Day Sixty: Glide On the Peace Train: Montana, Wyoming (Little Big Horn, Devil’s Tower)

Events of Thursday May 14th, blogged Thursday July 9th

Sooo . . . hey there! Bet you thought I forgot all about this little blog. If you don’t know me, you think maybe we met an untimely fate in the creepy campground, or that Corpse Belly really did prove fatal to Annie and I was too bereft to carry on. If you do know me, you know that the truth which is out there is that things got busy and life got in the way. But I really want to finish the final days of my amazing journey (which I am already nostalgic for). So – with the caveat that memories are dimming and I am relying on my paper journal and photos for much of this – let’s journey west once more to the wide open spaces of Montana.

The morning dawned chilly and overcast, which was actually going to be fitting for the rather somber itinerary I had planned for the day. The campground failed me yet again when not one but TWO soda machines proved to be empty and non-functioning. And there’s nothing that makes me crosser than a bait and switch with my Diet Coke, ESPECIALLY first thing in the morning!

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Annie seemed a bit brighter, so we headed down to road to the Little Bighorn Battlefield – the site of Custer’s infamous Last Stand. For those who don’t know, in an earlier treaty the Plains Indians had been pushed out of the majority of their original hunting grounds (they were a fairly nomadic people) and forced to live on reservations in the Black Hills. Not long after that agreement, the US government found gold in them thar hills and decided the land was far too valuable to waste on the native inhabitants. So, as per usual, they tried to weasel out of the treaty, but the Indians were already fed up with being shuffled around, and had smoked a peace pipe on this treaty and everything, so they were NOT having it.  General Armstrong Custer and the US Cavalry launched an attack on an Indian encampment here and were resoundingly defeated. Fun Fact: The Indians refer to it as The Battle of Greasy Grass.

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As soon as we pulled in I could feel the weight of history in the air and a somber feeling surrounding me and the sense that something important and sad had happened here. Dogs weren’t allowed, but Annie was still feeling sluggish, so she slept in the van while I took the narrated driving tour through the battlegrounds. It was haunting and still.

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The rolling hills stretched for miles, and the prairie grass rustled in the wind, and it was easy to picture the Indian camps and the approaching mounted cavalry. Little Bighorn was important for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that it was the first (and probably only) major battle that the Indians actually won. One of the speculated reasons for this was that for the first time, rather than just engaging with the braves in the armed war parties, the Cavalry actually took the battle into the Indian home camps; attacking the women, elders, and children. To see their families being massacred spurred the Indian warriors on to fight as they had never fought before. Also, Custer had broken a sworn promise to never kill another Cheyenne, and that just ain’t cool.

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Spoiler Alert: Custer and his men are vastly outnumbered, they make some tactical mistakes, and they lose the battle. That large monument above marks “Last Stand Hill” where he and the majority of his men fell and were buried in a mass grave. It didn’t seem right to do the usual wacky selfie face here. This is my mournful and respectful selfie face.

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In classic American fashion, even though the (now dead) white guy lost, they still named the park after him. The site was originally known as Custer Battlefield National Monument, and wasn’t rechristened as Little Bighorn (after the river which runs through it and which the Indians were camped beside) until NINETEEN NINETY ONE! The bill that allowed the name change also authorized the creation of the Indian Memorial pictured above to honor the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors who sacrificed their lives here as well. It wasn’t until 1999 that red granite markers began to be added alongside the white ones to denote the spots where specific native warriors fell.

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I did think it was kind of cool that the dead horses got their own marker, even if they did get it before the Indians who actually won the battle got theirs.

The words on the side of the Visitor Center reflect the message of peaceful resolution that the monument hopes to impart.

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Soon enough it was time to leave and get back out on the open highway. But not without a quick stop at a nearby Trading Post filled with equal parts gorgeous native made items and ticky-tacky touristy shlock.


And it wasn’t too long until . . . WYOMING WE ARE IN YOU!

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Way in the distance you can see the Black Hills . . .

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The highway through Wyoming was gorgeous, and empty, and not all that different from Montana.

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And there were yet more glimpses of old Western towns and curious signage . . .

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At last we saw our destination, looming up out of the distance . . .

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Devil’s Tower – perhaps more familiar to you as the creepy rock formation from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but a landmark that held great significance to the Plains Indians who knew it as Mateo Tepee or Grizzly Bear Lodge. It rises almost 1,300 feet into the sky and became the FIRST National Monument back in 1906.

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This was where we would be camping for the night, so I decided to drive into the campground and secure our spot straight away. The first thing you pass when you enter the Monument grounds is “Prairie Dog Town.” Acres and acres of holes with cute little gophers popping up and down all day long like an endless game of Whack-A-Mole. I hurried Annie through this part.

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Once we found our campsite, we discovered another furry fella had taken up residence . . . there were literally cows roaming around our picnic table! I guess the monument grounds abut someone’s grazing land, and the cattle occasionally take liberties.

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Once Old Bessie wandered off, we got out and Annie started making herself at home, complete with her first Wyoming Woogle

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This campground was lovely, and super laid back (they were GIVING AWAY firewood) and you could even SEE the tower from our spot!

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I met a lovely older couple who was parked in the next space over and who were traveling in an old conversion van they had made themselves. We took turns comparing notes, and they were quite impressed with Marigold, while I was quite envious of their working refrigerator!

As it was still relatively early, I did end up hiking around the Tower, but that was a pretty special experience that I think I will save for the next post, to give you something to look forward too . . .

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