Our first stop in Montana was at the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where Custer was defeated by Indians from the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes. We, of course, arrived at Saturday noon along with lots of other people but we were able to find a parking space tucked in with the other RV’s. So we had lunch and then set out to walk to the Memorial at the site of Custer’s final stand.
We also walked to the Indian Memorial, a modern and moving site with comments from all the different tribes and a spectacular sculpture. It is hard to imagine a more evocative image.
It was interesting to see the white remembrance stones dotted around the hillsides. These represented the Cavalry dead. Interesting information, more than half of the 7th Cavalry troops were foreign born, representing about thirty nations.
The Indian dead were represented by brown remembrance stones. There are not many of these as the victorious Sioux and others removed their dead and wounded from the field immediately. We drove from the site of the final stand to the Reno/Benteen defensive site and dutifully read all the signs along the road.
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Books have been written about the battle, but Fred would opine that Custer was not quite the vainglorious idiot as portrayed in modern movies. That said, he made a huge mistake and it cost him his life and half of his command. He was worried that the Sioux would try to escape – he didn’t realize that they had the strength to actually attack.
His deputies took casualties, but, after getting caught in the open against superior forces, they actually managed to do it by the book and retreated to high ground where they held off repeated attacks for over a day. In the zeal to portray Custer as a hero, back in the day, Reno had his career ended. Read the Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Little_Bighorn#Controversies
Our next stop was Great Falls where we discovered and stayed in an amazing KOA campsite. The incredible landscaping made this the Taj Mahal of KOA’s. We had a pleasant shady spot and enjoyed a campground fireworks display in honor of Canada Day! Adding in free pancakes for breakfast and a great ice-cream bar, we decided to stay a second night as the day’s adventures had lasted longer than expected! Though fireworks were lacking the second night! https://koa.com/campgrounds/great-falls/
Our first visit in Great Falls was to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and we enjoyed it very much. The Interpretive Center is located on the Missouri River and there is a delightful river walk and some pioneer activities taking place there. We walked down along the River Walk to see the Giant Spring, one of the largest springs that Lewis and Clark documented on their trip. The whole complex is well worth a visit. (https://www.visitmt.com/listings/general/museum/lewis-and-clark-national-historic-trail-interpretive-center.html) Inside the center, the displays follow the rivers taken by the group and their timeline, so we progressed through their journey, learning of their successes and challenges. And, of course, there was a film, this time by Ken Burns, which was well worth watching. Because of waterfalls they actually had to portage their canoes 18 miles around five large waterfalls, so it was easy to look at the area and imagine their problems.
Our other visit in Great Falls was to the Malstrom Air Force Base to visit the Museum there. (https://www.malmstrom.af.mil/About-Us/Malmstrom-Museum/) Once we were cleared to visit by the Visitor Center, we made our way to the museum passing by a selection of planes on display. The museum itself was fascinating. It explained the mission of the base which was to maintain and keep in constant readiness a number of Minuteman missiles. Two excellent films explained how this was achieved. There were also examples of various pieces of missile and control consoles. The Museum Director was an enthusiastic source of lots of information. And we learned that we had actually seen the relocation of a missile on previous day’s drive towards Great Falls; we had thought it was simply the National Guard. Interesting aside, the museum had a map of the route that Lewis and Clarke took across what is now the air base. (Sorry, no pictures taken on base.)
While everybody knows about the mighty Mississippi River and can probably even remember how to spell it, the Missouri is a bit overlooked. Pity, because it is a huge river, a major tributary of the Mississippi, and, of course, the focus of Jefferson’s dreams of a river route to the Pacific Ocean. As lamented previously, the Lewis and Clarke Expedition is too little taught in US schools. We have joyed retracing the routes in this and previous trips – freely admitting, that we started doing this after stumbling over Lewis and Clarke sites in our own, total ignorance. Upriver from Great Falls, the Missouri passes through an impressive valley, dubbed the “Gates of the Mountains” by Clarke. So naturally, we had to pay a visit. It was pouring rain when we arrived and boarded the boat, but over the course of the visit, the sun came out and, by the time we finished, the boat was in full sunlight.
The tour actually starts upriver, goes downriver, and then returns. But Clarke was coming from the portage at Great Falls, so his first view was of the “Gates” themselves.
From Great Falls we moved on to Deer Lodge. July 4 was approaching and we decided we wanted to be in a small town to see a celebration. Denise also wanted to visit the National Park Service Grant-Kohrs Ranch Historical Site in Deer Lodge. (https://www.nps.gov/grko/index.htm) This site preserves the ranch, founded by Johnny Grant and then bought by Conrad Kohrs, one of the great cattle barons of the 1800’s. The ranch originally grew when Grant, who spoke only French and a number of Indian languages, had the brilliant idea of exchanging worn out, stressed cattle from the wagon trains for his well fed, thriving animals. He exchanged one of his for two of the others. Needless to say, his herds grew as he fattened up the new cattle and then traded them for even more cattle.
Conrad Kohrs was a German immigrant and we were fascinated by his very decorated Victorian house, not at all what we expected from a frontier home. It could have been a historical site in Boston or New York. Sadly, such is the fear of people not being able to shut off their flashes, that no photography is allowed inside the house.
The ranch is still functioning and gives wonderful insights into the history of and current methods of ranching, explaining how the bad winter of 1868 changed cattle ranching. The tremendous loss of animals after a summer drought and vicious winter, led to the realization that winter feed was needed to maintain the herds.
We enjoyed cowboy coffee from the chuck wagon and we chatted to a guitarist/luthier (!) from Pennsylvania who was singing original cowboy songs.
It was very pleasant visit.
The July 4 celebration in town took place inside the Old Prison compound and took the form of a pig roast and pot luck. We were somewhat amazed that a town could be small enough to hold a pot luck that everyone could attend! We dutifully stopped at the supermarket in town and purchased makings for a pasta salad for our pot luck contribution. As we are still using the ARB electric cooler, we were unable to refrigerate anything large. Armed with the salad and insect repellent against the vicious mosquitoes, we set off for the celebration. It was fun, there was live music for the first part and then we ate dinner.
The pig was excellent! By this point we were cold, so we retired to the camper for a coffee and some warmth before returning for the fireworks. When it is still light at 10.15 PM, showing fireworks gets very late! But the firework display was fantastic. It lasted about 20 minutes and was even more amazing as it was one of at least four displays, all at the same time.
As we had received notification that our new fridge was being delivered, we began heading south back to Nevada. We did make a couple of stops en route. The first was to Bannack State Park. We had originally stopped at Nevada City, hoping to ride the Alder Gulch narrow gauge railway to Virginia City. We discovered it was not running on the day we arrived and Nevada City, a rebuilt town, looked rather like a tourist trap. So the authentic ghost town at Bannack State Park looked more like something we would enjoy, plus there was a campsite there. (http://bannack.org) So, off we went.
The campsite was lovely and we ended up staying two nights. We walked over to the “town” and had a most interesting and enjoyable visit. We purchased the information and self guided tour book for $2.00 which proved to be most worthwhile. It contained lots of information about life in the mining town and how hard it was.
And then we headed for Idaho.