Monday, August 31, 2015

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

One reason we came to Sheridan was to have a base camp from which to explore the area, including the Battle of the Little Bighorn National Monument.  Last year we renewed our interest in the life of General George Armstrong Custer when we camped at Custer’s Gulch RV Park.  The park is located on the site of Custer’s “permanent camp” where he stayed for several days in 1874 while exploring the Black Hills. (See my post from September of last year if you want to know more.)

The site of “Custer’s Last Stand” is only an hour’s drive north of Sheridan.   Located beside the Little Bighorn River in the rolling plains of southern Montana, this is where, on June 25 and 25, 1876, the U.S. Army attempted to force some 6,000 to 7,000 members of several Sioux and Cheyenne tribes to return to their reservations.  

Custer and the 7th Cavalry were assigned to accompany Brigadier General Alfred Terry and his Dakota Column.  In accordance with Gen. Terry's strategy and orders, Custer’s command, consisting of some 600 men, attacked the Sioux and Cheyenne village.  The warriors were first reported to be some 800 strong, but were later estimated to number around 2,000.  Custer had divided his troops into four groups.  He and 225 men died near Last Stand Hill.  The other three groups lost significant numbers as well.

The Indian forces, under the command of the Oglala War Chief Crazy Horse, outsmarted, outfought and killed Custer and some 262 men.  Although the Indians won the day, it was the last significant battle in the Plains Indians’ struggle to hold on to their traditional nomadic life.  After the battle, most of the individual bands fled the area and ultimately returned to their reservations.

We took a day trip to learn more about the battle and try to understand how a capable leader and decorated Civil War veteran like Custer could have made such an historic blunder.  Many of the details of the story were lost with Custer and the 225 men who died alongside him, but park personnel did a fine job of explaining what historians think may have happened.  If you have a chance to visit the area, be sure to watch the short film and attend one of the ranger talks detailing what is known about the battle.

As we began our tour of the battlefield and adjacent cemetery, the river valley and hills to the west were shrouded in smoke from forest fires in eastern Washington and western Montana.  Based on some of the descriptions of the battle, it may have looked somewhat the same in June of 1876, although the dust and smoke from gunfire would have been much thicker.

The road through the Monument begins at Last Stand Hill, where a large obelisk lists the names of the men who fell.  At the top of the column is the name of Bvt. Maj. Gen'l G.A. Custer, followed by the names of the Captains, Lieutenants and Soldiers who fell.  The inscription on the base reads, "In Memory of Officers and Soldiers Who Fell Near This Place Fighting With The 7th United States Cavalry Against Sioux Indians On The 25th and 26th Of June, A.D. 1876."  

Approximately 220 of the soldiers and civilians are buried at the base of the monument.  Some of the officers’ remains were disinterred the following year and reburied elsewhere at the request of their families.  General Custer was buried at West Point.  

Below the monument are white markers positioned where the members of Custer’s company fell.  The place where Custer’s body was found is easy to see because his marker has a dark face.

On the opposite side of the monument is a white marble marker honoring the horses of the 7th Cavalry who died alongside their riders, sometimes killed intentionally to form a shield for the soldiers. 

As we drove through the battlefield, some of which is located on private lands, we came across groups of horses grazing beside the road.  It isn't hard to imagine that they might have been the decendents of mounts that survived the battle.

Actually, Comanche, the horse ridden by Captain Myles Keogh, is recognized as the only survivor of General Custer's detachment of the 7th Cavalry at the battle.  Though other horses survived and were captured by the Indians, Comanche was severely wounded.   Two days after the battle he was found, transported to Fort Lincoln and nursed back to health.  He died at age 29, and is one of only two horses in U.S. history to be given a military funeral with full military honors.

Scattered throughout the park are white marble markers indicating where members of the 7th Cavalry fell.  Some bear names of individual soldiers or scouts but the names of others are lost in time.  The total U.S. casualty count, including scouts, was was said to be 268 dead and 55 wounded.

These markers, located not far from where Custer's detachment fell, are markers for Captain Keogh's detachment where they were attacked by Crazy Horse and his forces.  

The high bluffs above the Little Bighorn is the area where Custer's second in command, Major Marcus A. Reno, and his men retreated after their initial charge against the village.   In the photo below, you can still see the trenches dug by the men to establish defensive positions against the Indians.  

Also scattered through the park are red granite stones marking the locations where bodies of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors were found.  

The bodies of the Custer’s forces were hastily buried several days later when reinforcements arrived.  Bodies of the warriors were taken away by their comrades and families and placed in their traditional burial grounds.  For that reason, the exact number of Indian casualties is not known.  It is thought to be 36-136 killed and 160 wounded.

In tribute to the Native Americans who lost their lives in the battle, the Indian Memorial was dedicated in 2003 and completed in 2013.  It stands 75 yards northeast of the 7th Cavalry monument.

