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The Next Generation In The Study Of Custer's Last Stand

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Evening Walk Through History With Richard Fox


Evening Walk Through History With Richard Fox

By Mike Semenock, Friends Board Member

All photos © Joanne Blair, Kay Hunsaker, Bob Reece, and Mike Semenock as noted.

This year’s fundraising event was another featuring an expert (literally) in the field. Dr. Richard A. Fox spoke to the group of sixty-five, first from a spot overlooking Cemetery Ravine, and then led us along the Deep Ravine Trail, recounting his experiences of the 1984 and 1985 archaeological surveys following the brush fire of 1983. Dr. Fox’s work resulted in the publication of his doctoral dissertation as Archaeology, History, and Custer's Last Battle: The Little Big Horn Re-examined  (1993, University of Oklahoma Press).


Gathering in front of the visitor center before the Fox field trip. Photo BR

Friends board member Ryan Trainor (R) and his father Pat. Photo KH

Friends member Michael Millard (L) and his friend George Ainslie. Photo KH

Friends member Rodney Bridgers ready to hit the trail with Fox! Photo KH

Bob Reece welcomes everyone and explains where we'll be going while on the field trip. Photo MS

Our first stop just beyond those groups of trees at left which sit on the edge of the Custer National Cemetery. Photo BR

By that tall tree up ahead. Excellent views of Battle Ridge, all of Deep Ravine Trail, and the Little Bighorn. Photo BR

The shade of the trees provided somewhat of an escape from the 100 degree heat for the Rudder family. Photo BR


The story Dr. Fox told us of his involvement in the archaeological studies at Little Bighorn Battlefield of the 1980s is as unlikely on the one hand as it is seemingly natural on the other. After growing up fifteen miles from the battlefield in nearby Hardin, Montana, Fox was, in 1983, pursuing his doctorate at the University of Calgary, Alberta. The topic of his dissertation had been decided and ahead of him lay a career far from his small hometown. As fate would have it, Fox’s brother, Dennis, still lived in Hardin, across the street from then Custer Battlefield Superintendent James V. Court. On August 11, Dennis saw Court arriving home, his face and uniform streaked with ash. Running across the street, he asked Court what had happened. Court explained that a brush fire had swept much of the battlefield, leaving the ground blackened and bare. Court was also excited about the opportunity the fire had opened for an archaeological study. “I just happen to know an archaeologist,” Dennis told Court. The rest is easy to guess. “It changed my whole life.” Dr. Fox told us.

The surveys of 1984-85 produced significant results. They established a precedent for the use of metal detectors in archaeology, which at the time was frowned upon by traditionalists. These techniques have since been accepted and are the standard today. And the fusion of archaeological science with oral and written historical testimony enabled new perspectives of the battle. In his book Fox propounds the theory that Custer’s historic “Last Stand” was not the culmination of the fighting, as legend holds, and which has broad acceptance to this day. Rather, he asserts, the carnage on Last Stand Hill was followed by the death of dozens of soldiers killed while fleeing to the presumed safety of Deep Ravine and others who met their end in the ravine itself. Furthermore, Fox deduces the soldiers in this area, and others, succumbed to tactical disintegration, a military term for panic, as the warriors suddenly overwhelmed them. In such instances, the soldiers become irrational as certain death approaches, bunch together with comrades, and flee in terror.


Fox’s believes the Cheyenne accounts that some of Custer’s soldiers moved further north – near Hwy 212 & I90 – seen near center. Photo BR

At some point, those troops moved back to The Flats - Fox calls it - overlooking the mouth of Deep Ravine. Here they waited for 20 minutes. Photo BR

While those troops waited on The Flats, they had full view of Last Stand Hill. Photo BR


Dr. Fox was asked his opinion of the most interesting and most significant finds. He had stopped earlier at one marker and recalled the discovery there of a finger bone, still encircled with a gold wedding band. This was, he said, the most interesting. Most significant was the discovery that “paired markers” winding down toward Deep Ravine contained the remains of but one soldier. It is surmised the extra markers represent the 28 soldiers in Deep Ravine, seen there just after the battle, and “buried” by dirt pushed down the steep sides of the ravine. Capt. Owen J. Sweet, who brought the original marble markers in 1890, could not find the remains in the ravine, so placed stones enough for the known dead where others had fallen nearby.


The next phase of the walk with Dr. Fox was the Deep Ravine Trail. Neil Mangum shows us the way as we pass by the visitor center. Photo BR

Beginning of a beautiful sunset over Little Bighorn Battlefield greets us as we descend the trail. Photo BR

Dr. Fox at our next stop near the center of the trail. Two fascinating discoveries from the archeological survey of 1984 were found here. Photo BR

Fox points to the first, where the remains of Mitch Bouyer were found and now a marker bearing his name. Photo BR

Dr. Clyde Snow identified the remains found here belonging to Bouyer. Read more in the Archeology section of this website. Photo BR

Fox talks about one of the most interesting 1984 finds. Many on the field trip didn’t realize the spot was right behind them. Photo BR

During the 1984 survey, at these three soldier markers was found “a finger bone, still encircled with a gold wedding band”. Photo BR

Fox then led us on to the final phase of this most fascinating field trip – the end of Deep Ravine Trail. Photo BR

Along the way, Friends board member and former Supt. Neil Mangum added stories from his personal experiences of the archeological surveys. Photo BR

Dr. Fox captivates us during the fundraiser field trip. Thanks to Dr. Fox, the field trip was a great success for Friends and members. Photo BR

Over the two and a half hours, Dr. Fox answered questions and diplomatically commented on theories advanced by others. One member said afterward, “Just to hear the man who wrote the book talk to us about his experience was incredible.” The evening ended in front of the Visitor Center, where the last questions were asked and theories discussed. One could almost hear the minds humming with new ideas about the battle. Several people were heard saying they would reread Dr. Fox’s book when they arrived home.

Our thanks to Dr. Fox for an entertaining and informative evening.

The end of another great Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield field trip

“Just to hear the man (Dr. Fox) who wrote the book talk to us about his experience was incredible.”


Order Dr. Richard Fox's fascinating book, save money, and help Friends.

All proceeds from its sale go to Friends.

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