To be honest here, I had another blog post written, or mostly written, that I intended to share today. I hadn’t expected what we did this afternoon to have as big an impact on me as it did, so my well-crafted draft has been relegated to “the hopper” for another day.
From yesterday’s post you might suspect that we’re camped very close to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, and you’d be right. The moment we booked this site we began looking forward to making the short trek up the road to visit the battlefield — and that happened today.
After passing through the National Park Service entry station we dropped by the visitors center to view artifacts and exhibits. Inside we were engaged in conversation by an NPS ranger. Articulate and affable, he fit the description of a guy several of our campground neighbors had encouraged us to seek out.
I asked him if he gave presentations there at the battlefield. He smiled and said yes, he’d be giving his next one in about fifteen minutes, outside under the trees. Deb and I staked out our spot and, with a few dozen other visitors, waited for him to emerge from the building.
What followed was, simply and without question, the best interpretive presentation I’ve ever heard at any historical site. This pressed-and-dressed ranger was animated and dramatic in recounting “the last 20 minutes of George Armstrong Custer’s life.” It was profoundly moving, nothing short of storytelling brilliance.
When he was finished, he swigged water from a bottle and took questions. His answers revealed remarkable depth of knowledge and understanding. One young man in the audience tried to bait him, comparing Grant to Hitler and the 7th Cavalry to the S.S. — and his response was as quick as it was perfect.
“I’m Jewish!” he barked, wagging a finger at the man. “You wanna talk about the Holocaust? Let’s go!”
He went on to speak with passion about what a mistake it is to tear down, sanitize and try to erase history. “I want Dachau and Buchenwald to stand forever — if we don’t try to understand, we never learn.”
After the Q&A was over, Deb and I approached him and thanked him personally.
That ranger’s name, by the way, is Steve Adelson. He works at the battlefield only during the summer months. If you visit this place and don’t take the time to hear him talk, trust me, you’re missing out.
We walked from the visitors center up to Last Stand Hill, where Custer and his remaining soldiers met their end, and across the road to the horse cemetery and the Indian memorial. Then we returned to the Jeep and set out on the park’s five-mile-long road, which ended at the Reno-Benteen Defense Line.
The road is smooth and well-maintained, but it’s also narrow and winding. Because in many places it follows the very top edge of these prairie ridges, the views are absolutely spectacular.
From the Reno-Benteen monument, perched high on a hill, we looked to the south and could see the campground where we’re staying.
I’d like to go on, but again I’ll let photographs say what words can’t. The slideshow I’ve included won’t fully capture what we saw, heard and felt today, but it’s the best I can do.
The Custer Battlefield Trading Post, where we’d enjoyed Indian tacos the evening we landed, is across the state highway from the entrance to the battlefield. We returned late this afternoon, this time for buffalo burgers, sweet potato fries and homemade pie.
We ate at a table on the Trading Post’s front porch. The wind had started to pick up by the time we finished, and clouds were rolling in from the west.
Those clouds are now giving us a thunderstorm and some desperately needed rain. We’re safe and dry in the bus, of course, contemplating what kind of adventures tomorrow may bring.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.