by Jackie Jura, 2023
(my commentary in blue)
(you can listen using text-to-speech on your device)




After leaving the Little Big Horn battlefield on the 140-th anniversary of the Custer Massacre -- Sunday, June 25th -- we drove east to the town of Busby which is near where Custer's 7th Cavalry had camped for their last night. We drove around the seemingly deserted streets not sure what we were looking for -- although I did see a sign saying "Rosebud Creek" which is huge in Custer lore. I wish I'd brought the encyclopediac book I'd read about the Sioux War to refer to when the names rang a bell.

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The Sioux War of 1876: The Centennial Campaign, by John Gray, published 1976


"...The Eve of Disaster: The 7th Cavalry pitched camp just below present Busby at 7:45 on the evening of June 24th. The troopers fell into the routine of preparing their evening meal and making themselves and their horses comfortable for the night. They did not know that they would get little sleep at this bivouac... Custer was waiting impatiently for the return of his Crow scouts, for he wanted badly to know two things. Was the village scattering, as he feared it might? If not, in what direction was it headed? He had probably been told already that only 2 or 3 miles up the river an oft-used Indian trail led 10 miles southwest up Davis Creek to the divide and then 13 miles north of west down what is now called Reno Creek to the Little Big Horn. Had the hostiles taken this trail? Or, continued south up the main Rosebud? Or, turned north toward Tullock's Fork? Or, split up to follow all three?..."

"...The returning scouts could at last assure Custer that the hostile trail did not scatter and break up, that it did not turn north toward Tullock's Fork, nor south up the main Rosebud. Instead, it turned up Davis Creek and crossed the divide but having to look into the sun they could not spot the village in camp anywhere beyond. The implication was clear that the Sioux were on the Little Big Horn, and because the trail was so fresh, they could not be far from the mouth of Reno Creek, which joins the larger stream only 20 miles above its mouth.... Custer may have been even more pleased when the Crows told him that there was an observation point on the divide, called the Crow's Nest, from which they could see the country for miles around, including the valley of the Little Big Horn...."

~ end quoting Sioux War by Gray ~

In the spontaneous decision to drive down to the States for the re-enactment of Custer's Last Stand we hadn't made plans for anything beyond that, other than maybe turning around and coming back home. The trip wasn't intended to be a Voyage of Discovery of all things Custer, which is what it ended up being. I hadn't even done brush-up preparation on my knowledge of the battle and was having to rack my brain to recall what I knew about where we were. This need to dig deep into the recesses of memory started at the get-go upon arriving at Great Falls, Montana and realizing this was an infamous Lewis & Clark place about which I'd read when studying the USA Founding Fathers and War of Independence and Manifest Destiny. That's why visiting the museums and reading the storyboards was so interesting -- it brought everything back to mind and enhanced the thrill and appreciation of being there.

Once the rush to get to the Little Big Horn in time for the re-enactment was over and we could relax and get our bearings, we realized we were so close to Mount Rushmore we couldn't resist going there "while in the neighbourhood". I'd been to Mount Rushmore twice before -- the first time with my parents to Yellowstone Park and beyond in the 50s and again in the 80s with our children on a cross-country camping trip starting at "Old Faithful". I've always been in awe of Mount Rushmore and can't believe it's not on the official "Wonder of the World" list.


Shortly after leaving Busby the road started climbing high into the mountains and it was beautiful and somewhat remote -- not alot of cars coming or going. I was mentally exhausted from all the thinking at the re-enactment and the battlefield and when we saw a State Park campground we pulled in and set up tent. I didn't realize at the time but we were, godcidently, spending the night in the same place -- the Wolf Mountains -- as where Custer spent his last night on Earth, albeit he at the top of the range and we at the bottom -- and he going 'to' and we coming 'from' the valley of the Little Big Horn.

