John & Brenda's Excellent Tour travel blog

An animated Park Ranger retells the Battle of Little Big Horn

Markers where the soldiers fell with Custer's marker highlighted in the centre

Monument to the Indian nations at Little Big Horn

August 3

Our plan as we left Sheridan for Montana was to target Billings or Bozeman as the night's destination with a stop at the Little Big Horn National Battle Monument. As we crossed the state line into Montana with 29°C temperature and stiff breeze, we came across a group of bikers stopped on shoulder. We made a slow pass and saw a smashed bike with a body beside it. We learned later that a 43-year old man and 41-year old woman had been killed when they blew their rear tire at high speed. Once again, they were not wearing helmets, as had many others of the Sturgis-bound riders as well. This high risk freedom seems to be one of the main attractions of the Sturgis Rally.

A short while later we arrived at the Little Big Horn National Battle Monument, commonly known as Custer's Last Stand. This stop turned out to be an excellent historical visit. The Visitors Center is located right near the summit of Last Stand Hill at the height of Battle Ridge. Just as we arrived, a Native Indian woman Park Ranger started a very animated 30-minute retelling of the history of the battle. It was a fantastic presentation as she pointed out the various elements of the landscape and their respective roles in the brief but horrendous battle. She quoted an Indian participant as saying, "The battle lasted as long as it takes a hungry man to eat his meal."

In the 31°C heat we made a brief walking tour of the summit, where there is a mass grave of the 210 soldiers and civilians who died in the battle. White markers are placed in the spots where the individuals died with a highlighted one for Custer himself. The officers' remains have been removed and reburied elsewhere with Custer being interred at West Point.

We left the Battlefield only to come across the third burning vehicle of our trip on the other side of the Interstate. That makes something like a tumbleweed through the radiator seem very minor as a hazard of the road. Brenda checked the map and Tourist Guide and redirected the driver to Helena for different scenery and a relatively short drive to Whitefish on Sunday. Our route took us through eastern Montana with its arid plains and huge ranch lands and on into the central part where we started to see rolling hillsides and pine trees along the Yellowstone River. We rejoined the Missouri when we reached its headwaters at Three Forks.

Form Three Forks we turned north on highway 287 toward Helena with increasing smoke from the many wildfires burning in western Montana. Helena is an old mining town and stands as the State Capital. We checked into the Day's Inn for 2 nights at $85 per and went to dinner at the Overland Express as recommended by the desk clerk. After meals that were serviceable but unmemorable, we retired to our room for a restless sleep punctuated by an air conditioner that made noises that sounded to Brenda like a weed whacker hitting rocks.

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