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The Next Generation In The Study Of Custer's Last Stand
Sunset of the Lakota Nation
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"Sunset of the Lakota Nation"
Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Field Trip
June 24, 2011
All photos © Bob Reece, Scott Burgan, Helen Keremedjiev, Kay Hunsaker, and Joanne Blair as noted.
Our fundraiser field trip began at the visitor center at 7:00 PM. We were very pleased by its larger than sold-out crowd. Thank you to everyone that attended. We garnered $1,547.36 because of all of you. To review the projects that Friends supported this year, please take a look here.
We started and continued at a steady pace throughout the field trip. This evening's walk was mostly over flat but rugged terrain except for Horse Holder's Ravine (more on that later) and Last Stand Hill. After reaching the top of Last Stand Hill and once upon Battle Ridge, magnificent views of a lush and green battlefield were our reward.
Near the center of Battle Ridge, we reached the head of the Keogh/Crazy Horse Trail. Our leader and guide was Park Ranger Jerry Jasmer. Jerry served 10 years as an active board member of Friends. Changes to the Park Service code of ethics require that permanent full-time employees cannot serve on partner's boards, so we had to let Jerry go in the fall of 2009. If you remember, Friends had its first field trip last year and Jerry led that as well.
Our large group descended into the Keogh Sector where we made our first interpretive stop at the Keogh Marker. There, Jerry and Neil Mangum provided their views of what might have occurred during the Battle of the Little Bighorn in this area. Neil is former chief historian and superintendent of the battlefield and a current board member of Friends. The most common thinking is that Capt Myles Keogh held his Company I near here in reserve but was overwhelmed and quickly annihilated by a sudden attack sprung by Crazy Horse and hundreds of warriors.
During Neil's tenure as historian, Brian Phohanka brought valuable information to him about the Keogh marker placed in the wrong location. Neil shared with us the details of how the marker was moved back to its original spot. Jerry also discussed the marker that might designate the location where First Sgt. Edwin Bobo of Company C fell.
Enveloped by the battlefield
on the eve of its 135th anniversary, we were in awe of this place.
Jerry turned south and led us toward Calhoun Hill where Company L commanded by Lt. James Calhoun defended the south end of Battle Ridge. A short number of yards from the Keogh Sector, we suddenly descended into Horse Holder Ravine. This ravine -- where Calhoun would order the horses protected -- is seen from Battle Ridge with its distinctive four markers almost evenly spaced. But, it is much deeper than it appears.
Almost like the Deep Ravine, it swallowed us whole in some areas. Soldierís markers never gazed upon by most in our group made their presence known. The grass, that once stood taller than a manís waist but eliminated during the great fire of 1983, has almost returned to its full glory and now consumes these markers.
Once we reached the center of this broad ravine, we could look right and see the slow assent of the land as it reaches for Calhoun Hill. There are more markers down here than those seen from the cars as they make their way south along Battle Ridge. We were lucky. Thanks to the staff of our partner site, we saw so much more than the hundreds of thousands of visitors see each year.
We climbed up the eastern slope of Horse Holder Ravine onto the open plain that is the northeast side of Calhoun Hill. The views are amazingly different from this side of Calhoun Hill rather than from the vantage point of its wayside exhibit.
When one stands upon Calhoun Hill, while thinking long and hard, one can discover what might be Custer's biggest blunder in this whole fight: if Custer had deployed all five of his companies around Calhoun Hill, could they have survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn?
We made two stops on Calhoun Hill: Calhoun's and Crittenden's markers and the south end of the defensive perimeter. For high definition photos of Calhoun Hill, you might want to jump to this section of the website.
All of us could tell that Neil was in his realm and having a blast as he became quite animated when discussing the defense of Calhoun Hill against the extensive firepower of the warriors on Henryville. Holding up his arms and air-firing an imagined gun, Neil loudly exclaimed "Bang, bang, bang" as he described so well the rapid fire from the Henry rifles directed at Calhoun's lines.
Our field trip had covered a lot of territory so far. But, the timeline of our walk was running far behind. It was my hope that we would also venture across Greasy Grass Ridge at the ideal time for sunset photographs of Battle Ridge, but that plan was fading quickly behind a large cloud that would completely cover the sun.
From Calhoun Hill, we walked down the battlefield road to the Company C wayside exhibit where waiting for us was retired Chief Historian John Doerner. Many on this field trip still talk about the last time John presented a program on the battlefield for Friends in 2006. As then, John did not disappoint. He had everyone's attention with his riveting account of the warriors charge upon the troops of Company C that defended this very spot we all stood upon.
Jerry and I agreed that it would be impossible for us to walk over Greasy Grass Ridge as hoped. It was practically dark and the battlefield was already closed to the public, plus we still had to walk back to the visitor center parking lot. There were no complaints of the change of plans. We had just shared a unique experience walking through closed portions of the battlefield -- many, for the first time -- while led by some of the most knowledgeable people. Needless to say, I appreciate the great service Jerry Jasmer gave in leading us on this fantastic walk. And, a big thanks to Neil and John for adding to a very successful fundraiser.
John rode his scooter down to the cattle guard where he parked his Jeep. The law enforcement ranger drove there as well in case John needed any assistance. Everyone had started the walk back including my wife Joanne. I chose to linger at this spot where Company C fell not so long ago. As Friends memberís footsteps and voices faded, all that remained were the familiar sounds of silence that emanates so beautifully from this sacred ground. I remembered 1985 when I worked at the battlefield and experienced countless times, its quiet calming solitude. I might hear the soothing call of a Morning Dove or the sound of the train moving down the valley of the Little Bighorn.
It was the eve of the 135th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Countless numbers of people have traveled over these acres since that bloody day. The number of my visits since my first in 1981 has long been lost to me. Each visit is important in its own way. Tonightís was very important. This would probably be my last chance for a private moment to say goodbye to my friend John Doerner who retired just two months before. I took one more photo of Battle Ridge and the small figures of our returning party while waiting for John to drive up. I wanted to shake his hand once more and thank him for our friendship and his many years of service to this battlefield.
I'll see you on Last Stand Hill.
Eve of the 135th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn
Copyright 1999-2013 Bob Reece
Friends Little Bighorn Battlefield, P.O. Box 636, Crow Agency, MT 59022