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In the morning, after coming down the mountain road we merged with the interstate we'd be taking going south through Wyoming until turning east to the Black Hills of Dakota. The first sight we saw was a miles-long train loaded with coal heading north to Canada, no doubt -- even though we have as much, if not more, coal than USA does. But this coal's destination wasn't anywhere in America -- it's going to Communist China to fuel their voracious energy needs -- which it can't meet using its own resources of which it has none -- except cheap human labour. Readers may recall that upon entering Montana I was disgusted to see miles and miles of bird-killing, mind-numbing windmill monstrocities contaminating the landscape. In North America fossil-fuel energy is banned because it emits/exhales Carbon Dioxide which Big Brother has deemed "ungood". But in China fossil-fuel energy is NOT banned. I've written extensively exposing this evil Orwellian Global Warming conspiracy. See DFENDING CO2-COAL-GAS-OIL & CO2 SCAM PICS SAY THOUSAND WORDS

Soon after getting onto the interstate we came to an historic marker for the town of Sheridan and pulled over to read it. The name "Sheridan" looms large in Custer histiography. Below are excerpts from the storyboard and from books I pulled from my shelves.


"...Founded only a few years after removal of Native American tribes from the Powder River Basin, the town of Sheridan retains the atmosphere of a bustling late 19th/early 20th century western town. The original downtown was plotted in 1882...and named in honor of Civil War General Philip Sheridan... The Sheridan Inn was said to be the finest hotel between Chicago and San Francisco and hosted such famous figures as Will Rogers, "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Ernest Hemingway, and President Calvin Coolidge...."

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Sheridan's Ride

"...During the Shenandoah campaign of 1864, Confederate General Jubal A Early attacked Union General Philip H Sheridan's army at dawn on 19 October along Cedar Creek, near Strasburg, Virginia, throwing two Union corps into panic. Sheridan, returning from Washington, DC, had stopped at Winchester on the night of the 18th. Awakened the next morning by the distant sound of artillery, he left for the front and soon encountered his routed commands. He reached the battlefield about 10:30 a.m. and his presence quickly restored confidence. By midafternoon the Confederates were in retreat. A poem written several months later by Thomas Buchanan, fixed his ride in the public mind as one of the heroic events of the war...."

...Hurrah! hurrah for Sheridan!
Hurrah! hurrah for horse and man!
And when their statues are placed on high
Under the dome of the Union sky,
The American soldier's Temple of Fame,
There, with the glorious general's name,
Be it said, in letters both bold and bright:
"Here is the steed that saved the day
By carrying Sheridan into the fight,
From Winchester-twenty miles away!"

"...No other man proved more important to Custer's career than black-eyed, hard-bitten, profane Major General Philip H Sheridan. He championed Custer, protected him and always relied on him.... Custer, in turn, was devoted to Sheridan, once gushing to his wife on receiving a commendation from him, "Oh, is it not gratifying to be so thought of by one whose opinion is above all price?". Their bond was forged in the hot crucible of battle and nourished by the blood of friend and foe alike. At Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, after Sheridan had rallied his stricken army to counterattack and rout the Confedrates, Custer pursued the retreating rebels well past nightfall . Returning to Sheridan's camp, he jumped from his saddle, picked up his mentor, and gleefully waltzed him around the campfire. 'By God Phil', he exclaimed. 'We've cleaned them out of their guns and got ours back!'...."[The Custer Reader, 1992 edited by Paul Hutton]


"...For 20 dollars in gold General Sheridan purchased the table on which General Grant drafted the terms of the surrender of the Confederate army. Then he presented it to Custer's wife in a letter writing, "Permit me to say, Madam, that there is scarcely an individual in our service who has contributed more to bring about this desirable result than your gallant husband." After Libbie's death in 1933, her will specified that the table be given to the Smithsonian Institution...."

Custer receiving the Flag of Truce

"...Custer was in the advance with his division when an officer from the Confederate lines galloped toward him waving a towel tied to a branch... Custer served the Army of the Potomac with distinction from the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861 to Appomattox Court House four years later. Custer's forces blocked Confederate General Robert E Lee's final retreat, and he received the white truce flag signifying Lee's wish to meet with Union General Ulysses S Grant. Custer was present in the front parlor of Wilmer McLean's home on April 9, 1865, when Lee surrendered to Grant...." [The Custer Album, 1964 by Lawrence Frost]

Further down the highway the next historical marker we came to was for the Bozeman Trail and we pulled over fast so not to miss it. Until we read the storyboard I hadn't realized that the road we were on was the old Bozeman Trail.

