Custer and The Indian Wars 1865-90
Custer And The Indian Wars Battlefield Tour 2018
Day One: Fly Out.
On this first day we fly from London to Rapid City and drive out to the town of Custer, where we shall stay for two nights.
Day Two: Exploring the Black Hills.
In 1874 Brevet-General George Armstrong Custer mounted a military expedition to the Black Hills of Dakota. With about 1,000 men in 100 wagons and accompanied by 100 Indian scouts, guides, engineers, guides and interpreters, it was the largest peacetime military expedition ever conducted in the Northwest. Gold was discovered during the 1,205-mile trek that set off from Fort Abraham Lincoln in North Dakota. The discovery led to friction and clashes between miners, settlers and the Native American Sioux Plains Indians. We drive areas of the Custer State Park, crossing the expedition trail on a number of occasions and are likely to encounter buffalo herds and wildlife. At the same time we take the opportunity to visit the majestic Mount Rushmore National Memorial, with its massive rock carvings of four American presidents and the equally epic, still unfinished, Crazy Horse Memorial.
Day Three: Buffalo, Fort Phil Kearny, Fetterman and the Wagon-Box Fight.
This involves a long drive from Custer to Buffalo, a former Wild West town, famous for its Occidental Hotel, a known haunt of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Just beyond it is Fort Phil Kearny, built to secure the Bozeman Trail for settlers, which soon attracted open warfare with Chief Red Cloud’s Sioux. We can walk the reconstructed or marked outline of the fort and visit the excellent museum.
Nearby is the Fetterman Massacre site, where on the 21st December 1866 Captain William Fetterman’s joint infantry and cavalry command of 81 men was wiped out by an Indian ambush 1,800 men strong. We walk the Lodge Trail ridge, to explore the ambush site where allegedly 1,000 arrows rained down every minute, and it was probably over in about twenty. The attacks were masterminded by Chief Red Cloud and conducted by Crazy horse. The high ground was suddenly engulfed from all sides by charging Indians who had been concealed beneath snow covered blankets and furs.
The Wagon-Box fight occurred the following summer at a wood-cutting location five miles from the fort. Twenty-six soldiers and six civilians defended an oval of wagon boxes, having been rushed, that had previously served as a livestock corral. Armed with the newly introduced breech loading rifles Captain James Powell’s small detachment fought off hundreds of Indians, killing several score and wounding over one hundred, who had not anticipated the constant volume of fire, unlike muskets. We walk the outline of the wagon oval and discuss its defence and the direction of attacks mounted by various bands of Indian warriors. After these visits we drive on to Sheridan, where we stay four nights.
Day Four: Crook’s Column mauled at the The Battle of the Rosebud.
The Rosebud site is pristine and vast, perhaps the finest example of a preserved Great Sioux War battlefield today. Unspoiled by distracting marble memorabilia, we will walk up from the low ground where General George Crook’s column was caught unawares by a massed Indian mounted attack on the banks of the Rosebud Creek, and follow his pursuit of the attackers onto to the high surrounding ridgelines. The course of the battle can be clearly followed from these heights, where Crook fragmented his command, (like Custer over a week later), and very nearly met disaster. This engagement signaled that the Indians would aggressively attack if their village community was threatened. Custer’s column received no messages from Crook, so he attempted to surround the massive Indian encampment at the Little Bighorn, for fear the inhabitants might escape, despite being grossly outnumbered. The Rosebud site is classic ‘big sky’ country, and involves a little uphill walking to reach the vantage point to interpret the battle.
Day Five: Custer’s Last Stand and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
We use the entire day to explore Custer’s 7th Cavalry approach and his abortive attack on the mass Indian encampment at the Little Bighorn River. Beginning with Custer splitting his command and the debacle that followed Major Reno’s frontal charge at the village, we visually plot his disorganized retreat. We follow Custer’s progress on the high ground, seeking to enter the village, and further fragmenting his command in a series of fruitless feints and maneuvers until his command is overwhelmed and destroyed piecemeal around ‘last stand’ hill. There is an excellent museum at the National Park visitor center, and the whole of this part of the tour is conducted across an immensely photogenic and iconic landscape. Only by actually walking the ground, utilizing exhaustive forensic firearms and Indian pictograph analysis of the battle, is it possible to disentangle what likely happened during Custer’s last stand.
Day Six: Battle Reenactment.
The battle reenactment is a recreation of the feint attack by Captain Yates two companies along Medicine Trail coulee to break into the Indian village via the river ford.
The recreation, conducted by the Crow Indian Agency features Native American riders grotesquely arrayed in war paint riding bareback on mustangs skirmishing with authentically clad 7th Cavalry troopers demonstrating awesome horsemanship. The visual and photogenic feast is reenacted over precisely the same spot where the historical action occurred. The narrative describes the Great Sioux War from the Native American perspective and is a fitting visual climax to this part of the tour.
Day Seven: Cody and the History of the Old West.
On this day we travel from Sheridan to Cody to visit the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West, a rich museum with exhibits and artwork narrating the story of the pioneers, Indian fights and rough riding cowboys and ranchers opening up the frontier of the West.
We also visit the Old Trail Town Museum which is a collection of some 26 historical buildings and cabins, alongside over a hundred horse drawn vehicles, disassembled from across the region and erected as a single collection at this location. It includes the original cabins used by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ gang hideouts. The buildings are furnished with original Indian artifacts and authentic frontier memorabilia, and is a fascinating site to explore. There is also an opportunity for those that wish to visit the local rodeo, which performs most nights.
Day Eight: Yellowstone National Park.
Cody is about an hours drive from Yellowstone National Park, and even the drive is a visual treat of some of the most stunning scenery in this part of the West. We will spend some time in the spectacular geyser basins of the park, including the very reliable ‘Old Faithful’ geyser, which one could almost set a watch by, as well as enjoying possible bear and buffalo herd sightings, if we are lucky. The final night is spent at Cody.
Day Nine to Ten: Home.
The return flight is from Cody to London via Minneapolis.
Book this battlefield tour via Alan Rooney’s Cultural Experience
Read Robert’s Books
On 25 June 1876 the US army lost one percent of its authorised strength in a single battle against Plains Indians at the Little Bighorn. Red Sabbath authoritatively blends contemporary Indian and soldier accounts with the most recent archaeological and forensic facts. Robert Kershaw has recreated the ‘feel’ of the battle, a series of dispersed and chaotic company actions, which the Indians overcame piece-meal. The book is a fresh approach to a battle that has long defied definitive conclusions.