Friends Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield

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

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Summer 2010


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Friends Summer Events 2010 -- 134th Anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

by Bob Reece

All photos © Bob Reece unless otherwise noted.

Deep Ravine Trail, Custer National Cemetery, and Last Stand Hill loom over Friends members Hank Pangione and Carol Near


Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield held its annual events from June 25-26, 2010 at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (LIBI). From all reports, everybody had an incredible time – no kidding!

Members and volunteers started showing up first thing Friday morning at our command post in the old theater in the basement of the visitor center. It sounds like Friends hangs out in dark basements but that is far from the truth. We have easy access to our partners on the staff of the Park Service in the same building; the visitor center is always the hub for all events, and we are centrally located for volunteers to work the trails so, it all works well.

Our volunteers interpreted along the Deep Ravine and Keogh/Crazy Horse Trails, Last Stand Hill, and Reno-Benteen Battlefield. As always they did a magnificent job and this year were managed incredibly well by the new Friends Den Mother (Joanne Blair).

The Park Service was ambitious this year with plans to feed lunch to 2,000 people on the patio of the visitor center. The Friends members who were not working the trails assisted in the big feed. I’d like to personally thank the following members for going beyond the call of duty: Ruth Rhode and Joanne Blair who assisted in the food line as well as Ken and Noah Obermiller and Rodney Bridgers who hauled the food from the visitor center basement to the patio.

NPS Feed, June 25, 2010

Photo courtesy of Joanne Blair

Historian Thom Hatch and Friends Annual Fundraiser

Friday evening, Friends held its annual fundraiser on the second floor of the administration building. Our speaker was writer Thom Hatch and he was fearless. He’s a former Marine who witnessed his share of action in Vietnam and he uses that experience to interpret Custer’s Last Stand. He was adamant that Reno had disobeyed orders, which caused the failure of Custer's plan of attack. Yes, there are those who believe Reno had a lot to do with the defeat of the 7th Cavalry 134 years ago, but there are just as many who think not.

I knew those in the audience really enjoyed Mr. Hatch’s presentation for two reasons: first, he spent about 25 minutes presenting, but followed with more than an hour of questions and answers. I had to finally ask everyone to leave before the Monument closed. Second, many people approached Mr. Hatch to personally thank him for the great program. I wish to thank Mr. Hatch for taking the time to come to the battlefield and speak before our group. You can also visit his website to learn more about Mr. Hatch and his upcoming books.


Thom Hatch

Photo courtesy of Scott Burgan

Friends Feast and General Membership Meeting

Saturday evening we held our annual Friends Feast and general membership meeting behind the administration building on the battlefield. The Feast is our way of saying thank you to our trail volunteers. Returning for the second year was Julie Elkshoulder, owner of Elkshoulder Catering & Concessions, who provided superb Indian Tacos made from scratch with fresh ingredients. She also prepared vegetarian plates on request. Joining us was Superintendent Kate Hammond, who mingled with the membership and enjoyed dinner with us.
During the general membership meeting, Ms. Hammond personally announced and thanked each volunteer by name. She also brought us up to date on the latest battlefield news. To show our gratitude to Ms. Hammond, I presented her a polo shirt and jacket with the Friends logo and name.

Superintendent Kate Hammond at the General Membership Meeting

Photo courtesy of Scott Burgan

I also addressed the membership with the latest news from Friends. I thanked Ms. Hammond for allowing us to take the great field trip “Deep Ravine Trail & Beyond” (more on that below). Her response was an open invitation for us to have another field trip next year which we are already planning.

Our newest board member, Ryan Trainor, announced the future publication of our first scholarly journal, “Ghost Herders”, due next year. Friends board member Neil Mangum is senior editor, with Ryan as assistant editor. The essays will include the following subjects:
1) Dr. Douglas Scott will write a summary of the archeology and its significance on the battlefield and the park story.
2) Jerome Greene will cover the early attempts at living history interpretation at the battlefield.
3) Park Historian John Doerner will enlighten us with the history of the Custer National Cemetery.
4) Neil Mangum presented at the Friends' second symposium in 2002, “Changing Faces of Last Stand Hill.” We will include this outstanding presentation.
5) From over the pond, Kingsley Bray, author of the book “Crazy Horse”, will share his views on Crazy Horse at Little Bighorn.

We are looking forward to the publication that will be available in the visitor center bookstore.

Board member Ryan Trainor announces Friends first scholarly journal

Photo courtesy Scott Burgan

Bob Reece and Superintendent Kate Hammond Renew MOA

Ms. Hammond and Bob Reece then signed an extension of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for another year until we can complete the task of a complete rewrite of the MOA. This rewrite is being coordinated by Krista Muddle, Regional Partnership Coordinator in the Denver Regional Office. Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield and LIBI signed their first Memorandum of Agreement in 1998 when Rick Meyer was president and Neil Mangum was superintendent. For the last 12 years, Friends and management at LIBI have maintained a close and trusting relationship that neither party take lightly. I would also like to add that even though we do not have a formal agreement with Western National Parks Association (WNPA) -- which manages the bookstore at LIBI -- Friends and WNPA also have a positive working relationship.

