Hostiles!

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In our ongoing work of researching events that have taken place here in the West we have discovered a little known fact relating to the Battle of the Little Bighorn and it is nothing short of amazing. Although thousands of hours of research and numerous books have been devoted to the climatic events of June 1876 where General George Armstrong Custer led the valiant men of the 7th Cavalry into one of the greatest defeats in American history at the hands of the largest assemblage of Indians ever gathered, they missed one amazing fact.

That fact was there was an unknown photographer attached to the regiment to record the anticipated victory of the General in the expected upcoming battles with the various tribes. His name is unrecorded in the rolls of the members of the expedition so it is surmised that he must have volunteered to accompany them after the orders were cut for the forth coming action by Custer and the 7th. It is more probable that Custer met him and hired him out of his own pocket to immortalize his place in history, which would account for him not being on the official records. We are diligently working to learn more about this photographer but have been stymied by the lack of information we can make up.

We were researching the early records of the battle in a dim musty room in the basement of the Bighorn county courthouse in Hardin Montana for a project of our own, when a decrepit old file folder fell out from behind a desk we were moving and split open. Inside was a treasure trove of faded pictures, handwritten notes, folded maps, a few letters from some of the enlisted men they had given him to be mailed when they got back to civilization and other odds and ends.

As far as can be determined these items were placed in the courthouse around 1915 two years after the Courthouse was built, and were destined to be held there until a proper museum could be built where they were then to be put on display for all to see. Evidentially the folder containing all of the items had slipped down behind the desk and were forgotten until we happened across them.

As we sorted through the hundreds of pictures of the daily lives of the men of the 7th cavalry, including various depictions of actions that took place along the way of men on horseback, wagons pulled by mules filled with the supplies needed to support a mission of this size, the Officers leading the troop, even the General himself, and remarkably even some of the hostiles, the image above came to our attention.

Images printed on paper from fragile pixels, as opposed to those done on glass plates, or the even older method used by Daguerreotypes, were just coming into favor at this time and this one was beautifully hand-tinted with the utmost care taken to recreate the colors as they must have been when the picture was recorded. Each print had been carefully noted with the men’s names, the date of the image, the location, etc. in pencil on the back of each print. Unfortunately in this case of this image the names and some of the other information had been disfigured and faded due to the image getting wet at some point.

We were able to make out the name of the river, “Little Bighorn”, the date “something illegible – 1876”, and mysteriously the phrase “Hostile’s!”. Whether this pertained to Indians in pursuit of what appear to be two scouts returning, or some other event related to Indian activity we cannot ascertain at this point. Perhaps more information will turn up as we study this material further.

We are incredibly fortunate to have discovered this invaluable material and are busy sifting through it gleaning whatever new information might be hidden within its faded remains. We will be passing on anything we find that sheds new light on this important time in our history, and perhaps more about this unknown photographer.

Spoils Of War

A day or two after the battle of the Greasy grass, or as we know it the Battle of the Little Bighorn, you could walk down between the lodges among the shadows of the cottonwoods that lined the river, and hear the women crying and keening as they continued to mourn their fallen loved ones. The wailing went on for an eternity as the knowledge that their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons were lost and gone forever.

Even at this cost it had been a great victory, the greatest victory against the pony soldiers that had ever occurred. Along with the deaths of the enemy soldiers there had been many things of great value that were taken that day. Scalps of course, but much more. Coups that were taken, guns and knives, clothing, blue jackets and belts and items like canteens and bullet pouches, sabers, small leather bags to keep things in and those curious pieces of paper with the picture of the Great Father on them that the soldiers seemed to value so much. Those were left behind as they were useless, but one of the real treasures to find were the wide brim hats that sparsely littered the field.

These hats were highly prized when gathered by the warriors who had killed the soldier wearing it and given a place of honor in the teepees when not being worn. This night one of them had been set on the corner of a backrest highlighted by the firelight seen against the wall of the lodge. The gold of the crossed sabers glimmering and glistening in the subdued light adding highlights to the worn patina of what must have been this soldiers proudest possession. Before long a wife would sew some handsome delicate beading on it and the warrior would add some coup feathers tied to the hat band to display his honors. This would turn an item taken from the battle into a treasured personal possession of the victor. Proof that the victory had taken place and now this piece of the spoils of war had a new owner.

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And So It Continues

Back in the far distant past the First People began leaving marks on the walls around them. Simple designs, sometimes no more than a scratch, perhaps signifying that they were there. We call these marks petroglyphs.

As time went on the marks grew more sophisticated, representing more elaborate concepts. Animals, human shapes odd to our eyes, strange swirls or repetitive parallel lines in a group perhaps indicating a river or stream. These were just a few of the shapes amongst thousands left on canyon walls, along stream beds, in caves, anywhere the people went.

The most important of the images they placed on the surface of their surroundings was the shape of the human hand, their hands, the hand of the individual making the drawing. This mark said here I am. I am a person. I am important. Know all of you that I have been here. These are known as pictographs if they are painted onto the surface of the rock.