The Bozeman Trail

"...The Bozeman Trail was established in 1863 by John Bozeman and John Jacobs as a shortcut to the Montana goldfields. It started from Virginia City, at Adler Gulch, in Montana, heading southward across Wyoming and the Powder River country where it junctioned with the California-Oregon Trail following the North Platte River in central Wyoming. Approximately, 1,000 emigrants a year traveled the trail between 1863 and 1866. They traveled on foot, on horseback or by wagons, usually the Prairie Schooner was drawn by teams of mules or oxen. The trail, 530 miles long, was traveled primarily during the summer months, at the pace of approximately 20 miles per day. Because of the continuous Indian attacks between 1866 and 1868, travel on the trail was reduced to freight and military wagons. The Treaty of 1868 closed the trail to emigrant use and the advance of the Trans-Continental Railroad eliminated its importance as a shortcut. The trail was used by General Crook during the Sioux Wars of 1876...."

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"...Jim Bridger first came west in 1822 working in the fur trade until that industry declined. He traveled throughout the west becoming an expert on the Indians and the land. After working as a trader he established the Bridger Trail through the Big Horn Basin in 1864. During his last years on the frontier he served as a scout for the Army, including the Connor Expedition and at the Bozeman Trail forts until late in 1867. Returning once more in 1868 to help in the abandonment of the posts. He may have warned Fetterman of underestimating the Indians' fighting abilities."

"...John Bozeman left Georgia in 1860 for the gold fields of Colorado and on to the new mines in Montana in 1862. In 1863 Bozeman and John Jacobs established the route that became known as the Bozeman Trail. Bozeman himself led only one wagon train up the trail in 1864. In 1867 he was killed by Indians in Montana, leaving as his legacy the town of Bozeman, Montana and the trail named for him...."

I've got books on Jim Bridger and the Bozeman Trail having read them during study of American and Canadian western explorers and frontiersmen in the fur trade -- and also because of their connections to the Indian War on the Plains and to Custer.

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Jim Bridger, by Cecil Alter, published 1925, updated 1950

Bridger's Declining Years

"...When James Bridger returned to his farm, he carried on his stooping shoulders his own uneasy load of worries. Finished now with uniforms, with Indians, and with traveling and frontiering, he needed only some sort of security and subsistence. That sense of security was to come in part through a son-in-law, Captain Albert Wachsma...but especially through the ministrations of a loving, faithful daughter, Virginia Bridger Wachsman... Bridger saw little of his son, Felix Francis, for he enlisted in the Missouri Artillery in the spring of 1863, serving to the end of the war in 1865. Felix then served under General George A Custer, in the southwestern Indian campaigns, from 1866 to 1871. He then returned to the New Sana Fe farm, where he remained....

"...The inquiries of this author stimulated the memories of the people I met... Mrs Lizzie Watts Cummins had known the Old Scout in her childhood... The Watts farm adjoined the Bridger farm, and the families were close friends. Mrs Cummins remembered Bridger's telling her father that people said he was a liar when he told of seeing springs of boiling water on the Yellowstone... 'He would sit out on the porch, resting his chin on his cane, with his face towards the West -- a lonely figure. He liked to talk of his life on the Plains, and I remember him saying once, at a time when his eyesight was almost gone, 'I wish I was back there among the mountains again -- you can see so much farther in that country'...

"...Mrs Wachsman wrote to General Dodge in 1904: "In 1873 Father's health began to fail him, and his eyes were very bad...and later in 1874 Father's eyesight was leaving him very fast, and this worried him so much. He has often-times wished that he could see you.... Father at times wished that he could see, and only have his eyesight again, so that he could go back out to see the mountains. I know he, at times, would feel lonesome, and long to see some of his mountain friends, to have a good chat of olden times, away back in the 50s. Father often spoke of you and would say, 'I wonder if General Dodge is alive or not; I would give anything in the world, if I could see some of the old Army officers once more, to have a talk with them of olden times, but I know I will not be able to see any of my old time mountain friends any more. I know that my time is near. I feel that my health is failing me very fast, and see that I am not the same man I used to be'. Guiding hands led James Bridger to the funeral of his son, Felix Francis, in 1876...