Friends Field Trip “Deep Ravine Trail & Beyond”

*** Open Map A in new window to follow our route along the field trip. ***

*** And Map A Key ***

Saturday morning brought cool temperatures and cloudy skies, all perfect for our first field trip. Last year, Hank Pangione asked if we could do something together as a group. Although Hank loves working the trails (always Keogh/Crazy Horse), he missed not being with others of the Friends membership. Ironically, Friends member Rodney Bridgers suggested last year that we have field trips; he wished to see what was beyond Deep Ravine. I asked Superintendent Kate Hammond for permission; she thought the idea great, but she wanted to discuss it with her staff. The result was the Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield first field trip “Deep Ravine Trail & Beyond”.

We begin the field trip at the Stone House

Photo courtesy Scott Burgan

Starting from the Stone House at 9:00 AM, we were led by Park Ranger and former Friends board member Jerry Jasmer. We walked part way down the maintenance road behind the staff housing when we turned south across the open flats towards the Deep Ravine. Somewhere along these flats, or behind where we walked (according to Mike Donahue), Col John Gibbon would have traversed over these grounds to make his way up to Last Stand Hill to see the battlefield for himself. We made our first interpretive stop (see point B on Map A) where Mr. Jasmer explained the probable route of Gibbon’s investigation of the battlefield on June 29, 1876.

Everyone's attention is on Jerry Jasmer

Photo courtesy Scott Burgan

The morning of June 29, 1876, surviving members of the 7th Cavalry and the soldiers under Terry and Gibbon were busy taking care of the wounded soldiers of Reno’s command. Most were constructing mule litters in order to better carry the wounded down river to meet up with the steamer Far West near the junction of the Bighorn and Little Bighorn Rivers. With 50 wounded safe on board, Captain Grant Prince Marsh sailed his magnificent ship down the Bighorn to its junction with the Yellowstone River. Turning east, the Far West used its steam engine and the fast moving current of the Yellowstone to meet the Missouri where it eventually reached its destination of Ft. Lincoln near Bismarck, Dakota Territory. The 700 mile trip was made within 54 hours, an amazing record that still stands today.

Days and weeks before we even stepped foot on the battlefield, I was concerned with the ability of some to make this walk in its entirety. I knew the first part – the flats – would be easy; it was the crossing of the Deep Ravine from its west to east rim and the walk beyond that concerned me. Jerry Jasmer and I had time to discuss this Friday morning. I’m sure Jerry loved it, but I would like to thank him for taking a lone scout to the ravine Friday afternoon in order to find a possible crossing place, which he did.

Our oldest walker was Cricket Bauer’s mother, Rita McCann, who is a very fit 70 years old. Steep banks of the river became more prominent as our line extended even more. Leading the pack, Jasmer started turning us southwest as the steep banks passed beside us, and there was Rita ahead of many!

Our second interpretive stop (Point C on Map A) was the Monument’s fence line. The Little Bighorn River flowed about 50 yards beyond the fence. Just out of view was the oxbow that Dr. Douglas Scott planned to survey the week of July 11, 2010, which was supported through partnership funding from the National Park Service and Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield. It was a great photo op for all of us with the mouth of Deep Ravine to our left.

Moving on, we reached the objective of the field trip: the mouth of Deep Ravine. (Point D on Map A) This mysterious place -- the entire length of this deep and wide ravine -- beckons me to return to the battlefield year after year, decade after decade. Its never-silent voice shelters secrets that will always remain ambiguous, and it boggles the mind. The enigma of The Battle of the Little Bighorn is like a wheel with countless spokes that reach out for answers; at its hub is the Deep Ravine.

The Deep Ravine reaches for Last Stand Hill seen on the horizon

All of us were -- and remain thankful -- for the rare opportunity to visit this place. Behind us, the ravine ran almost on a straight line towards the 7th Cavalry Monument on the horizon. Immediately below us was the mouth with its steep drop to the river. Our brief moment here filled us with wonder: the air was quiet and still, the river ran silent, and we felt the presence of the warriors and soldiers who fell here.

We were careful to take our time and enjoy this place. Mr. Jasmer let us soak it in and answered individual questions. When it was time for us to return, we turned north to follow along the west rim of the ravine. The sky darkened and the air began to smell of rain. From my decades of visiting the battlefield in June, I would much rather deal with cool temperatures and rain (as long as it is not a unique Montana thunderstorm), rather than Montana heat.

We followed footsteps of past warriors who used these same paths to enter the battle. Some believe Crazy Horse led warriors through here using the Deep Ravine and other coulees to better conceal his approach and ultimately make his surprise charge upon the solders. Most are only accustomed to gazing upon this portion of the battlefield from Last Stand Hill or Battle Ridge. From that perspective visitors and battle enthusiasts cannot fully appreciate the warrior and soldier experience in this portion of the battlefield. We did.

About halfway between the mouth of the Deep Ravine and the end of the Deep Ravine Trail, Mr. Jasmer brought us to our crossing point. (Point E on Map A) The east rim is extremely rugged, but this spot seemed the best place to cross. As we descended into the ravine, we could see immediately to our front and right that the Deep Ravine meets with a second Deep Ravine and that if followed, it would eventually bring you to Calhoun Hill.

