On The Little Bighorn and Rosebud

By Ken Doran

Location: Little Bighorn, Montana - 25 June 2001 

The day started with the “Attack at Dawn” by over 50 mounted Lakota Sioux charging up from below the Northern boundary fence of the battlefield up to a point approximately 500 yards from Monument Hill. The warriors circled at the top of the hill round and round the main focal point, a tribal elder holding aloft a lance, till the signal was given, then again a charge towards the crowd where the new Indian Memorial location was to be consecrated later that day, to a great chorus, filling the air with chants and cries, all of this amidst clouds of dust. 

The effect of this was to give a good idea of how a trooper on that hot June day in 1876 might have felt when hundreds of warriors did the same thing, only on that occasion armed with weapons and with a purpose, to defend their families, village and land from the Longknifes who sought to destroy their way of life and remove them to the reservations. 

The Sioux later joined by the Northern Cheyenne continued the celebrations and the sense of nervousness that had pervaded the morning continued, and in addition to the Montana State Police and Reservation Police it was noticeable that the National Park Service (NPS) Officers were carrying side arms, a reflection of trouble experienced at previous anniversaries perhaps?  An incident symptomatic of this was, following a ban on filming and photographing the Indian religious ceremony, which was enforced by the NPS and Sioux braves, a colleague attempted to take some photographs and was challenged by a brave in no uncertain terms to put the camera away or there would be trouble. The atmosphere was very tense, fortunately the camera in question was returned to its case. Shortly after two young braves broke away from the Indian Memorial celebrations, ran up the hill to the Monument and counted coup on it, hollering like crazy, before any action could be taken by the NPS, there was a stunned silence to this act and one could only draw their own conclusions. 

Although this incident created tension, on the ceremonial side a large crowd witnessed an ongoing series of speeches of a conciliatory nature from speakers that included politicians such as Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, tribal leaders such as Jerry Small, and others that included Neil Mangum, The Park's Superintendent. A surprise may have been the announcement by the President of the 7th Cavalry Association that its members, some two thousand veterans from World War 2 through to Desert Storm were giving a donation of $7,300 towards the building of the Indian Memorial, this raised a few eyebrows, but is a true reflection of reconciliation.

In the late afternoon the ‘Roll Call of the Fallen' with the reading of the names of each of those who fell during the battle from both sides by various well known figures which included Ken and George 'Chip' Custer. Judge Bill Moody read out those killed from Co. B including Richard Dorn who I hope to connect with my own family tree. 

The two colour guards that were present, one from the Montana National Guard and the other from the Northern Cheyenne Veterans carried out their duties impeccably with the Veterans volley firing at both roll call and hilltop wreath laying ceremonies. Finally when “Taps” was played those members of the 'Frontier Army' present plus other uniformed organisations and ex-­military personnel snapped to attention against the flags fluttering in the strong wind adding a solemnity to the occasion. 

At the Indian Memorial site late in the afternoon, the ceremony continued to the beat of the “Drum”, as members of the public including those CAGB members who had made the trip over from the UK, mingled with Native Americans and at 5 p.m. a fly past by four F 16’s of the Montana Air National Guard was an impressive climax to a stimulating day of official events. 

Before the day was over the opportunity was taken to renew old acquaintances from the LBHA and CBMHA including the purchase of books from an illustrious line up of authors at the Visitor Centre, including Robert Utley, Paul Hutton and Paul Hendren. 

The climax for the CAGB members present was the presentation of the wreath at the Monument by our Association on behalf of both sides in the battle who gave their lives, and in particular those members of the 7th Cavalry who had hailed from the British Isles and had died on that June day 125 years ago. Kevin Galvin handed over the wreath to Neil Mangum who thanked the CAGB and promised his support for the future. 

Location: Rosebud Battlefield, Montana - 27 June 2001 

The staff ride part of the trip was a great success with the mixing of UK Army staff and CAGB members, with highlights too numerous to mention, but covered the 1865 Connor Battle site, the story of Fort Phil Kearny, the Fetterman Massacre and the Wagon Box Fight and again back to the Little Bighorn, but undeniable the Rosebud on horseback was the highlight of the tour. 

After some basic instructions on what to do and not to do when riding a horse, which although clearly intended to give us confidence was also highly amusing due to the manner in which Greg Patterson our wrangler explained each drill that we should follow in the event of specific 'emergencies', like falling off a horse or being dragged along the ground with one foot in the stirrup. We were also drilled on foot on how to ride in columns of two (I think this was in case we got lost). Eventually we all saddled up and headed out under the leadership of Jerry Brown, following the trail taken by Crook and his command during the battle.  Jerry is an Associate Professor of History from the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth and a veteran of over fifty Staff Rides that have examined the Sioux Wars of 1866-68 and 1876.

My horse was called T-Bone and during the second dismount to tighten saddle girths he took the opportunity to bolt and bite through his bridal, that took some repairing, and caused Jerry Brown to sustain a good kick to his leg from his own mount. Another incident involved Hugh Jenkins, one of the army officers who’s horse suddenly decided that he had travelled far enough that day and lay down on its side with him on board. Hugh somehow managed to extract himself and remained on his feet as the horse collapsed to the ground and it took a forceful strike to the horse's flank from a wrangler before the horse got back on all fours. To cap it all, prior to that incident, Richard Pratt was lucky to survive without serious injury when thrown from his horse when it swerved unexpectedly, luckily for Richard his foot did not get caught in the stirrup. But this was all part of the experience and excitement, and as the ride progressed the confidence grew it was surprising how easy the western style of riding was to adapt to, well at our level anyway! 

To follow the Battle of the Rosebud on horseback across the vast tract of land that the battle was fought over was in retrospect the best way to visualise the events that took place on 17 June 1876, events that were brought to live by expert instruction from Jerry Brown with Brian Pohanka filling in some of the details. Despite being a bit saddle sore I felt quite elated and was sorry to come to the end of the trail and say goodbye to T-Bone. 

The day was completed by getting the opportunity to fire some period weapons, among the favourites was the 1873 Colt 45 and the 16 shot Henry Rifle. The latter a joy to shoot with virtually no recoil unlike the Springfield Carbine.

Sheridan at night had an attraction all of its own with Sanfords described as an “English Pub” but a very American version, nevertheless the grub was good despite having to negotiate their 12-page menu. The best bars were the Beaver Creek Saloon for Strawberry beer, UGH! And where it was best to let the ladies to ask you to dance to keep the locals happy, and there was the Mint Bar where the cowboys spent their evenings and you could even get a guided tour of the western artifacts that littered the bar area. 

Safe to say that the group really gelled together and for some whetted the appetite for more of the same, especially on horseback.

English Westerners' Society        Custer Association of Great Britain

Copyright © 2001 CAGB