"...James Bridger died, July 17, 1881, and was buried in that grassy space beside his sons... General Grenville M Dodge remembered James Bridger the rest of his life, and when most men would have forgotten, nearly 40 years later, General Dodge gave his time, his skill, his influence, and his money to preserve that memory. December 11, 1904, in the hundredth year after Bridger's birth, General Dodge had Bridger's body removed to a select site in Mount Washington Cemetery, Kansas City. The grave was marked by a 7-foot monument listing the principal events in Bridger's life...."


JAMES BRIDGER -- 1804-1881
Celebrated as a hunter, trapper, fur trader and guide.
Discovered Great Salt Lake 1824. The South Pass 1827.
Visited Yellowstone Lake and Geysers 1830.
Founded Ft. Bridger 1843. Opened overland route by Bridger's Pass to Great Salt Lake.
Was guide for U.S. exploring expeditions, Albert Sidney Johnston's army in 1857,
and G.M. Dodge in U.P. Surveys and Indian campaigns 1856-66.
This monument is erected as a tribute to his pioneer work.

It was exciting to actually be on the Bozeman Trail and experiencing it in real life -- in the present, which back then was the future, which now is the past -- like being a time traveller.

The Bloody Bozeman, by Dorothy M Johnson, published 1971

"...The Bozeman Trail was the road to the gold in Montana. It led only to Montana, up from the great transcontinental Emigrant Trail, and it was blazed only after gold was known surely to be there for the taking. The Bozeman Trail was for a kind of man who was new in wilderness Montana... He knew or soon learned that hostile Indians barred the trail through the Powder River country of present Wyoming. He gambled his life to better his condition, but he didn't really believe that his hair might make fringes for a Sioux or a Cheyenne war shirt or that his mutilated body might be clawed out of a shallow grave by wolves.... By making use of many old journals, diaries, letters and pioneers' reminiscences, Miss Johnson has re-created the story of this Trail, marked in 1863 by John Bozeman and John Jacobs, which went right through the Indians' last remaining great hunting country. And it was the Sioux Indians, under the great chief Red Cloud, who fought for every mile. In 1868 Red Cloud won his war, and the Great Father in Washington promised by solemn treaty to keep his white children out of the Powder River country...."

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Conflict along the Bozeman Trail, 1860s, by Greasy Grass, 2004

"...The Bozeman Trail overlapped the modern states of Wyoming and Montana and ran through some of the most beautiful scenery in the West. That country's peaceful appearance as modern travelers hurry along the region's interstate highways is a distinct contrast to the contention and conflict so apparent along the old road in the 1860s and 1870s.... From the time of the first tribal expansions into the region bounded by the Rockies on the west and the prairies on the east, the area experienced wide ranging warfare as one or more groups sought territorial dominance. Strong inter-tribal rivalries existed from the late decades of the 18th century throughout most of the 19th century.... In the contest for regional hegemony, large groups like the Lakotas came to militarily dominate smaller ones... The native peoples soon contended directly with white men in a quarter-century-long finale to their independence. One manifestation of this latter phase was the establishment of the Bozeman Trail, yet another incentive for conflict because it penetrated hunting grounds by then claimed by several tribes. Ultimately, it played a significant role in their demise as free cultural entities...."

Next along the Bozeman Trail was a sign to Fort Phil Kearny -- another pleasant surprise as I'd read about it in my Bozeman and Custer books. The heritage site was deserted but the storyboards were there.

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Fort Phil Kearny

"...By 1866, Twenty Years of Confrontation had occurred on the Northern Plains. Indian tribes clashed over the vast resources of food, water and grass. European Americans pressured all the tribes in the quest of mineral wealth and settlement lands. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 attempted to curtail these confrontations. It established territorial boundaries for many of the Plains Indians and the United States Government was allowed to build roads and forts. All signators were allowed to cross on another's territory unmolested and unhindered. But the diminishing buffalo herds and discoveries of gold led to continuing and escalating confrontation. The discovery of gold in southwest Montana led to the establishment of the Bozeman Trail in 1863. By the fall of 1865 numerous fights with the European Americans had allied the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho. The Crow Indians supported the military against these tribes. The high cost of military campaigns and the need for new roads with safe travel impressed upon the United States Government the need for new negotiations with the Northern Plains Indians. These negotiations began at Fort Laramie in June, 1866.... Some Indian leaders did sign the treaty and government officials assumed they had treaties with all members of the tribes. When Carrington's command arrived under orders to establish 3 forts on the Bozeman Trail, Red Cloud and other Indian leaders walked out of the talks declaring that war would occur if the trail was used and the forts constsructed. Carrington followed orders regarrisoning Fort Reno and established Forts Phil Kearny and A.C. Smith. The Indian leaders who refused to sign the treaties prepared for war."

