back in 1876,  It was very well done and provided the perspective of all sides to include the U.S. 7th Cavalry soldiers, their Native American Scouts and the Cheyenne and Lakota tribes that were defending their way of life.

One thing I distinctly remember from the introductory film is a story an old Cheyenne man told, as told to him by his grandfather who fought at Little Bighorn.  He said that as the Cheyenne were getting closer to the last surviving U.S. soldiers, amongst all the dust and noise, they could see them start to shoot their horses.  When I heard this I thought they did this to keep the Cheyenne from getting their horses.  But that wasn’t the case.  While the film fades away to show a few soldiers frantically gathering together, holding the reigns of their horses, the old Cheyenne man telling the story goes on to say that the soldiers were shooting their horses so they could hide behind them and try to stay alive a few moments longer.  The Cheyenne telling the story teared up a bit and said, “Only a man who knows he will soon die would ever shoot an animal that dear to him.”  Probably not as impactful when I tell it, but it was pretty moving watching a Cheyenne, whose grandfather fought at the battle, sadly describe the hopelessness and fear of those last few soldiers at Little Bighorn.

 

 

Next to the Little Bighorn Battlefield museum is the Custer National Cemetery.  Like other National Cemeteries, service members from all branches and all wars are buried there.  Most are from the local area which explains the abundance of Native American names you see throughout.  Custer National Cemetery was nothing like the Arlington National Cemetery I’d seen about 10 days prior.  Reading all the unique Native American names is what I remember most from the cemetery.  You can see a small sample below.

 

 

After my walk through Custer National Cemetery, I was back on the road to drive another six hours to Browning, Montana.  I was very happy with my drive across eastern and central Montana and so glad I was finally able to make the journey I’d wanted to make since childhood.  Little did I know that the best part of Montana is the western part.  Just like the West Coast is the best part of the United States.  (sorry had to squeeze that in there).  In the next couple of days, I’d see the most amazing parts of Montana and perhaps the United States.

As always, thanks for reading.
Chris