We left Medora, ND Wednesday morning for a 250 mile drive across an almost deserted I-94. This interstate runs east-west across North Dakota parallel to I-90 in South Dakota. I-94 splits from I-90 northwest of Minneapolis and rejoins it in Billings, MT. Since it is parallel to I-90 in the south, cross country travelers use I-90. So light traffic makes a great ride in the motorhome.
We arrived in Harding, MT in mid-afternoon. Harding is along I-90 about 50 miles southeast of Billings and 15 miles northwest of the Big Horn Battle Field. We have two reasons for being in the area. One is a visit to the battlefield, something that is high on the “places you need to visit” list of one of us. You figure which one of us would want to visit a battlefield. No, it’s not the same person who likes to visit cheese plants! The other reason to stop here is that friends of ours from back in Pennsylvania are visiting the area and stopping in Billings, just to our north. Joe and Deb Dominick teach in the school were John did and we had dinner with them twice during our visit to York in May.
The day after our arrival, we drove north to Billings and met up with the Dominick’s. Since both teach history they share the same interests as John does, so off we headed to visit a historical site.
Pompey’s Pillar is a rock formation about 150 feet high along the southern bank of the Yellowstone River. We drove 25 miles east of Billings because we wanted to see a signature carved into the side of the rock about two thirds of the way up the pillar. But not just any signature. It’s the signature of William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame. On the return trip from the Pacific the group split up to extend their exploration. Meriwether Lewis took the northern route and came down the Missouri River, while Clark took the southerly route and came down the Yellowstone River. The group reassembled at the confluence of the two rivers in North Dakota. Clark’s group stopped and climbed the rock to check out the view. Clark took out his knife and carved his name and the date into the sandstone. Clark’s inscription is the only remaining physical evidence found along the route that was followed by the expedition.
The four of us returned to Billings looking for a place to eat and a little entertainment. It turns out that during the summer on Thursday at 5:00 PM they close a street, set up some food and beer vendors, and have a band entertain. The band, Funk in the Trunk, played a variety of music and were pretty good. Who knew you could find a group of white musicians in the middle of Montana playing James Brown songs!
The next day the Dominick’s drove to where we were in Hardin, and we had breakfast at McDonald’s. We looked around for a restaurant but Mickey D’s was all we could find, but the oatmeal with raisins they serve tastes pretty good. After eating, we headed south in two cars and drove 15 miles to the Little Bighorn National Monument, scene of George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry’s famous “last stand” in June of 1876. The battle took place on what was at the time and is still today a Crow Indian Reservation. In the Visitor’s Center we found that a tour operated by Little Big Horn College, a two year school on the reservation was leaving soon, so we purchased tickets and boarded a small, air conditioned bus.
Our guide was a young Crow girl from the college. She was very well spoken, extremely knowledgeable about events of the battle, and gave us a wonderful tour of the area.
In the picture below, the Little Big Horn River is barely visible in the “V” in the middle looking down to the large group of trees. In the first action of the battle Custer sent troops under the command of Major Marcus Reno down across the river to attack the Indian village. The attack was repelled, and the troops retreated in chaos. The markers recognize where some Indian scouts fell during the fighting. They fell down by the river but, since visitors can’t go down there, the markers were moved up to where we could see them.
One of the most important scouts was Bloody Knife, who was shot through the head while next to Major Reno. Blood and brains struck Reno in the face, causing him to panic and give conflicting commands, resulting in the rout and retreat up the hill.
The picture below shows where Reno’s troops retreated up the hill in the distance. As they dug in they were meet by another group of Custer’s cavalry commanded by Major Benteen, who was on his way to assist Custer. Since Reno outranked Benteen, he ordered him to stay and help Reno repel the attacking Indians. They were pinned down for two days and didn’t have any idea Custer was being annihilation about 5 miles over the hills.
Below is the hill where the last of the troops with Custer died. The markers are where the men fell. Initially the bodies were buried where they fell, but they were later moved to a common grave under the monument at the top of the hill.
Since the Indian’s were the victors, they were able to remove their dead immediately, so historian’s are not sure just how many were killed or where they died. When it can be determined, a marker recognized the spot where a warrior died.
Across the road from the Seventh Cavalry marker is a memorial honoring the tribes who fought the Seventh Cavalry. It is a circular memorial with a beautiful metal sculpture on one side wall.
The mural below recognizes Cheyenne and Arapaho participation in the battle.
The Crow acted as scouts for the cavalry against their traditional enemies, the Sioux and Cheyenne.
Deb asked our guide why the Crow worked with the army against other Indians. She told us that the Crow hated the Sioux, who were their traditional enemies, and that the Crow recognized that cooperation with the white man was the only hope they had to hold on to their land and some of their culture. The inscription on their mural supports this.
Following our tour, the Dominicks left to continue their vacation trip. They are headed east on I-90 to South Dakota, where they will visit the Black Hills and surrounding towns before flying back home. We headed back to our home at the KOA just up the road.
We really enjoyed our brief visit with the Dominicks. It’s always great to visit with friends, especially when so far from home. Tomorrow we continue our journey west to Gardiner, MT, which is just outside the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. More on that later . . .