South Dakota Part 4 — Montana!

When we were planning our South Dakota trip I kept coming across the name of Custer which led me to think that, maybe, the Little Bighorn Battlefield where General Custer met his demise, was in the vicinity.  It was about half a day’s drive away in Crow Agency, Montana.

We stayed at the Grandview RV Park in Hardin, Montana.  This RV park did not hold up to its name as it did not have a grand view or a grand anything else!  But, it was sufficient and served our purpose.  It was a safe place to stay with a friendly staff and full hook-ups.  It was hot as all get out (one of my mother’s sayings) so we had the air conditioning roaring the entire stay and we were thankful for those hook-ups!

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument was much more impressive that I expected.  It is located on a Crow Reservation so you have the services of the National Park Service employees as well as services provided by the native peoples who reside on the reservation.  We took advantage of a tour of the battlefield provided by the college that is located on the reservation and led by a student from that college.

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What makes this battlefield unique is that you know exactly where each solider fell and therefore the battle is easily mapped out.  The reason for this is because days after, when the field of dead were discovered by another regiment, there was an urgent need to bury the dead quickly.  It was summer and, as I mentioned, it is HOT there in the summer.  So, each body was buried exactly where it fell in a shallow grave.  Lodge poles left behind at the abandoned Indian camp were used as markers with the soldier’s dog tags attached.  Later, the bodies were exhumed and buried properly but markers remained.  So now the fields are littered with these head stone type markers.

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There are very few markers for the fallen Indian braves and although this was used as proof for an extremely one-sided defeat, our docent explained that it was not necessarily so.  Apparently, after a battle, family members claimed their dead loved ones.  So, the bodies of natives left behind were the braves who had no family members to claim their dead.

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The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is a place that you could spend an entire day.  It covers a lot of territory and each area is a story unto itself.  They also have a wonderful museum as well with some very interesting artifacts.  In 1983 there was a prairie fire that revealed the body of a soldier that had been overlooked for over 100 years.  Archeologists took advantage of the burn and excavated discovering even more interesting facts.  If you ever get the chance go see this place.  It’s not on the way to anywhere so you would have to purpose to make the visit.  But, it is well worth it.

The other cool site we visited in Montana was completely unplanned….in fact, I didn’t even know it existed. While in the office / store of the Grandview RV Park I looked over a rack with fliers of different destinations in Montana and came upon one for Pompey’s Pillar.  Pompey’s Pillar is a sandstone pillar located near the Yellowstone River about 25 miles from Billings, Montana and about an hour from where we were.  During the Lewis and Clark Expedition William Clark had stopped at this very spot during the return trip and carved his name and the date into this sandstone pillar.  It happens to be the only remaining physical evidence of the expedition.  I took the flier to show my parents to see if they were game to go see it and Mom said she wouldn’t miss the opportunity to see that for anything.  It turns out that the story of Lewis and Clark was her favorite part of studying American history in school as a child.

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Due to erosion several flights of stairs must be climbed to get to where William Clark once stood on the ground and carved his name.  So, this needed to be taken into account in our decision to go see this.  Mom and Dad weren’t young and spry anymore.  But, as I said, Mom had no intention of missing this, stairs or not.  Dad said the stairs would probably be too much for him but he ended up making the climb and was glad he did.

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The carving is covered with glass to preserve it.  We were there almost exactly 201 years after he was. Clark had named this site “Pompey’s Pillar” in honor of Sacagaweas little son, who had made the trek with them. Their “pet” name for him was Pompey.

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Below you can see the visitor center’s parking lot that houses a nice museum and gift shop.

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These critters….marmots…were everywhere.

This was not a place that took all day to tour. It was a relatively small historical/tourist site.  But, it ended up being one of our top two favorite sites we had been to on this entire trip.  The other one was the Little Bighorn Battlefield.  So, it was the two Montana sites on our “South Dakota” trip that made the biggest impression. That’s kinda funny, huh?  I think it’s because both of these sites put a “face” of sorts onto two very dramatic stories in American history and brought them to life.  It made we want to know more.  In fact, I think it’s time to rent Ken Burn’s documentary on Lewis and Clark again and rejoin the adventure.  I also think it’s time to plan another long haul in our RV to see some more of the fascinating sites in our wonderful country.

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