After leaving Cody, Wyoming, we head north on our virtual pre-trip for a different experience. No tall mountains, no deep canyons, no hoodoos, no wildflower expanse is hidden in these rolling plains. As we skirt the northern edge of the Bighorn Mountains, we encounter Little Bighorn Creek- somewhat insignificant in this vast grassland, but rich in one historical event from almost 150 years ago.
Colonel George Custer commanded a military expedition in search of “renegade” Native Americans and they found him. Custer was a highly decorated cavalry general from the Civil War but few history buffs like me remember him for his exploits against the Confederacy. We know Custer from his infamous “last stand” against a loose, but effective, confederation of Sioux, Arapahoe, and several other Native American warrior tribes. We don’t know all the details of the battle – only that Custer’s troops were killed to the last man and not found for several days. Later historians interviewed different Native Americans in the following years with conflicting results. “They died bravely” some say. “They dismounted leading to an easy assault” others relate. No one knows for sure as only one horse survived. The US Government awarded Medals of Honor to the participants to wash over any negative remarks but many questions remain unanswered and not all of them are complimentary.
As we gaze over the tombstones of the fallen troopers, we have to remember that we were the invaders and Native Americans were defending their homeland and way of life.
Never again would they mount such a decisive victory and today’s reservations are the remaining legacy of a proud people.
Leaving the park and museum, we head south once again into Wyoming and prepare to car-camp at a beautiful natural lake just east of the Bighorn peaks – Lake DeSmet. Father DeSmet was a Jesuit priest and one of the first white men to reach this beautiful country. Once again, a sense of history settles over us as we watch the gentle waves lap at our shoreline.
omorrow as we rise with the dawn, we will see the sunrise to our east slowly unveil the mountain peaks to our west and we jump back on the road crossing 80 miles of unbroken rolling grassland to the worn peaks of the Black Hills, the spire of Devil’s Tower, and the historic town of Sundance – my home over fifty years ago. Come join us tomorrow as we relive the legend of the Sundance Kid and the Native American legend of the giant bear who in chasing an Indian princess created the fluted columns of Devil’s Tower – our first National Monument.