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Custer's Last Stand Museum

Drumbeats on the Prairie

We can still win this one, boys

In the little town of Garryowen, Montana, there's a small museum with a big past. This was the site of the famed Battle of the Little Bighorn. Garryowen sits on what used to be the camp of Sioux chief Sitting Bull. 

The population of Garyowen in 2010 was 2. That's not counting all the "haints." Yet, here, on this sprawling piece of land, where crows roost, lies the key to one America's biggest controversies and saddest demise. The Boy General Custer was routed... the gods deserted him. 

Cavalry Grave Markers

The Battle of the Last Stand occurred June 25-26, 1876 in Montana territory. It was a battle that took place as part of a larger regional conflict between American cavalry forces and local Native American populations. This battle, in particular, was somewhat unusual because it took the life of the beloved "boy general" George Armstrong Custer, and because it represented an unusual collision of Cheyenne, Lakota Sioux, and Arapahoe tribes. The actual size of the camp of Natives has been debated extensively by historians. Some put the number as high as 10,000 or more, others say in the 2000 range. Apparently, it was a large confluence of multiple camps, and therefore estimates vary. 

George Armstrong Custer

Boy George

Why was this young general in the area? Partly due to his familiarity with the terrain, due to earlier expeditions in the area. Partly due to the fact that he needed the money. When he wasn't scouting or fighting, Custer and his wife liked to entertain on an elaborate level. The best way to gain attention and money was to draw attention to himself in high-risk missions, such as this one. It has even been suggested that Custer attacked the camp without the support of subordinate Benteen because he wanted to get the vast majority of the credit for extinguishing such a large camp. However, this theory is muddled by the fact that Custer actually sent for Benteen. There was interference in the form of a young lieutenant named Martin, who spoke little English. Apparently informing Benteen that the Natives had "skedaddled," Benteen's choices were different than they would have been otherwise.

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull was born in 1831. His first major recorded battle in which he was credited with direct participation is the Battle of Killdeer Mountain in 1864. A Sioux warrior named Lone Dog exchanged insults with armed soldiers, which eventually led to an artillery attack on a Sioux village. About 30 Sioux were killed. This was one major piece in Sitting Bull's evolving distrust and distaste for white settlers. He firmly rejected the reservation system, as did the younger Sioux warrior Crazy Horse. Born in 1840, Crazy Horse joined with Sitting Bull in the 1870s, as he was similarly determined to resist white authority. They represented the various aspects of Sioux culture. Older, Sitting Bull represented the spiritual authority, while the younger Crazy Horse had guerilla manpower. 

The Outcome and the Aftermath

Black Hills Today

On that fateful day in June, Custer was soundly defeated. Custer had divided his force of 600 expecting reinforcements soon, but, as has been stated, there were communication difficulties between him and Benteen. By the time Benteen and General Reno realized where Custer was fighting and that he was overwhelmed, Custer had been cut off from them, killed on one of the many small ridges in the area. For Native Americans today, the Black Hills region is emblematic of their continued struggle to fight for their land and water rights, and connect to their past. Recent events such as the resistance to a pipeline at the Standing Rock reservation provide an example of how the land and water rights in the region continue to provoke conflict.

How the Battle of Little Bighorn Was Won

Ten Myths of the Little Bighorn

Battle of the Little Bighorn

Battle of Killdeer Mountain

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