by cheri sabraw
We have begun to listen to Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, as we travel out of the stunning, rugged landscape found in Glacier National Park.
Great Falls, Montana, is the home to the Lewis and Clark Museum, as well as to the iconic Western artist Charles Russell. These rich deposits to our early cultural heritage we hope to see today.
Very quickly, the thick forests that blanket the sharp and towering snow-capped peaks of Glacier are gone, replaced by low hills topped by rock formations. As we approach Browning, a humble city in the heart of the Blackfeet Indian Nation, the Great Plains of Montana meets our eyes. The scene is hard to describe; to put such space and sky into words seems a task fit only for heavenly scribes.
Some further information must be supplied to this narrative, if not for informational purposes, then for insight into the mindsets of two people—we—who are eager to drive hundreds of miles through vast golden valleys shaded in splotches by clouds, floating like large comfortable pillows in an expansive and glorious sky that Montanans refer to as “Big Sky.”
Although one of the two of us has professed a lifelong desire to experience Montana—one of the least populated states in the Union (a million people)—one of the two of us has also carried a fascination with the events that occurred at the Little Big Horn in 1876, where George Armstrong Custer met his fate at the hands and guns of the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Indian tribes.
Both of us, along with our two children, visited the Custer monument in 1988. If my memory serves me, we all walked in blistering heat along the knoll of the grassy hill, and inspected the soldiers’ gravestones, lying haphazardly where each of them met his death in what historians have described as a furry of rage. In the middle of white headstones, our eyes focused on a black one.
In short speed, we found ourselves staring down and only a few steps away from the spot where—as other historians have speculated— Custer’s brother Tom fired a bullet into Custer’s left temple, ending Custer’s life and the pain emanating from a fatal wound at the hands of the Indians. The Sioux had exacted their revenge.
That visit was our last to the Little Big Horn. After all, it is all the way across the State of Montana. It is one of those sites that only need to be seen once. Or so I thought.
I should have known that while on our way to Montana, as we listened to The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick, the narrative would engender such keen interest that it would rekindle in one of us such newly minted curiosity that two of us now are headed, once again, to see where Custer got what he deserved.