I'm sure you all have heard the tale of Custer's last stand...the triumphant defeat of a small band of American soldiers at the hands of an impossibly large native force. But you probably haven't heard the whole story. Did you know that General George Armstrong Custer actually attacked the natives—a village of the tribes of Lakota and Northern Cheyenne—and then proceeded to make several errors that brought his own demise?
That's just a small portion of all that I saw a few weeks ago with my family, from July 11 through 16, on our trip to and from Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. Ready to take a ride with me across the Mid-west United States? Then buckle your seat belt, because my dad's a notoriously reckless driver (though I've never been in an accident with him yet). But before I get ahead of myself, I should probably warn you that I will almost certainly forget something or mix some details up, so just bear it and grin.
Crossing the WA-ID and the ID-MT borders was fairly uneventful, after we dropped off our Dalmatian, Pippin, at a pet home on Saturday the 11th. Driving through Montana was also uneventful for the most part, although the freeway wound through a lot more mountainous area than I was expecting to see out of that state. We stayed the night in Missoula, and we checked out the University of Montana.
During the second day of driving, which was Sunday, we saw the battlefield of Little Bighorn. That's where General Custer led his troops to invade a sleeping Lakota camp, with little warning, and ordered an opening salvo that killed both warriors and non-combatants indiscriminately. The native warriors were able to use good tactics and take advantage of some mistakes that Custer made, chasing the soldiers off from the camp. My family listened to a knowledgeable, well-researched professor from Texas who explained the whole story. All throughout the presentation, I continued to register shock and indignation at the choices Custer made. Finally, at the end of the story, when Custer tried to make his way down a hill and across a river in a last-ditch effort to capture native women and children hostages, I was almost glad to hear how he was thwarted and killed.
This post has been so long in coming, and has taken me so long to write, that unfortunately the convictions that were burning so strongly in my heart a few weeks ago have mostly settled down. As a result, the fiery passion with which I wrote the above paragraphs no longer comes to my writing. But the convictions are not forgotten, and they are these: that the people who originally lived on this land have not been treated with fairness and justice; that the Europeans who immigrated to America (though not all of them) had greed in their eyes when they saw the land; and that people of the United States, today, should offer restitution to the descendants of those whose land was taken from them.
And that's really all I have to say now, although I have thought of many other words to put here. Perhaps another time, these words will be written down.
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Author's note: Time has passed quickly this past month. Summer has turned from the things I planned to the things I did...and maybe that's for the better.