A friend called Sunday afternoon, while I was crossing Montana on the way to the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation. He recommended I should make a 100 mile detour to Little Big Horn Battlefield, because it was the 141st anniversary of the death of Gen. George Custer.
I arrived at Crow Agency, Montana and found a re-enactment of the battle, from the Native American perspective, was scheduled for 1 pm. It was 5 pm, and the grounds were empty. I went back to the tribal-owned café for dinner, and think about where to spend the night. Three ladies sat at a table near me, and we struck up a conversation about the re-enactment. One of them owned the ranch on the Little Big Horn River, where it had taken place. She invited me to camp where about 75 re-enactors were still cleaning up, and spending the night. I could stay with them.
Custer’s last stand, at the Battle of Little Big Horn is a famous moment in US history. It was part of The Indian Wars, 1610 to 1924–310 years. In school, I learned that Indians were treated fairly by benevolent ‘pioneers’- Thanksgiving and all. On the other hand because they were ‘uncivilized savages, attacking white settler families’, whose only fault was they were taking the Indians’ land, they had to be put on reservations.
Touring Indian reservations from Eastern NC to the Pacific coast, seeing and reading their side of the story over many years, I’ve decided that all I’d learned about Native Americans in school had been a lie—to make white people look good, and excuse their own violent conquest of the Native population.
During the Indian wars, the US government spent the equivalent of many billions of dollars, removing millions of Indians from the rich hunting and farming lands, which they had occupied for 10,000 years. To do this, the government used broken promises, theft, and mass murder. It was violent conquest and genocide. Nothing to be proud of or patriotic about.
They were an amazing group: US Calvary re-enactors and Sioux re-enactors. Serious living historians. I introduced myself, and was welcome to hang, shared buffalo jerky, and their other foods on a bench around a campfire where two battle foes got along in a way that would have pleased Jesus Christ himself.
It was an incredible experience, and one I’ll return to next July—at their invitation. It deserves a book, but for now, here is a gallery to help tell the story.