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Day 8 (9.9.07) - Billings to Ashland, MT (Photo's Added)

Little Bighorn National Battlefield (e.g. Custer's defeat at the Little Big Horn)

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Starting Mileage: 111150, Billings MT
Ending Mileage: 111296, Ashland MT
Weather: Cool, Light Rain

In Billings, we were able to get to the Yellowstone River so Mom could collect some sand. The city park we were in had some awfully big cottonwood trees!


This also turned out to be the point where Lewis & Clark crossed the river, while the town of Billings has grown up around the area, the river itself probably looks much like it did in 1804.


The weather was cool and rainy. We then drove on to the Little Bighorn National Battlefield where Custer and his band were defeated in the infamous 'Custer's Last Stand'. I had been there once before, but this time I took the time to hike the trails and drive the 5 mile road to Reno's battlefield. I learned a lot more about the battles that took place. Mom isn't into those sorts of things, so mostly enjoyed the wild flowers and vistas.


The visitors center is just inside the park entrance, and the site where Custer and about 40 of his men died is just above the visitors center. This is called 'Last Stand Hill', Custer died in a cluster near the top (His marker has the black on it). You also have a clear view of the Little Bighorn Valley below where the indian encampment was.


From the visitors center, I hiked down a path to the "Deep Ravine", soldiers had died along the path and in the ravine. The markers just indicate where the soldiers fell, the bodies were buried in a mass grave at the top of "Last Stand Hill", although the bodies of some of the officers (like Custer) were later moved to other cemetaries. Many markers are not identified, other than as "U.S. Soldier".


The locations where some native americans fell are also marked with red markers, but most of those locations are not known. There were far fewer native casualties in this battle and most of the native dead were removed to the village after the battle, so the locations where they fell are lost to history.


Before the battle, Custer was leading about 600 men in the U.S. 7th Cavalry (soldiers on horseback). When he found the Indian Camp at dawn on June 25, 1876, he was afraid the Indians would scatter before he had time to attack. Even though the Indian camp was much, much larger than he had expected and some of his guides advised him not to attack (fearing a slaughter), Custer split his regiment into three battalions. He retained five companies under his immediate command and assigned three companies each to Major Reno and Captain Benteen. Benteen was ordered to scout the bluffs to the south. Reno was ordered to attack the southern end of the Indian camp in the valley and Custer turned north towards the other end of the encampment with the intention of attacking the camp from both ends and trapping the Indians between his and Maj. Reno's commands.

Maj. Reno attacked as ordered, but was quickly overwhelmed and withdrew. All of these sites are well marked on the battlefield with plenty of interpretive information.


After finally crossing the Little Bighorn River, Maj. Reno's command regrouped at the top of the bluff and formed a defensive position. He was later joined by Capt. Benteen and they dug in and largely survived the onslaught for the next couple of days. We drove the five miles from "Last Stand Hill" to Reno's defensive position and they were a LONG way apart. I could also see that Maj. Reno's position was on a steeper bluff and probably more defensable than "Last Stand Hill". The position itself was in a bit of a bowl shape at the top of the bluff and they even set up a makeshift hospital in the center.


In the battle, 210 men in the five companies under Custer all died as well as 53 men under Reno and Benteen. The Indians are estimated to have had less than 100 killed. The tribes and families scattered. Most of them returned to the reservations and surrendered within the next few years. You can learn more about this interesting period in our history at:


While we were there, our phones started beeping with missed messages. It seems there are few cell phone signals in many of the area's we've been travelling, so voice mail just keeps piling up until we get into cell phone range.

I spent so long at the battlefield that we didn't make much headway today. We camped at a lovely state park in Custer National Forest called the Red Shale Campground, just past Ashland, MT. (We also did see a hawk, which of course I pulled over to try to 'shoot' - with a camera that is)


Posted by jl98584 23:06 Tagged family_travel

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