Friends Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield

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

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Summer 2008


All photos © Joanne Blair, Larry Bright, Phil Dyer, Lola Mauer, Bob Reece, Megan Reece, Mike Semenock, and Sharon Small, as noted.

Photos From The Archive Tour

Read Jerome Greene's Paper Presented At Friends Fundraiser

Friends Summer Events 2008 -- 132nd Anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

By Megan Reece

This year at the Little Bighorn Battlefield was the same in many ways; the 132nd anniversary celebrations revolved around history, debate, and friendship just as in years past. But this year was also different in many ways. It was a year of transition; former Superintendent Darrell Cook only recently retired and an interim superintendent, James Charles, has been appointed to hold the job until a permanent superintendent can be found.

Keogh Sector Flora - photo by L. Mauer

The flora and fauna of the battlefield were also different this year; a late spring bloom is the likely reason. Instead of purple flowers dotting the landscape, lacy yellow flowers – which apparently go by as many different names as there are people naming them – provided the backdrop for the otherwise familiar scene. Rabbits were out in an even greater abundance than usual, and they were also far more sociable. Ask me about the baby rabbit that tried to crawl onto my lap at the bottom of the Deep Ravine Trail next time you see me.

Last Stand Hill  - photo by B. Reece


The greatest difference that the Friends trail volunteers noticed, though, was with the visitors. We predicted smaller-than-normal monument visitors on the trails for two reasons. First, we did not actually work the trails on the anniversary; in order to better accommodate volunteers’ work schedules, we moved our trail work back a few days to correspond with the weekend. Second, we predicted that higher-than-ever gas and food prices would prevent many tourists from venturing out to our part of the country.

We were right about the tourists; while visitation to the battlefield has been up this year overall, volunteer interaction with visitors was quiet for the most part. At least it was with American visitors. Apparently, this was the year for the overseas tourist. The Euro and the Pound are doing quite well on the international market and this showed at the battlefield. I met several English and Welsh, as well as Australians, Irish, Scottish, Austrians, and countless others. It was enlightening and inspiring to hear these visitors talk about their interest in the American West. It made me appreciate my own American heritage very much.


Some of our members and volunteers that make-up The Friends

Another change at the battlefield this year was one that offered several promises. There were a few young women – either affiliated with the Friends or with an overall interest in the battle – present. Friends board member and newsletter editor Lola Mauer worked down at the Keogh Sector as a quick stop off during her family vacation. A graduate student from Columbia University, Lane Anderson came to the Friends’ events to learn more about the battle, as well as the origins of some attendees’ passion for its history. Friends member Jolene Peterson’s young granddaughter worked out at Reno-Benteen and answered visitors’ questions. It is inspiring to see young people – especially young women – so interested in the battle. Younger generations’ participation means that the battlefield will stay pristine and safe for many years into the future because more people will be along to take care of it.

The differences I observed at the battlefield this year served to make me reflective and somewhat sentimental. Being at the bottom of the Deep Ravine Trail always makes me pause to think not only about the soldiers and warriors who died at this place, but also about the origins of our country and what it means to me to be a citizen of the United States. Change is occurring in every corner of our special country, and the battlefield is just one reflection of this change.

Now, to the events. The Friends were treated to a fantastic lineup of history, food, and fun this year. There was not a quiet night during the whole trip. On Friday, Jerome Greene presented his paper on American Indian accounts of the Battle, and intrigued the crowd with his abbreviated history of the Battlefield from his own perspective. Greene is always a joy to hear. He lets his passion for history shine through everything he says, and is a wonderful friend to know.


Jerome Greene presentation at Stone House

Jump here to read his presentation

Greene’s presentation brought history fans out of the woodwork. Honored attendees included James Brust, Richard Fox, Jim Donovan, Ron Papandrea, and Cricket Pohanka Bauer. Kay Hunsaker introduced Jerome Greene before his presentation after President Bob Reece thanked all attendees.

Greene’s speech about the history of the American Indian battle accounts was intriguing and exciting. His personal story about the origins of his interest in the battle was humorous and heartwarming. I am sure many of the folks in the audience were able to identify with the inspiration Greene took from seeing the Errol Flynn movie “They Died With Their Boots On” as a child. Greene left plenty of time for questions and answers and then spent some time signing copies of Stricken Field: The Little Bighorn Since 1876, as well as anything else attendees happened to bring along.

Greene’s graciousness and sociable nature showed through in the hours before his presentation Friday night as well. He stopped by staff housing Apartment C – the temporary Friends’ headquarters – to talk and sit for a while before he would speak formally. Volunteers who happened to be in the apartment at the time seemed to enjoy his presence fully, as he talked about his experience with the battlefield and with his other historical interests.

Greene spent time at the Friends’ headquarters throughout Saturday and before the Feast began that evening. He even used the time for an impromptu book signing. I had already asked him to sign my new copy of Stricken Field, as I am lucky enough to live not too far away from the Denver Tattered Cover bookstores where Greene often speaks, but I did hand over a brand new copy of Evidence and the Custer Enigma for him to inscribe.

