Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Big Sky

On June 25, 1876, Custer, having brought his isolated column of 660 Seventh Cavalry troopers over a divide into the Big Horn Valley in a night march, intended to lay up all day under cover and attack the large Indian village in the distance below them along the Little Big Horn River the next day after rest and proper reconnaissance by his 40 Crow and Arikara scouts.

These Indian scouts had already seen that the faraway hillside of greasy grass beyond the river was alive with the slow undulating movement of a huge pony herd, indicating thousands of warriors. To the unseeing white officers training their spyglasses on the far distant bank in the morning haze they urged, "Look for the worms crawling on the grass."

Behind them, smoke from the troopers' breakfast fires curled into the air, giving away the soldiers' presence. Custer's encampment was soon spotted by some hunters from the Sioux and Cheyenne village and Custer decided to attack immediately, counting on the adrenaline of battle to offset the fatigue of his sleepless troopers and give his attack the proper esprit de corps.

First he divided his force into four unequal parts and dispersed them on their separate tasks. One part he assigned to guard the slow-moving pack train bringing forward the reserve ammunition, another 150 men under Captain Benteen went to reconnoiter the southwest and prevent any Indians from fleeing in that direction, three companies under Major Reno were to charge the lower end of the village and provoke panic and confusion, while he took the lion's share, 250 men in six companies, across the river bluffs to approach the upper end of the huge encampment.

A world famous battle would unfold over the next two days, highlighted by a thirty-minute whirlwind of death for all of Custer's troopers that afternoon, a half hour that also sounded the death knell for the old way of life for the battle's free roaming Native American participants. I'll be walking those very grounds where heroes tread under the Big Sky next week.

1 comment:

Danielle in Iowa in Seattle said...

I thought about hitting that area when I moved out to Seattle, but in October, there was already snow in the mountain passes! So exploring in my station wagon was not to be...