Fort Phil Kearny, Sheridan, Battle of Little Bighorn Battlefield and on to Billings

Miles Driven Today:   210        Miles in Total: 1316

We had a great sleep at the Occidental Hotel – absolutely quiet overnight, no traffic outside at all.  Made a fresh pot of coffee in the guest kitchen and got packed up.  Our case is still miraculously tidy thanks to the packing cubes.  I include a picture as proof that after a week of constant rummaging, the cubes keep everything neat and accessible,

We had breakfast in the hotel coffee shop, Busy Bees.  Bob could not resist the biscuits with sausage gravy which came with hash browns.  I went for 2 fried eggs and 2 rashers of crisp bacon.  Lovely breakfast only marred by extremely weak coffee which tasted of nothing.  A real throwback to how American coffee used to be but now seldom is….

We hit the road about 915 and headed NW to our first stop, Fort Phil Kearny.  website

This was a really interesting and worthwhile stop made all the better as we had it entirely to ourselves.  It is set in grassy hills a couple of miles off I90, about 16 miles north of Buffalo.  A lonely spot even today, surrounded by grass knolls and ridges.  It was founded in 1866 as the largest of 3 forts built to protect the Bozeman Trail.  The Bozeman trail led settlers to the gold fields around Virginia City.  It encompassed 17 acres when it was occupied.  These years were very troubled times.  The Bozeman Trail went right through the lands of the Plains Indians, the Arapahoe, Cheyenne and Sioux.  These tribes depended on game for their survival and they felt that the trail and its constant traffic drove game away.  Hostilities were constant.  The fort was built of wood along stockade lines and the soldiers were constantly attacked when they travelled the 5 miles to collect lumber.  In December 1866, the Fetterman fight, inflicted the worst defeat of the US Army until the Battle of the Little Bighorn 10 years later.  81 men were killed in the attack in the first action where different tribes came together in a concerted attack on the invaders.   The fort was abandoned altogether in 1868 and the tribes burnt it to the ground.  Some historians believe that the whole purpose of the forts was to distract from the construction of the Union Pacific railway which linked across the continent.  Certainly, by the time the forts were abandoned, the railway had been built…..

We drove on north to Sheridan, along a backroad, unpaved.  It was a very nice drive through largely green cattle country.  Just the odd well tended ranch house.  Sheridan was a lovely, lovely town.  An amazing Main Street full of life.  Thriving stores, lots of art galleries.  In fact al lthe way along the street and the side streets there were art displays.  Mainly bronze sculptures but also other things.  There was a lovely old cinema showing musicals recorded in the West End of London and Broadway.  We wanted to visit Kings Saddlery and Museum website  

which I’d read about and sounded interesting.  Wow.  What a place!  I have never ever seen such an array of incredible equipment for cowboys and horse owners.  Don King was a saddle maker extraordinaire who won many awards and made saddles for many famous cowboys and movie cowboys.  The store is a treasure house even if you have no active interest in horsey equipment.  In the rear is a building that houses a museum of western memorabilia.  In there were some of the most beautiful saddles I have ever seen, western saddles with incredible tooling and silver work.  Also Native American costumes, head dresses, moccasins.  You could spend hours in there just looking at everything.  We spent about an hour… it wasn’t enough.

We grabbed some cold drinks at the Cowboy bar and got back to the car.  Note: the Cowboy Bar looked great and the menu read well.  They had a great selection of fruit pies on display.  Wish we could have stayed for lunch.  In fact, Sheridan itself was worthy of a longer stay.  Main Street just begged to be thoroughly explored.

Back on I90, across the state line and north to the Battle of the Little Bighorn Battlefield, a National Park Service monument within the huge Crow Nation in Montana.  The land here is a rolling, golden grass landscape.  Not flat like the plains, definite hills.  The Little Bighorn river wends its way through the hills carving a green tree lined valley.  The Battle of the LIttle Bighorn took place at this lonely spot on June 25/26th 1876.  263 soldiers including General George Custer died here fighting a combined force of Cheyenne, Lakota Sioux and Arapahoe warriors in a defeat that shocked the nation.

We hoped to take a tour given by native Crow guides, the Apsalooka tours.  We arrived at 1.15 in time for the 2pm tour but were disappointed when we approached the desk in the information centre.  The young man who staffed it had a really terrible attitude and informed us quite rudely that there might not be a 2pm tour because the guide had done 3 already that day…. yes… as per the schedule?  Well, when would he be able to tell us if it were going ahead, we asked.  There was a shrug and a stare…. “well, about 2 o clock I expect” was all the answer.  We hung around a bit, looked at the exhibition and went back to him at 145.  If anything he was even more offhand and rude.  At this point we decided that we would take the self drive tour using a guide you could get by cell phone.  I mentioned to the rangers that we were disappointed and I got the clear impression that they were unsurprised by the attitude…..

We walked up to Last Stand Hill, the little burial ground positioned at the point where General Custer and 41 of his men fell.  It was a poignant place even on a brilliant blue day like today.  To see the white grave markers in the long grass, close together with the hill at their back.  It must have been a terrible action by all accounts of it.  The soldiers in hopeless disarray, caught by surprise by overwhelming numbers of possibly 2000 Indians.  Custer and his men retreated back to the high ground at the end of the ridge and made their stand there, shooting their horses to give themselves some shelter.  I suppose that was one of the worst things about the location.  There was literally no cover, nowhere to hide, nowhere to run.  Read about it here website

It reminded us of the Isandlwana, the battlefield near Rorke’s Drift in South Africa where a British force was totally wiped out by Zulu warriors.  Same sort of wide open space, with white grave markers, gradually getting thicker around a small rocky hillock.  Just the wind blowing through the grass…..  a lingering sadness and waste.  Within a year, most of  the tribes had surrendered and the Black Hills were taken without compensation. In 1877 Crazy Horse surrendered and was fatally wounded in custody.  In 1890 came the massacre of Lakota at Wounded Knee and Sitting Bull was arrested and shot dead.

The Little Bighorn is a very large battlefield and you could spend a long time here if you have a strong interest.  Even if not, it is well worth a stop to see the very evocative Last Stand Hill and the ridge along which many died.

We headed north again to our overnight stop in Billings.  A bit of an embarrassment now occurs….   We had a windscreen strike on the interstate. Stopped and Bob found he could put his finger into the chip.  We rang Dollar and they directed us to get it fixed at any repair place in Billings and they would refund us the cost when we returned the car in Denver.  We have LDW so everything is covered without an excess.  We had to call in at Dollar at Billings airport to fill in a form.  Did that and headed to a windscreen facility.  They started work and very quickly discovered there was no chip.  There was a lump of something like glue stuck to the window, no idea what, and it was that which made it appear to be chipped.  They got some detergent and with some difficulty cleaned it all off.  We did feel quite embarrassed but rather glad there wasn’t any damage.  We tipped the chaps and moved on….

Staying tonight at a very nice Residence Inn on the outskirts of Billings.  The suites here are massive  A very large bedroom, bathroom and a big lounge/kitchen combination room.  Monday – Wednesday they host a food and drink event for guests.  So tonight we had free dinner and drinks as well as staying here just on points.  The mixer was great.  They were BBQing and we had really nice cheese burgers with all the trimmings, salad and a watermelon dessert.  I had 2 nice glasses of red wine and Bob two local IPAs.   It wasn’t exactly gourmet but on the other hand, they were very nice burgers and you can’t beat free!

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