Monday, July 23, 2007

Little Bighorn

In 1876 there was one man in the United States in charge of Indian Affairs. Based on census data regarding Indian populations in the reservations nationwide, he calculated that troops responsible for enforcing reservation boundaries could expect to find warriors no more than five hundred strong.

Though Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and 209 of his men perished one day that summer, leaving much doubt as to his reaction upon sighting the Indian forces, a reasonable guess might be: "WTF?!"

Initially hidden by the curves of the Little Bighorn River, the Indian encampment held between seven and eight thousand warriors, who descended upon Custer and his troops with hell's fury.

Custer, having graduated from West Point Military Academy, remembered his training and retreated to higher ground where he and his troops fashioned breastworks out of their dead horses and prepared for a last stand. It would prove to be Custer's last act on earth.

Today the hill stands as a memorial to the battle, with a visitor's center just south of the hill and the soldiers buried in a mass grave at the top. Custer's body was exhumed shortly after the battle and reinterred at West Point.

The battle site was turned into a national monument in the 1930's, but it took until 1991, by an act of Congress, to approve a memorial to the members of the five Indian nations that fought to protect their nomadic way of life. The memorial was not installed until 2003. It is still not finished.

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