Friends Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield

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

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Summer 2009


Friends Summer Events 2009 -- 133rd Anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

By Mike Semenock

Last Stand Hill -- Sunset, June 27, 2009


Friends held its events at Little Bighorn Battlefield this year on Friday and Saturday June 26-27. Friday started off to be one of the coolest days experienced in a number of years with temps in the 70s. The whole day was cloudy with light rain off and on. The Friends command post was set up in the theater of the visitor center. One of our first visitors in the command post was a snake making his way from one spot to another. It was a baby bull snake which found its way back outside with the assistance of one of the park rangers.

Friends Volunteer to Interpret the Battle to Visitors

Friends members started showing up first thing in the morning to sign in, get their schedule for interpreting the battle, and then head out to the trails to tell visitors about the battle. The volunteer battle interpreters covered all the trails and Last Stand Hill again this year, discussing the battle with visitors and answering countless questions. Some of the regulars were tied up with other activities, but an influx of new volunteers helped maintain a healthy contingent. We welcomed Ryan Trainor from Pennsylvania. Ryan is a history graduate from Loyola College in Maryland. Ruth Rohde returned for her second year. Former park employee, interpreter, and Little Bighorn College librarian Tim Bernardis volunteered for the first time. He was glad to be interpreting the battle to the visitors again. Back for her second year but first time volunteer was Lane Anderson from New York. From over the pond came Kevin Galvin of London. The brief periods of drizzle didn't deter our dauntless team of trail-tending historians. Saturday, though a bit breezy, was sunny and pleasant.

Hank Pangione and Melani Van Petten again had to be threatened with mayhem to force them off the Keogh-Crazy Horse trail after nine hours. Sean McCue made several stands on Last Stand Hill. Jolene Petersen captivated visitors at the Reno-Benteen area once more. Jordan Hill, Jolene's twelve year old granddaughter, became a full fledged trail interpreter this year, going it alone for her first time. Gary and Joy Gilbert were back on Deep Ravine and Last Stand Hill. Dave Depperman distracted his wife and two kids with a trip to Disney World while he slipped away to work the battlefield from one end to the other. Craig Fischer, who's always there to lend a hand, was back on the trails again this year.


Our volunteer interpreters always have fun and the experience is personally rewarding. They have a unique opportunity to talk with many interested and interesting people. For example, while working Saturday on Last Stand Hill I met a tall Oglala man from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. He that told me a lock of Crazy Horse's hair was taken at the time of his interment and was bundled with cedar, sage and sweet grass. The bundle was attached to a tripod, where people would bring gifts of respect to the fallen leader. In spring, the beginning of the new year, the bundle was burned and the gifts distributed among the people. This gentleman's story was a major highlight of my time working the trails this year.

Bob Reece briefly met Friday morning with the new superintendent Kate Hammond. This is one of the busiest weekends of the year for her and the staff. She would attend the Friends Feast on Saturday evening to welcome members.
Bob and Joanne also had time to visit with Chief Historian John Doerner before he left for the day. For the Friends raffle, John donated a beautiful replica of an 1858 canteen like the canteens Custer’s soldiers had at the battle. It was a short visit but it was the only chance the Reece’s had to see John for the entire weekend.

From there, Bob returned to the visitor center to meet with Chief of Interpretation Ken Woody and IT manager Prudence Pretty-On-Top. The purpose of the meeting was to see if they could figure out why the battlefield webcams haven’t worked since April. Long story short: the cams were pointing to the wrong server in Denver. The settings were changed as well as the length of time the cameras refreshed from five minutes to one.

After fixing the cams, Bob and I then met with Ken Woody in the visitor center bookstore to find space for us to install a Friends kiosk. The kiosk will be a permanent display for visitors to pick up Friends brochures. It will be located just inside the entrance to the visitor center and above the registration log. I’ll build the kiosk and install it next June. There has not been much exposure for Friends inside the visitor center, so this should help change that for the better.

Friday Evening – “Superintendent Edward Luce: Memories of Little Bighorn”

We presented an encore viewing of the documentary showcasing some of the Luce home movies he filmed while managing the battlefield in the 1940s and 1950s. Turnout was good with a lot of new attendees. Many attending missed the first showing in 2006 but had heard about it. They didn’t want to miss it this time. The documentary was well received and many were moved, especially with the reinterment of the WW 2 dead in 1948.

Bob had also produced a 25 minute clip highlighting scenes not included in the final documentary. As we watched, Bob added live commentary during portions of the film.

Bob had asked Friends member, Scott Burgan to show the Luce movies to Joe Medicine Crow in the privacy of his home in hopes Joe might identify some of the people that had not been identified by Robert Utley and Jerry Greene (both helped in the making of the Luce documentary). Scott filmed Joe as he watched the movies. Bob surprised the guests and finished the evening with another short seven minute film, which Bob produced, highlighting some of the better moments from Joe Medicine Crow watching the unedited Luce home movies. Scott attended and shared with the audience some of his experiences with Joe Medicine Crow. (Webmaster's Note: We have learned that on August 12, Joe Medicine Crow will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Washington, D.C.)

Saturday – Friends Feast and General Membership Meeting

This evening we held our general membership meeting and Friends Feast behind the administration building. We served superb Indian Tacos prepared by Julie Elkshoulder of Lame Deer.

Superintendent Kate Hammond shared with the membership background of her experience with the Park Service as well as some of the challenges she’s facing as manager of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. She graciously thanked each volunteer by name along with a nice gift to thank us for the work we did for the NPS this weekend. Superintendent Hammond has hit the floor running in her new assignment and has already established a solid working relationship with the Friends organization.

Bob brought the membership up to date on Friends business and thanked a number of people for all their hard work including: his wife, Joanne Blair; Kate Hammond; Friends board member and park ranger Jerry Jasmer; and me. Park Ranger Tom Smith is sponsored this summer by Friends through the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher Program. Tom teaches special education in Greeley, Colorado. He thanked Friends for supporting the program. He'll work in all five divisions of the monument and wear his NPS uniform during NPS appreciation week at school in the spring. The TRTP hopes to instill an appreciation of the national parks in our children. Bob Reece will visit Tom's class during the appreciation week to discuss partnerships in the national parks. Watch for updates from Tom in our newsletter.

Ranger Tom Smith

In attendance was historian Mike Donahue who published Drawing Battle Lines which is one of the most important books about the battle in the last 25 years. His book was one of the prizes for our raffle, which we held after the meeting. We had over 20 prizes that were mostly 1st edition books signed by the authors. Bob sent an email to some of the best historians writing about the battle or the American West asking if they would donate something from their collection for the raffle. The response was mind-blowing and the winners were very lucky. Jump here to see a list of the winners and the prizes won.

So make your plans for next year and don't miss the opportunity to share your passion about Little Bighorn. Before leaving the battlefield I signed agreements with the National Weather Service and the Affiliated Brotherhood of Mosquitoes Union that will guarantee next year's visit to have pleasant weather and be bug-free. Negotiations with the snakes are underway, but they're never a problem anyway.


Final Words from Bob Reece

Thank you to all the volunteers who worked hard on the trails those two days in June. You helped enhance the visitor's experience while visiting the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

I cannot impress upon our members enough how gracious and generous Superintendent Kate Hammond has been with Friends. She really cares about Friends and is appreciative for what we do to support NPS at Little Bighorn. She and I had time before the general membership meeting for me to suggest some ideas for Friends to do next year that would be a blast for Friends. We can’t announce those at this time, but we’ll let you know the details once Kate and I have the chance to work through a few particulars. Needless to say, we feel confident to have some nice surprises for Friends members next year.

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