"...On July 13, 1866 Colonel Henry B Carrington, leading 4 companies of the 18th Infantry, arrived at this site. Carrington, a competent engineer, immediately put his men to work. Through diligent labour they built, by October of that year, the basic units of what became an outstanding example of the complete, blockaded, "Indian Wars" military establishment.... The Bozeman Trail passed roughly parallel to the northeast side. Fort Phil Kearny was usually garissoned by 4 to 6 infantry companies, plus one or two companies of cavalry. However, so closely did Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, under the tactician Red Cloud, invest the post that these troops were unable to perform Bozeman Trail convoy duty. Incidents of hostility were the daily rule and several of the most famous engagements of the "Indian Wars" relate to this fort. The military abandoned the fort in August 1868 and it was burned by a band of Cheyenne...."

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No sooner had we left Fort Phil Kearny to get back onto the Bozeman Trail than a tall soldiery sign stood there silently pointing "Fetterman Battlefield this way".


Now I was very excited because the Fetterman Massacre, before the Custer Massacre ten years later, was the most disastrous loss suffered by the USA Army in the Indian Wars so far. It's a solemn place to visit.

The Fetterman Fight

"...During the fall of 1866, Red Cloud gathered Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors. As the Indians' strength grew to the north on the Tongue River they increased their raids on the Bozeman Trail forts. Colonel Henry B Carrington received orders from the Department Commander to be more aggressive and carry out "punitive strikes against the raiding Indians". Carrington requested more troops, better arms and more ammunition.... December 21, 1866 was a clear day with snow drifted on the hills and ridges from earlier storms.... Earlier in the day 800 to 1,200 Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors had arrived at the Peno Creek Valley. Some were sent to attack the wood train, others to decoy the Army's relief party and the rest took up positions for the planned ambush. The decoys lured Fetterman's command over Lodge Tail Ridge. As the soldiers approached Peno Creek, the ambush was sprung. In the ensuing battle, as the troops retreated south toward Lodge Tail Ridge they were surrounded and defeated. In approximately one hour the battle was over. Captain Tenodor Ten Eyck's relief column arrived to find the bodies of Fetterman's command in 3 separate groups along what is now known as Massacre Hill. Fort Phil Kearny had lost 81 men. Indian oral history indicates that their casualties were 20 or more...."



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On this field on the 21st day of December, 1866,
three commissioned officers and seventy six privates
of the 18th U.S. Infantry, and of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, and four civilians,
under the command of Captain Brevet-Lieutenant Colonel William J. Fetterman
were killed by an overwhelming force of Sioux, under the command of Red Cloud.
There were no survivors.

I'd read about the Fetterman Massacre in Custer's book and he'd blamed the whole thing on Government collusion with the "Indian Ring" which armed the enemy -- the Indians -- and under-armed and under-manned its own soldiers. Custer's book was published in 1874 and his accusations, and recommendations for improvement, got him into big trouble with the powers-that-be who benefit financially from arming both sides of any given war -- same as what goes on today. The president of the United States -- Ulysses S Grant whose administration was provenly the most corrupt in the history of the USA -- even had Custer fired as Commander of the 7th Cavalry in the upcoming war against the Sioux. And when Custer had called on the President at the White House -- to request permission to return to his troops -- Grant had kept Custer waiting for hours and never did receive him. The only reason Custer was allowed to lead his men into that battle at Little Big Horn was because of the intervention of top Generals Sheridan and Sherman who, through their victories in the Civil War, had put Grant into power and who, in their own experience, couldn't win without Custer. Below are excerpts from MY LIFE ON THE PLAINS focusing on that aspect of the Fetterman battle. I love how Custer signs his name, "Truly Yours", emphasizing his dedication, in his writing, to the truth. Abraham Lincoln, whose adages Custer often quoted, once said, "History is not history unless it is the truth".

