Thank-you so much cousin Jill for your wonderful post. We were so happy to have had you with us for our wild west tour, and truly appreciate your diligence and fortitude in writing your blog post. You looked so very relieved when it was finally published!
Jill’s post took us through our arrival in Sheridan Wyoming, where we had the pleasure of being the only guests at the Residence Hill Inn B&B. Owners and hosts Rob and Bev treated us like we were their children visiting from out-of-town. We had the full run of their magnificent 100-year-old home, laundry room and all.
Monday was spent mostly in Montana, our 40th visited state, at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. I’m not sure where my fascination with Custer’s last stand at Little Bighorn came from…..perhaps it was from watching cartoons as a child…..maybe it was from the 1970’s classic movie Little Big Man (Still surprised Dustin Hoffman did not win best actor), or maybe it was just seeing the battle site on a map in the vicinity of Mt. Rushmore when we were planning that part of the road show (God forbid it came from my US history class in high school). It went something like this: “Hey Rob, look! We can actually visit the site of George Custer’s last stand at Little Bighorn. It’s not too far from Mt. Rushmore. Wadaya think? You wanna go?” She indulged me (again) and we put it on the itinerary.
What we knew before visiting the battlefield was that Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his Cavalry were completely surrounded and massacred by a superior number of Indians at the battle of Little Bighorn River during the Great Sioux War. We learned that the battle, fought over 2 days, June 25 and 26, 1876, was mostly the result of a broken treaty by the US government. The 1868 treaty gave the Northern Plains Indians a large part of what is now eastern Wyoming as a permanent reservation. Things were going pretty well until gold was discovered in the Black Hills, which of course was right in the middle of the reservation (ironically the discovery was by an expedition led by Custer). Once word of gold being discovered spread, prospectors and settlers moved into the area, in spite of attempts by the US army to stop them. The Indians, now considering the treaty broken, moved out of the reservation and into the “unceded territory” of Montana. Refusing to move back to their reservation, several Indian tribes, led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, gathered by the Little Bighorn River to discuss what to do about the Whites. The gathering included several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors.
In response to the movement out of the reservation by the Indians, three columns of the US army were sent to the Montana Territory to find the Indians and force them back to their reservations. Custer’s 7th Cavalry was sent one direction to find the Indians, the rest of the army took a different approach. Custer was first to find the encampment on June 25th, and for whatever reason (rumor is that he felt he had been discovered so he decided to attack before the Indians could escape) divided his regiment into 3 battalions and ordered the attack, each battalion attacking from different locations. Long story short, being greatly outnumbered by an extremely fierce group of warriors, 2 of the battalions suffer great losses and are pinned down together on a remote bluff where they fought off the Indians until the Indians withdrew upon learning of the approach of the rest of the Army. Custer’s battalion (210 men), attempting to attack from the Northern end of the Indian camp, was constantly repulsed by superior forces and ended up trapped and surrounded on what is now known as Last Stand Hill. At this point Custer has only 40 men left, they shoot their horses in order to create a barricade and fight until the last man is killed.
Much has been written about who was to blame for the staggering defeat of the US 7th Calvary. Many blame the other 2 commanders for not doing more to support Custer’s battalion. Other’s blame Custer for dividing his regiment while greatly underestimating the size of the Indian force, and for not waiting for the rest of the Army to be in position. He had a tendency toward arrogance which may have created a belief that his Cavalry could take on any size force of Indian warriors. I guess given the result, the guy in charge should be held responsible.
Today, the bodies that were recovered from that hillside are buried around the 7th Cavalry Memorial located at the top of the hill. The markers represent where the bodies were actually found. Custer’s location is designated by the blackened marker. His remains were later exhumed and reinterred at the US Military Academy at West Point (where he graduated last in his class). In total, 249 headstone markers across the entire battlefield show where the soldiers from Custer’s battalion and others from the regiment had fallen. There are also many red granite markers in the field to designate well-known Indian casualty sites.
Near the 7th Cavalry Memorial is a newer memorial for the Indians who died in the battle. The memorial has inscriptions of all the names of the Indians killed in the battle. It was really interesting reading the names.
The National Park is extremely well-preserved and does a great job walking visitors through the battle timeline. The “Battlefield Road” through the park leads you directly to the locations where decisive battles occurred, explaining troop and Indian advancements and retreats. Once again, it was just fascinating being on location where one of the country’s most famous battles was conducted.
After our tour we stopped at a restaurant on the Crow Indian Reservation for lunch, then headed back to Sheridan to explore the city.
Sheridan Wyoming is actually a pretty nice little town. They have Main Street (how original) which is filled with cute restaurants, western shops, and lots and lots of hair salons. Our host Rob informed us that the local community college, Gillette (go Pronghorns!), started a trade school for hair stylists, resulting in a “ridiculous amount of salon openings with stupid names”. Well, we found the names very amusing, our favourite being Curl Up & Dye. How funny is that?
While walking down Main Street we found and visited Kings Saddlery and Ropes, a complete western tack store. The store is mostly famous for custom saddles. They even have a museum in the back where we met James F. Jackson, this amazing guy who does incredible art work on leather for everything from saddles to handbags to belts. He has done work for Presidents, Supreme Court justices and countless actors. It was so interesting watching him create absolutely beautiful intricate patterns in the leather. He does one job per day and is backed up on orders for 8 months!
We took a break from red meat that night while dining at Frackletons. They had this wonderful Ahi Tuna Poke Bowl that we all shared as an appetizer. Not a bad find for Sheridan Wyoming!
Tuesday was largely spent driving to Estes Park Colorado. The seven hour drive required a couple of stops to stretch out (the old home gets a bit tight with an added cousin and luggage), and we lucked out by finding Ayres Natural Bridge Park in Converse County Wyoming. On the way to the park we passed a Buffalo herd.
The rock bridge is just one mile south of the Oregon Trail making it one of Wyoming’s first tourist attractions. It is even referenced in a journal found with the ill-fated Donner party.
We also stopped in Cheyenne to view the Wyoming Capitol building.
Finally arrived in Estes Park, CO late Tuesday PM. We stayed at the Romantic RiverSong Inn, a really nice B&B outside of town adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park. Backing up to the park and being situated on a large creek, the B&B is is also a popular spot for the native wildlife. How impressive is this guy?
Veggie pizza for dinner followed by a good nights sleep followed by a Gourmet breakfast followed by a wonderful hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.
We hiked about 7 miles before a slight groin injury got the best of me. Oh well. It got me out of doing laundry in town……
Got up Thursday morning (feeling much better) to find a large herd of Elk grazing around our residence. We counted 20. It was fun having breakfast with them!
Sadly we dropped Jill off at the Denver Airport yesterday on our way to Beaver Creek.
Thanks again Jill for joining us on our trip. We had a great time, saw lots of really amazing things, and thoroughly enjoyed your company. Looking forward to seeing you in LA in December!