Driving through the plains of Montana is a surreal experience. This is one of the only places in America that I have been, that I have felt like nothing has changed in the past 100 years. Open fields span the horizon. Herds of Pronghorn Deer run to their hearts content, making a quick stop at a water hole before continuing on with their journey. I found myself wanting to absorb as much as I could from the area, so I downloaded some audio books about the Souix American Indians and let myself get lost as I drove. This is how I happened upon the Battlefield of Little Bighorn, one of the more gruesome slaughters of the Great Sioux War, and also the Sioux’s only victory.
Let’s rewind back to the Mid 1850’s. American expansion had pushed the Sioux Indians west into the Dakota’s and the states (as we now know them) were designated in treaties with the tribes as reservations. In 1874, gold was found in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and settlers started expanding into the area, ignoring the fact that the land was sacred to the natives and also theirs by right of treaty. When pressed, President Grant offered the tribes $6,000,000 for the land but was turned down. Instead of accepting that the land was the settlers to take, he put the money in a bank account and told the Sioux “It’s there whenever you want it, with interest. We’re coming for that gold.” Interestingly, the money is still in that account. With interest it is worth over $1,500,000,000.
The Sioux were then pushed further west into the Crow Indian territory in what is now Montana resulting in the Crow and the Sioux having multiple skirmishes over the land. This is when the Crow teamed up with the 7th American Calvary led by General Custer. One evening while Custer’s force was marching toward the mouth of the Little Bighorn, his scouts arrived at an overlook known as the Crow’s Nest. Custer’s scouts reported they could see a massive pony herd and signs of the Native American village. He contemplated a surprise attack against the village the following morning, but he then received a report informing him several hostiles had discovered the trail left by his troops. Assuming his presence had been exposed, Custer decided to attack the village without further delay. What ensued was a bloody defeat of American forces with 268 dead and 55 severely wounded.
I arrived on site about an hour before they closed on a Sunday afternoon. There was a strange air of peace surrounding the battlefield. Different memorials dot the landscape. The main parking lot is surrounded by a cemetery honoring the people who died in the battle on both sides. There is a trail that will lead you through different points of the battlefield and tell you the history of the American Indians that fought. I felt humbled as I walked down the path. Humbled and thankful.
Closest Super Charger Billings MT 69 mi
1801 Majestic Ln, Billings, MT 59102
The Battlefield of Little Big Horn
I-90 Frontage Rd, Crow Agency, MT 59022