Bob Reece and his new fiancée Joanne Blair, bustled around the apartment kitchen doing prep-work on the food. Seventy Friends’ members and guests congregated on the back patio of the seasonal staff apartments for burgers, hot dogs, – and veggie dogs for those brave enough – salads, and fixings, as well as two kinds of cake. Reece grilled the food and he and Blair wore matching Friends aprons. VIP attendees included Darrell Cook, interim Superintendent James Charles, and Big Horn Canyon interim Superintendent Sande McDermott.


Greene visits Friends members before his presentation Friday night as well as photos from the Friends Feast

After everyone was full and happy, Reece held the Friends general membership meeting. He took the opportunity to present some of the guests and to fill the group in on Friends happenings. The Friends raised $1700 during Friday and Saturday alone. Much of these new funds could be attributed to the Friends’ information table that Friends treasurer and secretary Kay Hunsaker, her husband Randy, and board member Mike Semenock ran in front of the visitors’ center. They provided information about the Friends and sold tickets to Greene’s Friday night talk. Hunsaker’s sociable nature and good carrying voice surely coaxed many visitors closer.

Hunsaker and Semenock surprised Reece and Cook after the president’s announcements. Kay stated that the Friends board had voted – without the president – to present him and Cook with special jackets as a token of appreciation for all of their hard work. Reece and Cook were surprised to receive the navy blue jackets with the Friends’ logo on the left and their names on the right.

Following the Friends’ Feast, Sharon Small and Friends board member and park ranger Jerry Jasmer took members into the archives for a fascinating showcase and tour. They had laid out several artifacts for perusal, including jewels from the Slim Buttes Village. Keogh’s guidon was a highlight, as well as the 7th Cavalry regimental standard. Other items of interest included Custer’s officer commission and West Point graduation diploma signed by Lincoln, pipe bags, maps, and bugles. Small asked Friends member Craig Fischer to talk some about the bugles. He was able to tell the crowd a few things about when they were made and what their purposes were; he was able to glean this information after studying the instruments for only a few moments.

Small took the Friends into the archives in two groups. The first thing that struck the crowd was the size of the archives. The space is incredibly limited; it is so small in fact, that Small keeps some of the inventory in her own office. Small started the tour with a gorgeous re-creation of the Sitting Bull buffalo robe which was donated by former superintendent Darrell Cook’s son. She then took us through the archives and we were able to see the drawers and cabinets in which the maps and other battle and historical artifacts are stored. She then led us into the humidity controlled vault where particularly special items are kept when they are not on display. Some of Custer’s personal effects are stored in this space, for example.

Jump Here To See Photos From The Archive Tour

After Small’s tour, Jasmer gave a talk about the Slim Buttes artifacts. The two of them then led us up into the visitors’ center for a very unique tour. Jasmer showed the group his own 1873 Springfield. The gun’s serial number and Jasmer’s research suggest that it was only a few numbers away from being in the battle. Small then took the group through the key that goes along with J.K. Ralston’s painting “After the Battle” that hangs near the exit of the visitors’ center museum. It was interesting to take a deeper look at the painting and to come away with a better understanding of what it really means. Small also gave the Friends a helpful rundown of the new Sitting Bull exhibit and explained what some of the paintings on the buffalo robe meant.

After this amazing and enlightening tour, the Friends parted ways. Most people headed to their respective corners of the country and the world the following day. Saying goodbye is difficult, but there is always the promise of another year; the Little Bighorn Battlefield and her Friends will always be drawn back to explore, debate, and, of course, eat.

From Bob Reece:

As we expected, the 132nd anniversary weekend and Friends events were memorable for Friends members and their guests. Megan's report has captured the essence of that experience well. I’d like to conclude this report by thanking the many volunteers who interpret along the trails. They share their interests for this story and love for the Friends organization with the visitors. It is not hard to imagine that many visitors take that passion with them, which produces many new memberships in Friends over the following months.

I can’t thank the NPS staff enough for all their help over the weekend. Acting Superintendent James Charles welcomed Friends with open arms. His allowing us to use apartment C for our command post provided a perfect place for volunteers to congregate. Most importantly, preparation for the Friends Feast would have been impossible without use of the apartment. Chief of Interpretation Ken Woody ably assisted Mike Semenock with all preparation for the trail volunteers. Jerry Jasmer assisted us in preparation for the Feast. And, Sharon Small and Jerry Jasmer led the impressive tour of the archives which included a theater presentation.

Thanks to board members Mike Semenock and Kay Hunsaker for their dedication to Friends and the incredible amount of time they gave over the months before the anniversary weekend. Their idea for an information table in front of the visitor center paid off in new memberships, book sales of Greene’s limited edition of Stricken Field, and tickets to his presentation. They spent most of their free time manning the table on Friday instead of viewing the battlefield. Now, that’s dedication!

Thanks to Joanne Blair. She did another incredible job in prodding companies to donate to the Friends Feast. Her persistence paid off and resulted in big savings for Friends. Her past experience with owning restaurants in the Denver area enabled her to easily prepare and handle feeding 70 people. The Feast could not have been such a success without her leading it.

Little Bighorn Battlefield sunset -- photo by Joanne Blair


We’d also like to thank those individual companies from Denver's United Sales & Service brokers that contributed food and water: 

 Patrick Cudahy  (Meat brats)


Ice Box Bakery Cookie Dough



Reser's Fine Foods (Potato and macaroni salads)


Lightlife Veggie Dogs


Simply Fresh Fruit



Mountain Valley Spring Water

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