More than 140 years ago, U.S. soldiers gathered in the Wolf Mountains in Montana 12 miles from an unsuspecting Lakota Sioux, Arapaho and Cheyenne encampment. More than 8,000 Native Americans were living there just west of the Little Bighorn River, according to National Park Service estimates.
Led by Lt. Col. George Custer, hundreds of U.S. soldiers from the Seventh Calvary moved in to attack the village but encountered strong warriors en route. What unfolded became known as the Battle of the Little Bighorn, a brutal fight between U.S. soldiers and Native American warriors that took place along the river, in the valley, up steep bluffs and on top of ridges.
Saturday, June 25, 2016, marked the 140-year anniversary of the historic battle that lasted through June 26, 1876. But the history of the battle is kept alive in two places you can visit en route to or from Yellowstone National Park.
At the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, you can actually retrace the steps of both Indian warriors and U.S. soldiers at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Crow Agency, Mont. At the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota, you can see the world’s largest mountain-carving-in-progress, which is being built to honor Crazy Horse, the Native American leader of the Oglala Sioux who led his people in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The Outcome of the Battle of the Little Bighorn
But here’s a little background on what happened after the battle. While the Native Americans won the battle, the victory was bittersweet. In the months following the battle, the U.S. Army escalated its military efforts to force the last Native Americans onto reservations. Within a year of the battle, the Native Americans who still lived outside of reservations had surrendered, including Crazy Horse, leader of the Oglala Lakota who was known for his leadership in the Battle of Little Bighorn, among other things. He would be killed later allegedly resisting imprisonment at Camp Robinson in Nebraska. And the Black Hills, once part of the Great Sioux Reservation, were seized by the U.S., as it was an area where gold had been discovered a year before the battle.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana
Visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Crow Agency, Mont., which you can drive to from either Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance (Cooke City, Mont., is near the entrance) or East Entrance (the closest town to the entrance being Cody, Wyo., 55 miles east). Run by the National Park Service, the monument commemorates the battle that took place between U.S. soldiers and the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. The two-day battle was part of the U.S. government’s escalated campaign to clear the West for white settlement and place all Native Americans on reservations.
At the monument, you can explore the battlefield by driving the 4.5-mile tour road to the Reno-Benteen Battlefield Site, walk the .25-mile Deep Ravine trail or stroll up to the Indian Memorial and 7th Calvary Monument on top of Last Stand Hill, also known as Custer’s Last Stand. But if you want more of an introduction when you arrive, you can request to see a 25-minute video at the visitor center, peruse the museum and check out the bookstore.
The national monument is located on 765 Battlefield Tour Road in Crow Agency, Mont. On I-90, take the Crow Agency exit 510 at Junction 212. From there, take Battlefield Tour Road 756.
Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota
Just 17 miles from Mount Rushmore National Monument, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a monumental sculpture etched out of the mountainside of Crazy Horse, the Oglala Sioux leader who lived during the 19th century. Since 1948, when the first blasts were made, this monumental sculpture has been under construction in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota. Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear recruited Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to create the memorial, which the sculptor worked on until he died in 1982. Today, six of his 10 children and many of his grandchildren still work on the Crazy Horse Memorial.
Crazy Horse’s 87-foot-long face was completed in 1998. When the entire project is completed, it will be of Crazy Horse seated on his horse with his hand stretched over the horse’s head.
Attracting 1 million visitors per year, the monument is funded solely through admission fees and donations. No federal funds have been accepted for the project. In the summer, visitors can attend special hour-long performances and lectures with Native American artisans and performers on Thursday evenings June through August. A restaurant and two museums also are on site. The Indian Museum of North America and Native American Educational & Cultural Center feature American Indian art and artifacts from North American tribes and offer make-and-take activities.
The memorial is open every day of the year. To get there, the entrance is along US Highway 16/385, also known as the Crazy Horse Memorial Highway. It’s nine miles south of Hill City, S.D., and 4 miles north of Custer, S.D.