Our final stop on summer vacation 2011 was back in my home state: Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, MT. This is the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn – also known as Custer’s Last Stand – which took place in June 1876. At this location 140 years ago, General George Armstrong Custer and his army fought the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. Custer’s army suffered a crippling defeat.
This battle has been a point of contention among historians. None of Custer’s men survived, thus an exact account from the US Army’s perspective does not exist. It is not even clear exactly how Custer died. Nevertheless, Custer has received much acclaim for this battle, so much so that the monument was originally named Custer National Cemetery and then Custer Battlefield National Monument before eventually being renamed in 1991 to the more inclusive and accurate Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
The monument today contains a museum/visitor center, statues and memorials, and also the gravestones of the hundreds of men who died during this battle. We began at the visitor center before driving the road through the monument on a self-guided tour.
The only word I can think of to describe the self-guided tour is “eerie.” What else can I really say about a place dotted with gravestones of fallen soldiers and warriors? It was a strange feeling to be visiting a place that once witnessed such tragedy and violence. Despite the fact that we were out in the open, I felt as though I was in a museum. We drove through the monument in near silence.
This was a very somber end to our summer vacation, yet a place that definitely deserved a visit. I never learned much history in school. I had a string of less than stellar teachers who focused on memorizing dates and watching lots of movies. I have some pretty big knowledge gaps. So I’m always interested to learn more about the local history, wherever I am. Little Bighorn Battlefield is a great example of such a place, and it’s nice that it has been changed over the years to more accurately reflect the events that took place there.
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: located off I-90, 16 miles (26 km) south of the town of Hardin, MT on the Crow Indian Reservation
- Fees & passes: $20 per car; Interagency Annual Pass accepted
- Camping: none
- Hiking: three very short trails through the cemetery and battlefield