Usually the images created were chiseled into the surface of the stone by hammering the design into the surface of the rock by striking it with another sharper more pointed stone, chipping away the dark patina of the rock leaving an indelible lighter contrasting representation of the design, a petroglyph. But occasionally a simpler more direct method was used. By simply placing their hands into a medium such as paint or even mud and pressing their palms against the stones surface they achieved the same result although a much more impermanent one, but the meaning was the same, a pictograph. Here I am, I leave my mark for you to see.

That type of image creating usually did not stand the ravages of time, especially if it was left exposed to the elements, but they are found in caves and other protected places looking much as they did when they were created.

We think of these kinds of images as something out of history. An art that served its purpose but has been replaced by newer forms of image creating. Yet it appears that is not totally the case. These handprints on the metal in the image above were left by the direct descendants of those First People just a few days ago at a place that is itself historically significant.

Every year along the banks of the Little Bighorn river there is a reenactment of a famous battle called the Battle of the Little Bighorn where General George Armstrong Custer and all the men of the 7th cavalry under his command were engaged by a superior group of Indians including chiefs Sitting bull, Crazy horse, Gall and others. The result is well-known as it was a critical victory for the tribes fighting to remain independent and self-sufficient. Custer and his men were decimated to the last man.

This year the reenactment of that fateful battle took place on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th of June, on the Real Bird ranch adjacent to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument near Crow Agency, Montana and included members of the Crow tribe and various groups representing the cavalry. Each side took great pains to be as true to the period as is possible today, with the cavalry in full uniform and equipment and the Indians in full regalia and paint with even their horses painted for battle.

So it was not surprising to see these modern pictographs placed at the site where the warriors of today watered their ponies and waited for the fighting to commence along the Little Bighorn river, near the ford in the river that led to that fateful battle site.  Somehow it’s comforting to see the continuation of these same handprints used today as they were millennia ago. Young men partaking in a mock battle yet still requiring their total participation both mentally, physically and spiritually. By creating these new pictographs they are saying, I too, am here. I am a Man. I am important. History and tradition is moving on through this time period as it has since the beginning. And so it continues.

 

Memorial Day 2016

This post has been moved to OpenChutes.com. All future postings of Powwows, Indian Relay Races, Rodeos and Rendezvous will be posted there from now on exclusively. So if you’re looking for new images and posts for all those events attended this year, plus all the old posts posted on BigShotsNow.com check out OpenChutes.com. See you there!

Like many of you out there Memorial day is a very important day for me as a veteran and one who has lost friends to conflict. I think of the waste of human life, the fact that they’re gone and I’m here, and the senselessness of it all. Looking back from the lofty perch of over 50 years of time passed for my particular conflict, I know that although the matter of their sacrifice seemed to be a part of something very important at the time, now I realize it was just a colossal waste of good men and women. I would gladly trade the lives of those ego-driven politicians that sent them to their deaths as casually as they send someone out to tell the next door neighbors their party is too loud, for those lost. It would be a fair trade.

There is a very interesting website * http://abcnews.go.com/US/memorial-day-12m-people-died-fighting-america/story?id=39475580  put up by ABC News where they give the statistics of those who have died in conflicts here in the U.S. and abroad. Go there and check it out. I’m going to borrow some of them to show you here but it worth going to the site and seeing for yourself. As a species we have a tremendous capacity for violence. Here’s a breakdown of the casualties in each war.

American Revolution (1775-1783)

Battle Deaths: 4,435

War of 1812 (1812-1815)

Battle Deaths: 2,260

Indian Wars (approx. 1817-1898)

Battle Deaths (VA estimate): 1,000

Mexican War (1846-1848)

Battle Deaths: 1,733

Other Deaths (In Theater): 11,550

Civil War (1861-1865)

Battle Deaths (Union): 140,414

Other Deaths (In Theater)(Union): 224,097

Battle Deaths (Confederate): 74,524

Other Deaths (In Theater)(Confederate): 59,297

Spanish-American War (1898-1902)

Battle Deaths: 385

Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater): 2,061

World War I (1917-1918)

Battle Deaths: 53,402

Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater): 63,114

World War II (1941 –1945)

Battle Deaths: 291,557

Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater): 113,842

Korean War (1950-1953)

Battle Deaths: 33,739

Other Deaths (In Theater): 2,835

Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater): 17,672

Vietnam War (1964-1975)

Battle Deaths: 47,434

Other Deaths (In Theater): 10,786

Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater): 32,000

(These cover period 11/1/55 to 5/15/75)

Desert Shield/Desert Storm (1990-1991)

Battle Deaths: 148

Other Deaths (In Theater): 235

Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater): 1,565

Global War on Terror, including Iraq and Afghanistan (Oct 2001 – present)

Total Deaths: 6,888.

In addition to those, the State Department Office of the Historian lists the Philippine-American War, 1899 to 1902, citing the deaths of more than 4,200 U.S. combatants.

War is defined by the numbers of casualties. We see huge numbers and say how terrible it was and is, but the numbers are made up of individuals, those who died one at a time, alone. Death comes to us alone, even if it happens while others are experiencing it also.

