Little Big Horn – Brought To Life

One of the things I love about travel is the misconceptions finally corrected. You see things – or meet people – that change your beliefs. Both people and places have changed my outlook over the years.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

—Mark Twain

I was trying to remember the year I drove to Deadwood, SD and across Montana. Montana still had a “safe and reasonable” speed limit, and I thought that I would be in my element.

Although seeing the potholes on I-90 from the brutal winters and the deer by the side – had me wondering what a deer would do to your car (and you) at higher speeds, served as a natural governor.

But on that trip, I stopped at the Little Bighorn National Monument, just off that Interstate.

And while I was there, another misconception was corrected.

I had always believed that all of those men of the 7th Calvary were in one section, where, although outnumbered  they gallantly fought to the end.

I learned that there were soldiers all along a skirmish line on the ridge, overlooking the Little Bighorn River and what was the massive Indian village. In my imagination I could see those warriors riding up to meet those soldiers. It didn’t take much imagination to know what those soldiers were thinking seeing all those warriors approaching.

It is true, some soldiers were bunched at the end of the line, along with Custer. And I was told when word got to the warriors that the “Yellow Hair” was at the end, many headed that way.

The headstones are different for this military cemetery – the headstones were erected where the soldiers fell. You’ll see headstones scattered all along the line.

I saw a program that really illuminated this battle – bringing it to life. And it was done in a novel and modern way.

Follow the Rifles on the Battlefield


First, with metal detectors, they collected over 1,500 brass casings in the area. They logged the exact location of each shell.

Every firearm, rifle or pistol, has 2 characteristics that make each unique. First, is the pattern on a bullet made by the lands and grooves of the barrel. Countless murder weapons have been matched to the bullet just by matching the bullet to the barrel.

Not only does each barrel make a unique pattern, but the firing pin, which strikes the primer at the back of a brass shell, igniting  the powder which propels the bullet, has its own unique pattern on the primer.

And I believe it was the Nebraska Highway Patrol who analysed each of these brass firing pin impressions, finding all the “mates” to each rifle.

So by mapping the locations of each of the brass casings they found they could follow the path of the rifle (and its owner) across the battlefield. They knew where it started and where it ended for the soldiers.

As an aside they had one rifle today that was on that battlefield, and by firing a shell and getting the imprint, they knew where that rifle was on that June day 144 years ago.

They documented the Army’s tactics and told you why they were detrimental that day. They were able to tell you what life was like for a plains soldier (it was pretty rough).

They told you the weapon the Army had, and the weapons the Plains Indians had, and why the Army was at a disadvantage. And they showed a simple but terrifying weapon the Indians had that would smash your skull with one blow.

Their conclusion? The whole battle didn’t last more than 90 minutes, and other than the initial setting up on the skirmish lines, the battle for the men of the 7th was terrifying, brutal and short.

It was produced by the History Channel.



1 Comment

Filed under Army, History, Politics and Culture

One response to “Little Big Horn – Brought To Life

  1. Haven’t seen this yet, sounds interesting. One thing most people don’t know is that a group of Crow Indians was allied with Custer; partly because of their long-term history of conflict with the Sioux, and the other because they admired Custer. (Which would make them different from a lot of the white soldiers)

    There’s a play on the battle that is performed there every summer; the script was written by Joe Medicine Crow, who was himself (duh) a Crow.

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