It is like a maze inside this ravine yet we have had the advantage of aerial photographs and maps to show us the way. As we passed through the middle of the ravine the earth seemed to swallow us whole. To our front were the precipitous bluffs of the east bank. It was not difficult to appreciate the situation the soldiers from the Custer command found themselves in within this ravine. For them, the Deep Ravine meant nothing but death.

My original intent was for us to travel south after crossing but I had forgotten how rugged the entire east rim is. As we began to move down the west bank and into the ravine, I asked Mr. Jasmer if I could reconnoiter that part of the east ravine to see how things looked. After climbing and looking south, I could see nothing but more rough terrain so I decided that we should follow Mr. Jasmer north.

We cross from the west to the east side of the Deep Ravine. Bob Reece at upper right directs people to follow Mr. Jasmer north

Photo courtesy Cricket Bauer

We did not have far to trek when we came upon a lone soldier grave marker number 257. (F on Map A) Thanks to Friends member Dale Kosman for pointing me to Doug Scott’s book, They Died with Custer which has information about this marker. On page 53 Scott writes, “Marker 257…did yield a few human bones. The bones of a hand and foot were badly eroded, suggesting that they had lain on the ground surface at some time in the past. While the bones can be identified only as adult human, this marker location is identified in the Camp notes and on his marker map as the site where Company F’s Corporal John Briody’s body was found. According to Camp’s notes, Briody was found with his leg severed from his body and placed under his head...That marker 257 is the site of John Briody’s burial must remain speculation and an intriguing possibility.” Open Walter Camp's map with added notes from Francis Taunton's Custer's Field: A Scene of Sickening Ghastly Horror for location of Briody's body. Map used with permission of Francis Taunton.

Note: Original Camp map is located in Walter Mason Camp Collection at the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. For further reading about the possibility of Briody's remains being seen in 1876 and to view more Camp maps, read Michael Donahue's book, Drawing Battle Lines.

We lingered here for some time. It was impossible not to stop and gaze upon this marker and wonder. From the vantage point of marker 257, we had a beautiful view of the Little Bighorn River and its valley. Was this the last view for a solider all alone? How did he arrive here only to find his ultimate end?

When I arrived home after our visit to the battlefield, I pulled out the huge map that accompanies Doug Scott’s book of the 1984 dig, Archaeological Insights into the Custer Battle. One side of the map documents the thousands of artifacts found during the dig, but the opposite side shows the location, of all the soldier markers. This is not an easy map to read because there is no overlay of the battlefield. One either needs a map of the battlefield near him, or to know the ground personally to best follow the map. What I saw was intriguing because as is mostly the case with this battle, answers summon more questions. I have to wonder if this soldier came from Finley/Finckle Ridge rather than Last Stand Hill. Marker 257 is the last of a straight line of markers that appear to originate from Finley/Finckle Ridge and Calhoun Hill. The same can be said regarding the troopers that fell into the ravine only to be found dead by the surviving soldiers of Reno’s command on June 28th. The soldier at marker 257 might be the last soldier in a line coming from the vicinity of Deep Ravine Trail. Marker 257 is just one more spoke in that mysterious wheel.

Our little group left behind marker 257 and began a slow, gradual ascent to the crest of the hill. When I worked at the battlefield as a battle interpreter during the summer of 1985, I used to walk the east rim of Deep Ravine often. In those days, I’d follow very narrow foot trails made by the Monument’s staff. Those old foot trails are long gone but you can still see some of them on Map B.

Once we reached the top of the hill, we were surprised to discover just how close we were to the Deep Ravine Trail and familiar ground. From near this vantage point we could look down at the end of the Deep Ravine Trail and the wayside that Friends donated to the battlefield. We knew this incredible experience was coming to an end. Every person had a great time. There were lots of laughs, great conversations, and fantastic photo ops. Cricket Bauer had a great idea to shoot a group photo. That was a fun experience by itself. There we all were, posing for one great group photo with Last Stand Hill in the background. (Point G on Map A)

Our group photo taken by Cricket Bauer using her IPhone

We then descended downhill to meet up with the Deep Ravine Trail. There we all had a chance to thank Jerry Jasmer for a wonderful experience and a job well done. (Point H on Map A)

This first field trip of the Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield was more than a success; it was a thrill and one that none of us will ever forget. I used our website and Facebook page to publicize the field trip, resulting in the field trip being fully booked by February. Technology is a wonderful thing and we took advantage of it to post photos of our field trip during the walk itself. Thank you Cricket for doing that. If you were not able to make the field trip, but were a member of Friends on our Facebook page, you could have been following along during the event. Please keep that in mind next year when we have our second field trip, date and time TBD.

Next time you have the chance to walk to the end of the Deep Ravine Trail, I hope that this report of our field trip will help you imagine what lies beyond. Like the dark side of the moon, we rarely go there and it remains a mystery.

I’ll see you on Last Stand Hill.

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