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You can get the feeling of that when you see one gravestone such as this fallen trooper at The Battle of The Little Bighorn. You can also experience the sense of loss when you read the story of one individual who gave his all like my best friend David L. Hollingsworth.

Memorial Day 2014

Memorial day means a lot to me even if I’m not out waving the flag in the middle of the crowd. I believe that considering the deaths of close friends and brothers-in-arms to be a personal thing that doesn’t have to be shared. Lately it has been meaning more and more.That’s probably because I’m realizing that I may be seeing some of those folks again before too long, and when I do I’m going to say Thank you and I’m sorry you had to miss the rest of your life, and I remembered you.

 

*   This article was published by By CALVIN LAWRENCE JR. under ABC News heading

 

2014 Crow Nation Fair and Rodeo Day 1

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This post has been moved to OpenChutes.com. All future postings of Powwows, Indian Relay Races, Rodeos and Rendezvous will be posted there from now on exclusively. So if you’re looking for new images and posts for all those events attended this year, plus all the old posts posted on BigShotsNow.com check out OpenChutes.com. See you there!

An incredible event takes place on the third week-end of August at Crow Agency, Montana. Just a couple of miles from site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn where Custer and his men met their ends, literally thousands of Indians from various tribes but primarily Crows, put on a Fair and Rodeo. The event is not connected to the battle, in fact I didn’t even hear it mentioned in any of the activities. The purpose is for fellowship, gathering, displaying their lodges or teepees, and celebrating their culture.

The event is also known as the World’s Largest Gathering of teepees in one place, and Crow Agency is known as the Teepee Capitol of the World. This weekend there were over 1000 teepees set up along the Little Bighorn river stretching for close to three miles. That was not a typo. There were over 1000 lodges erected. I walked among them early one morning for nearly an hour from one end to the other and still didn’t cover it all. In places they were packed so tightly together you couldn’t walk between them. In other places you would find a solitary teepee nestled in among the trees, or set up alone out in the grasslands that surround the river.

Surprisingly, to me anyway, there were very few decorated lodges. The majority were made of the plain white canvas you see everywhere. That didn’t affect the impression made by seeing so many together however. At times, during sunrise or sunset, the canvas would take on some of the colors of the sky and were wonderful to see in their own rights.

Another unexpected impression was seeing the number of cars and pickup trucks surrounding each lodge. My first impression was it looked like a parking lot where the parkers were all drunk, with the vehicles being parked haphazardly around each lodge. I suppose I went there with certain expectations, fostered by scenes from Dancing With Wolves and other movies, of the way an Indian camp should look. A romanticized impression that had no basis in fact in the modern Indian world. As I came to terms with the reality versus the movie version of camp life I started to realize the cars and trucks were the modern equivalent of horses tied to the front of each lodge. It was simply these horses had four wheels instead of four feet. After a bit it began to seem normal to see them parked there. I do have to admit though that it made me feel good to see the occasional horse tied in front of a lodge. Adapting to facts doesn’t take the romanticism out of the romantic.

The other surprise, and it shouldn’t be a surprise at all, was the incredible friendliness of the Crow people. I didn’t and don’t have any prejudice for Indians, I just had never spent any time amongst a large group of them. They have a different culture, a culture that dovetails with the rest of modern American culture but is strikingly different in some aspects. I never felt like I had entered an alien place even though there were times I didn’t understand the language being spoken, or the reason for some of their traditions. Every person I approached with a question or comments was more than ready to help.

I was lost one time, turned around in the maze of teepees and narrow little lanes, where the passing pickup trucks narrowly missed running over the stakes used to secure the lodges to the ground, (yes, even the Director of one of the largest Institutes in the scientific-speaking world gets disoriented sometimes) and approached a group of serious looking young fellows standing there smoking and watching the chaotic life going on around them. If you had seen this group of young men standing around in a back alley in some city I seriously doubt whether you would have approached them. I asked them where I was and how did I get back to the center of camp where all the dancing was going on. It was getting dark, making the maze I was in even more confusing, and their directions were not very clear. The guys were laughing and teasing me about being lost but in a good-natured way, when one of them decided what I needed was, in his words, an Indian guide to get me back to civilization. A really nice kid walked back with me to the center of the camp where I regained my bearings. He said he was getting ready to go off to college and was a little worried about how all that was going to work but looking forward to it none the less. I wished him well, we shook hands and that was that. It left me with a different perspective about these young people, Crow or other wise, who with all the markings of the modern world, tattoos, piercings, superficial attitudes, were still just young kids worried about life and how to get through it.

There was an incredible amount of activities going on the entire weekend. It was kind of like an Indian Las Vegas, where many of them never seemed to sleep. Dancing went on throughout the night, and when they weren’t dancing they were partying. Being well past the point where I found that interesting or fun I was glad I had the Bokeh Maru to return to for a much-needed break from the festivities. I’ll be posting more on the Crow Fair and Rodeo over the next couple of days. Stay tuned.