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.

The Great Quail Migration

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When going through our archives the other day we stumbled across a treasure-trove of forgotten images. Deep in the hidden recesses of The Institutes’ storage shed we found photographic evidence of one of Nature’s most incredible stories, The Great Quail Migration.

Many of you I’m sure, have never heard of the Great Quail Migration as it happened way before the internet. But back in the latter half of the last century there was a great drought in the high plateaus of the desert Southwest. Plants dried up and died. Insects disappeared and the Quail were faced with imminent starvation. The elders of the flock knew something drastic had to be done and hearing that the government was giving away land up along the Snake river in Idaho to any quail brave enough to make the journey they decided to attempt the long dangerous trail North.

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Gathering the flock together they started northward. At first there were just a few hardy souls determined to find a better life, but as word spread of the possibility of a land of plenty just laying there for the taking, others joined in.

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Soon there were dozens then thousands until the earth was dark with mottled bodies of quail heading North.

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The journey was long and arduous with many of the original flock falling by the wayside. but their determination never wavered. They steadily kept to their dream of tall grass, abundant insects and safe havens. Young were born along the way to replace those that had fallen, prey to the many predators who shadowed the migration.

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When the journey seemed to be at its darkest point and it looked as if they would never reach that magical land, the miracle finally happened. They reached the border the government had erected to set aside the land that was to be the home of the quail for as long as the sun would shine and the grass would grow. That was the land that was to be given to any quail that could reach it, for now and forever. Tired, hungry, footsore, feathers dusty with travel they entered one by one into the promised land and safety.

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The patriarch who had led the flock those hundreds of miles, who had evaded predators and sickness, who had kept hope alive and guided them unerringly to the final spot where they could begin new lives, was the last to enter.

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Realizing what they had left behind, and the price they had paid for it, he took one last look back at the past. Standing at the border that represented safety and a new beginning for his flock he seemed satisfied with what they had accomplished. They had completed the Great Quail Migration.

Today his descendants can still be found living peacefully along the riverside in the Snake River Raptor Rehabilitation Area, a testament to the quails determination and bravery that still is prevalent today.

As always we are proud to be able to bring you the stories of these amazing and often heroic events, many of which never happened, and to share with you the incredible but unbelievable tales that have been captured on film and more recently pixels. We do this so that you too can share in Nature’s glory. No there’s no need to thank us, it’s just part of our job.