Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Lakota Last Stand: Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

As we traveled west on US Highway 212, the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument appears on the left, sitting on a bluff above the Little Bighorn River.   The Battlefield lies in a spot of strange beauty.  A mixture of plains and rolling hills with small patches of forest in the background.

Here two cultures clashed in a battle for survival and dominance on 25 -26 June 1876  The Lakota Sioux to preserve their way of life and the Unites States to exercise the principles of Manifest Destiny and to ensure the dominance of the continent.

I have been to a lot of battlefields. Some of them in different parts of the world.  Waterloo, the Marne, Berlin, the Ardennes, Bastogne, Gettysburg, and many other Civil war battlefields.  I lived on the edge of the Civil War battlefield Petersburg for over a year.  Every inch of that park has a hidden surprise.   None of these affected me as much as The Little Bighorn National Battlefield.  I was honestly moved to the point of understanding.  The realization of the complete tragedy of the American Indian policy brought to the point of open warfare.  A people struggling for their existence.

There is a long road that leads up the US National Cemetery where the US Soldiers are interred.  On the other side of the parking lot, the Visitor center provides a film and exhibits explaining the battle.  There is an auto tour where you can stop and see various important highlights of the battle.  It is a sprawling area consuming 765 acres.
The 7th Cavalry on this day met a superior force with superior leadership and tactics in the Sioux tribes.  Markers are placed where both Indians and US Soldiers fell.  Custer's death along with the remaining 7th Cavalry Soldiers is marked at the top of Last Stand Hill.  An Indian memorial on the opposite side of Last Stand Hill commemorates the Indians heroic actions was authorized in 1999 and completed in 2003.

We have yet to come to terms with this dark chapter of our American History, but the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is a start.  On this great American National Battlefield, the other side of the battle is well represented.  The Indian side of the story was never that important in our national culture or even to myself.  It was the Indians last stand and they won.   Although it only delayed for a short time their internment into the reservation system.  It remains a shining light in the Indian National psyche, a point of pride. They may have won the battle, eventually, a part of their way of life was destined to end.

Much of the civil service staff that works at the park are descendants of warriors that fought in the battle.  When leaving park I stopped at the entrance booth to thank the staff for all the great work they were doing.  There was a young man who could have been a young Lakota warrior in a national park uniform standing in the booth.  After I thanked him, he just stared to the front of the booth not making eye contact and said have a nice day.   I guess now I have a greater understanding of why he didn't say you're welcome.

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