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"...No movements against Indians of any marked importance occurred in General Hancock's department during the remainder of this year [1867].... A determined struggle between the adherents of the Indian ring and those advocating stringent measures against the hostile tribes, resulted in the temporary ascendancy of the former. Owing to this ascendancy, the military authorities were so hampered and restricted by instructions from Washington as to be practically powerless to inaugurate or execute any decisive measures against the Indians. Their orders required them to simply act on the defensive. It may not be uninteresting to go back to the closing month of the preceding year [1866]. The great event in Indian affairs of that month and year was the Fort Phil Kearny massacre, which took place within a few miles of the fort bearing that name, and in which a detachment of troops, numbering in all ninety-four persons, were slain, and not one escaped or was spared to tell the tale. The alleged grievance of the Indians prompting them to this outbreak was the establishment by the Government of a new road of travel to Montana, and the locating of military posts along this line. They claimed that the building and use of this road would drive all the game out of their best hunting-grounds. When once war was determined upon by them, it was conducted with astonishing energy and marked success. Between the 26th of July and the 21st of December of the same year, the Indians opposing the establishment of this new road were known to have killed 91 enlisted men, 5 officers, and 58 citizens, besides wounding 20 more and capturing and driving off several hundred head of valuable stock. And during this period of less than 6 months, they appeared before Fort Phil Kearny in hostile array on 51 separate occasions, and attacked every train and individual attempting to pass over the Montana road. It has been stated officially that at the 3 posts established for the defence of the Montana road, there were reduced amounts of ammunition... The force being small, and the amount of labor necessary in building new posts being very great, but little opportunity could be had for drill or target practice. The consequence was, the troops were totally lacking in the necessary preparation to make a successful fight. As the massacre at Fort Phil Kearny was one of the most complete as well as terrible butcheries connected with our entire Indian history, some of the details, as subsequently made evident, are here given....


"...Among the records of the Indian Department in Washington there is on file a report of one of the Peace Commissioners sent to investigate the circumstances of this frightful slaughter. Among the conclusions given in this report, it is stated that the Indians were massed to resist Colonel Fetterman's advance along Peno creek on both sides of the road; that Colonel Fetterman formed his advanced lines on the summit of the hill overlooking the creek and valley, with a reserve near where the large number of bodies lay; that the Indians in large force attacked him vigorously in this position, and were successfully resisted for half an hour or more; that the command then being short of ammunition and seized with a panic at this event and the great numerical superiority of the Indians, attempted to retreat toward the fort; that the mountaineers and old soldiers, who had learned that a movement from Indians in an engagement was equivalent to death, remained in their first position and were killed there; that immediately upon the commencement of the retreat the Indians charged upon and surrounded the party, who could not now be formed by their officers and were immediately killed. Only six men of the whole command were killed by balls, and two of these, Colonel Fetterman and Captain Brown, no doubt inflicted this death upon themselves, or each other, by their own hands, for both were shot through the left temple, and powder was burnt into the skin and flesh about the wound. These officers had often asserted that they would never be taken alive by Indians.

"...The difficulty, as further explained by this commissioner, was that the officer commanding the Phil Kearny district was furnished no more troops for a state of war than had been provided for a state of profound peace. 'In regions where all was peace, as at Laramie in November, 12 companies were stationed; while in regions where all was war, as at Phil Kearny, there were only 5 companies allowed'.... The intelligence of this massacre was received throughout the country with universal horror, and awakened a bitter feeling toward the savage perpetrators. The Government was implored to inaugurate measures looking to their prompt punishment. This feeling seemed to be shared by all classes.... "The old trouble between the War and Interior Departments, as to which should retain control of the Indian question, was renewed with increased vigor. The Army accused the Indian Department, and justly too, of furnishing the Indians arms and ammunition.... Among those who had given the subject the most thoughtful attention the opinion was unanimous in favor of the 'abolition of the civil Indian agents and licensed traders', and of the transfer of the Indian Bureau from the Interior Department back to the War Department, where it originally belonged...."

