Sunday, July 17, 2011


Next week I am visiting the site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana. On June 25, 1876, on the bluffs leading down to the Little Big Horn River, General George Armstrong Custer and all 210 troopers under his command from the Seventh Cavalry were annihilated by an overwhelming number of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors from a huge Indian encampment they were trying to attack.

Custer split his forces four ways in the face of a superior enemy, a fatal mistake. The other three parts of the Seventh, about 450 men, eventually coalesced around his second in command, Major Marcus Reno, on a hilltop about four miles away in a separate fight and survived after two days of battle.

There is no good way to get to the battlefield as it is about 800 miles from Denver, Seattle or Minneapolis, so I am flying to Minneapolis and driving across the northern plains in a rented car to the national monument. Along the way there and back, I plan to visit my sister's yarn store, travel through two states I have never been in (North Dakota and Montana), attend a baseball game at the Minnesota Twins new ballpark, see minor league baseball games in St. Paul and Sioux Falls, go to Wall Drug Store, determine whether the 5-8 Club or Matt's Bar makes a better Jucy Lucy (Juicy Lucy), visit my best friend from freshman year in high school whom I haven't seen in four decades (he contacted me this month on Facebook), see many cousins, attend my Uncle's memorial service and visit my parents' graves.

I have been boning up on Custer history in preparation for the trip and I recommend these half-dozen books on the subject in the order I enjoyed them or found them informative: The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick (Custer came close to winning); A Terrible Glory by James Donovan (a good portrayal of the last chaotic hour of the "massacre," relying on often-ignored Native American sources); Son of the Morning Star by Evan Connell (outstanding literature, pure and simple); The Battle of the Little Bighorn by Mari Sandoz (despite having read it decades ago, I still remember her description of Reno becoming unnerved by being spattered with the blood and brain matter of the Indian scout he was talking to at the instant the scout was shot dead early in Reno's fight); Troopers With Custer by E.A. Brininstool (a terrific series of Indian-fighting accounts from participants of the battle); and Custer by Jay Monaghan (an excellent biography of this vainglorious soldier who got all of his men killed).


Danielle in Iowa in Seattle said...

You can totally skip Wall Drug! It was kind of lame. But at least it is something to aim for after all that time in South Dakota!

Joe the Novelist said...

Should be an awesome vacation. Can't wait for the trip report and the photos from the battlefield.