Photo Essay

Visit to Montana's Crow Reservation

Custer Battlefield National Monument

Too often, Democracy is symbolized for us by waves of gravestones for fallen American soldiers. While there have certainly been inevitable conflicts fought with noble intentions; that has not always been the case.

The Custer battlefield reminds us of the loss of many lives, both by U.S. government troops and by Indians, which resulted from the acquisitive nature of the waves of European immigrants who pushed the original Americans' backs against the wall. In particular, they lusted after the gold rich Black Hills which were sacred lands to American Indians. In violation of many earlier treaties, U.S. troops were sent to remove Indians from those sacred lands to clear the way for prospectors and settlers. They were to resettle them involuntarily on less desireable reservation lands.

On June 25, 1876, some 15,000 Indians (2,500 warriors) were camped along the banks of the Little Big Horn river in Montana territory. 650 soldiers under the command of General Terry had been sent to bring these rebellious Indians into compliance with the will of the U.S. Government who wanted them safely settled on reservation lands. The nomadic tribes were little interested in the prospect and led by the great Sioux chief Sitting Bull; several tribes were congregated in this spot on the Little Big Horn to consider how they could avoid that mandate.

They were assisted in that goal by the brash and ambitious Lt.Colonel George Armstrong Custer who, despite the warnings of his Crow scouts about the daunting size of the Indian encampment, charged ahead without waiting for the rest of the U.S. troops to arrive. The result was a delay in the conversion of the last American Indians to Democracy. Instead, 122 years later we commemorate the greatest military triumph of American Indians and the death of 244 young and mostly poor U.S. Cavalrymen.

Today, however, the ancestors of those Indians live "democratically" on the reservations that were fashioned for them by the U.S. government. The residents of Crow agency continue to live in and around the banks of the Little Big Horn River. Some would say they continue to struggle with the concept of Democracy, but ironically, American Indians such as Edward (a Blackfeet tribe member) have over the years established a proud reputation as "warriors" for the U.S. military. And, at least on the day that I visited, Crow Agency was a bustle of activity and excitment with the ceremonies commemorating that greatest of Indian military triumphs and a good old fashioned American rodeo.

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1 response

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes said (11 Oct 2010):

    Always a high price to pay in order to advance and civilisation, and this is another case, my vote!

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