~ end quoting My Life on Plains by Custer ~

It had been an eventful day since waking up in the place of Custer's last sleep and I could feel the General's presence -- leading from the front -- as we continued down the Bozeman Trail to the town of Buffalo where we camped for the night. In the morning, with Mount Rushmore being our destination, we left the Bozeman Trail and put the pedal to the metal galloping east toward the Black Hills. The map below shows the Big Horn mountain range in the west -- which we'd been seeing all along the trail -- and the Black Hills mountain range in the east.


"...The Powder River Basin is a geologic structural basin in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming, about 120 miles east to west and 200 miles north to south, known for its extensive coal reserves. The former hunting grounds of the Oglala Lakota, the area is very sparsely populated and is known for its rolling grasslands and semi-arid climate.... The major cities in the area include Gillette and Sheridan, Wyoming and Miles City, Montana. In 2007, the region produced 396 million tonnes of coal, more than twice the production of second-place West Virginia, and more than the entire Appalachian region. The Powder River Basin is the largest coal-producing region in the United States. The region includes the Black Thunder Coal Mine, the most productive in the United States, and North Antelope Rochelle Mine, the second most productive..."

Long miles down the road, almost at the Black Hills, we took a slight detour off the main highway to investigate the monstrous rock looming ahead that no one on the planet -- or beyond -- could possibly miss beholding.

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Devils Tower

"...Although Devils Tower has long been a prominent landmark in northeastern Wyoming, the origin of the mammonth rock obelisk remains somewhat obscure... The unique geological attributes of Devils Tower stimulated several early preservation efforts....In 1902 Congress passed the Antiquities Act which empowered the President to bestow national monument status upon federally owned lands that contain historic landmarks, historic or prehistoric structures, and other significant historic or scientific objects. President Theodore Roosevelt quickly invoked the Antiquities Act, designating Devils Tower the nation's first national monumnet in 1906...."

We drove along to the Devils Tower visitor center and went inside for nick-nacks and brochures. It turns out that Jim Bridger was involved, as a scout, in its discovery in 1857:

"...Fur trappers may have visited Devils Tower, but they left no written evidence of having done so. The first documented non-Indigenous visitors were members of Captain William F Raynolds's 1859 expedition to survey a road and railroad route to the Yellowstone. The expedition commenced at St Louis, Missouri in late May 1859 as the party was transported by two steamboats up the Missouri River to New Fort Pierre, South Dakota. By late June the expedition left Fort Pierre and headed overland. Raynolds divided his expedition sending a smaller detachment to explore the Tongue River, a major tributary of the Yellowstone River. Another detachmnet, under James Hutton, with the expedition's Sioux interpreter, took a side trip to locate an isolated rock formation that had been seen from great distance by a previous expedition in 1857. Hutton was the first person of European descent to reach the rock, later known as Devils Tower. By September 2, 1859, Raynolds's detachment had followed the Yellowstone River to the confluence with the Bighorn River in south-central Montana.... Sixteen years later, in 1875, Colonel Richard Dodge escorted an Office of Indian Affairs scientific survey party to the rock and coined the name 'Devils Tower'. The name originated when Dodge's interpreter reportedly mis-interpreted a native name to mean 'Bad God's Tower'..."


From Devils Tower it was the beginning of the abrupt climb into the Black Hills from Sundance to Spearfish then straight south to the MOST WANTED town in the Wild West -- DEAD OR ALIVE, ie Deadwood.



We knew this town was most famous because of Wild Bill Hickok fame -- and that in itself's an exciting reason to be there -- but it's also a place with big connections to Custer -- firstly through his relationship with Hickok in Hickok's capacity as scout for the Army. Below, again from Nigtengale's LITTLE BIG HORN are excerpts explaining the high regard Custer held for Hickok.

