Friday, June 25, 2010
Ambivalent About Little Big Horn
I'm not going to retell the story about the Battle at Little Big Horn. It's in all the history books and there is a ton of information online. What I will tell you is that the National Park service has done a fine job here of providing information to help you understand what occurred here on the ridges and plains of the Crow Reservation. There is an audio CD available for purchase, there are a few locations where you can make a call on your cell phone to hear pre-recorded information about the site where you are standing, there are bus tours led by Native American tour guides to take you on the five mile journey to the Reno-Benteen Battlefield where the first skirmish of the Battle of Little Bighorn began, Park Rangers (some of whom are Native Americasn) lead informational walk/talks close to the visitor center or you can simply drive the route, stopping to read the informational plaques placed by the roadside and following paved walking paths. You are asked not to wander upon the grounds, not only in respect for the grave sites but because there are rattlesnakes in the thick grasses. The grounds of the park are as they were on that fatal day of July 25, 1876--when you look to the ridge five miles away where Reno and Benteen waited with their troops, you see it as Custer saw it. Back then the air was filled with dust, gun smoke and screams; today it is eerily quiet.
I have looked forward for a long time to visiting the battle site, but once I was here I was saddened at the suicidal mission of Lt. Col. George Custer and his men. As the park ranger who spoke at the visitor center said, Custer was a hero during the Civil War which ultimately led to the end of slavery but then he was given the task of forcing the Native Americans back to their reservations and thus into a form of slavery. Ironic indeed.
In 2003 the park service dedicated this memorial to the Native Americans who fought on both sides of the battle in an effort to be fair to the Native American perspective. Inside there are panels reflecting statements from several tribe members, creating a circle. On the grounds of the battlefield are red granite markers which show the location of fallen warriors, a practice started only in 1999, once again in an attempt of fairness to the history of the site and the people involved.
I'm glad I came, but what we as a nation did to the Native Americans saddens me. This battlefield is just as much the Native Americans' last stand as it was Custer's.