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The Scouts

"...As intrinsic to the 7th Cavalry as any officer were the scouts who were familiar with the West and the various Indian tribes that lived there. Wihout the skills of these men any success in an operation against the Indians was impossible. They included both native Indians who were in the pay of the government or sought revenge against another tribe, and men from the East who had lived many years in the West until they were almost as familiar with the ways of the frontier as any Indian. In his book MY LIFE ON THE PLAINS Custer spoke of the value of these men:

'...It is usual on the Plains, and particularly during time of active hostilites, for every detachment of troops to be accompanied by one or more professional scouts or guides. These guides are employed by the government at a rate of compensation far in excess of that paid to the soldiers.... Their most striking characteristics are love of adventure, a natural and cultivated knowledge of the country without recourse to maps, deep hatred of the Indian and on intimate acquaintance with all the habits and customs of the latter, whether pertaining to peace or war, and last but most necessary to their calling, skill in the use of firearms and in the management of a horse. The possessor of these qualifications and more than the ordinary amount of courage may feel equal to discharge the dangerous and trying duties of a scout...'

WildBillHickok HickockDeadwoodShot
"Wild Bill Hickok"

"...Another frontiersman who was to scout for the 7th Cavalry was James Butler Hickok, otherwise known as 'Wild Bill' Hickok. "Wild Bill" was to achieve legendary fame as a deadly gunman who, in an interview with Henry D Stanley, the same newspaper man who was to track down Dr Livingston in Africa a few years later, claimed to have killed 'over a hundred' men, although none 'without good cause'. 'Good Cause' or not, 'Wild Bill' killed quite a number of men and this fact, added to his skills as a scout, apparently elevated him in the eyes of General Custer to that of esteemed peer. Custer wrote:

"...'Wild Bill was a strange character, just the one which a novelist might gloat over. He was a Plainsman in every sense of the word, yet unlike any other of his class. In person he was about 6-feet-one in height, straight as the straightest of the warriors, his impeccable foe... Of his courage there could be no question; it had been brought to the test on too many occasions to admit of a doubt. His skill in the use of the rifle and pistol was unerring, while his deportment was exactly the opposite of what might be expected from a man of his surroundings. It was entirely free from all bluster or bravado. He seldom spoke of himself, unless requested to do so. His conversation, strange to say, never bordered either on the vulgar or the blasphemous.

"...'His influence among the frontiersmen was unbounded, his word was law; and many are the personal quarrels and disturbances which he has checked among his comrades by his simple announcement that "this has gone far enough", if need be followed by the ominous warning that when persisted in or renewed the quarreler "must settle with me". Wild Bill is anything but a quarrelsome man; yet no one but himself can enumerate the many conflicts in which he has been engaged, and which have almost invariably resulted in the death of his adversary. I have personal knowledge of at least half a dozen men whom he has at various times killed, one of these being at the time a member of my command. Others have been severely wounded, yet he always escapes unhurt...'

"...Hickok only served as a scout for Custer prior to the Washita Battle of 1868. He seems to have been one of those men of the frontier described as afflicted with a perpetual wanderlust, and he traveled extensively throughout the West... While Custer and others might have deemed Hickok a noble figure, others familiar with him did not share this impression... A newspaper editorial in a Western paper gave vent to feelings that may have been common to other contemporaries... 'How long these Athletes will be able to stand such a mode of life; eating, drinking, sleeping (if they can be said to sleep) and playing cards with their pistols at half cock, remains to be seen. For our self, we are willing to risk them in an Indian campaign for which their cruelty and utter recklessness of life particularly fit them'.... Wild Bill was to continue 'gambling, drinking and swearing' until August 2, 1876. Hickok was sitting in a saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota, where he was gambling, drinking, and probably occasionally swearing, when an assassin crept up and, in the preferred mode of killing in the Old West, shot and killed him from behind...."

~ end quoting from Nightengale and from Custer ~

After hitching our horsepower to a post on the main street of Deadwood we wandered around town soaking in the carnival-like atmosphere. We had dinner in the saloon where Wild Bill played his "dead man's hand" and, on the way out of town drove up the hill to the cemetery where he's buried. We didn't get out and walk to the grave but the epitaph carved into the headstone says: Wild Bill, J. B. Hickok killed by the assassin Jack McCall in Deadwood, Black Hills, August 2, 1876. 'Pard, we will meet again in the happy hunting ground to part no more. Goodbye, Colorado Charlie, C. H. Utter'.



Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~

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