A "spirit gate" window allows visitors inside to see the 7th Cavalry obelisk.  We were told that "Symbolically, the spirit gate welcomes the departed Cavalry solders into the memorial circle."  

Inside the memorial are displayed the names of the warriors and quotations from some of them.  A "Spirit Warrior" sculpture is displayed within the Indian Memorial and represents the warriors that fought in the battle.

The day we spent at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument was time well spent.  We saw a lot, but would like to return for another day to see everything we missed.  Don't miss it if you're in the area.  And be sure to have lunch at the Trading Post Restaurant across the street.  You won't regret it.  

(P.S.  Since the Monument is also a National Cemetery, pets are not allowed out of your vehicle.  Either do a pet pit stop before you go in, or leave Fido in the RV or a boarding facility.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sheep Camp

Our next stop was in Sheridan, Wyoming.  The last time we were in northern Wyoming was on our way to Yellowstone several years ago, and I’m glad this time we took some time to explore the area.  The rolling plains just east of the Bighorn Mountains are beautiful, especially this year because the area had good rains in the spring.  

Almost everywhere we looked, deer and pronghorn antelope grazed in the valleys and lounged in the fields.

But what really excited Rue and me was the opportunity to work sheep again!  Our last herding lesson was over a month ago, and both of us were feeling very sheep-deprived.  I contacted the Wyoming Stock Dog Association for help in finding someone in the area to work with, and was delighted to be referred to Wendy Auzqui.  Wendy and her husband ranch east of Sheridan and raise both sheep and cattle.  She works with five dogs of her own, plus one she is training for someone in Idaho.  Wendy was very gracious in allowing us to come out for lessons and to help us work on some areas that have been problematical.  

The day John came out to take photos, it was cool and the wind was gusting to near 50 mph.  To stay out of the wind, we worked in Wendy’s indoor, covered round pen.  The light wasn’t good for photos, but you should be able to tell what is happening. 

Wendy used her dog to show how she uses a small cord to encourage the dog to stay “on your feet” when executing a “stand.”

Then Rue and I worked on the same thing.  

And here I am using a new-to-me tool called a whip-flag.  It is used to help the dog understand what a verbal command means.  Here, I am using it to encourage Rue to change directions quickly when told to do so.  

It felt very good to be back working sheep with my dog.

I hope to find other training opportunities while we are on the road, so Sheryl won't have to start all over with us when we return to Austin in November.  And I especially look forward to coming back this way next year and spending some more time with Wendy at "Sheep Camp" building on Rue’s and my herding skills.

Take Me Out to the Fair

Friday afternoon, August 14, we pulled into camp at the Douglas, Wyoming, KOA.  This is one of our favorite overnight stops…if we can get the right camp sight.  This time, we were fortunate.  Site E2 is a long pull-through that sits near the small dog park and much larger horse corrals and pasture.  

We have a nice, grassy, yard; the dogs have horses and bunnies to watch, and we have easy access to a couple of areas where it’s ok to let the dogs off leash to chase balls (and sometimes a bunny! Those wascally wabbits were everywhere!). 

The park staff is also very friendly, and they have regular events like “free s’mores” and hamburger suppers for a reasonable price.  

This trip we stayed longer than usual.  Upon arriving, we found that the Wyoming State Fair was taking place just a couple of miles away.  It’s not the State Fair of Texas, you understand.  (After all, the entire population of Wyoming is less than 600,000…6,000,000 less than the estimated number of souls in the DFW metroplex alone.)  It’s a fun event, though, and we enjoyed our visit.  

On Friday evening we opted to skip the rodeo because there was thunder and lightening all around.  In fact, we were surprised they were still holding events.  The kids didn’t mind the inclement weather; they were having a great time in the “Hamster Balls.”

Hamsters weren't the only critters, though.  This zebra and leopard were getting everyone's attention.  

On Saturday, we arrived shortly after noon to take in the Draft Horse Competition.  

These magnificent animals are far from the plodding “plow horses” we have all heard about.  Descended from the steeds that once carried knights into battle, they are quite spirited.  This pair of percherons could high-step with the best, whether pulling a cart or skidding a log, 


as could these Belgians.  

There were several events, and the horses competed singly and in pairs.  I think I enjoyed the log skids best.  

It takes real skill, not to mention athletic ability, to keep the horses on course and navigating the obstacles while running behind and avoiding the log!  

This handsome clydesdale was a real show-stopper.  He could be on my Budweiser team any time!

And if you had any question about how big these guys really are, here is a photo John took of me saying hello to one of the percherons in the barn.  As you can see, my head wouldn't come anywhere close to the top of his back!  

We had a great time in Douglas, and hope to plan our trip next year to again take in the State Fair.  And I owe John a big Thank You.  He was a real trooper.  Horses aren't a passion for him, but he stuck with me through the whole afternoon of draft horse events, and I'm grateful for his patience and especially for his company.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Estes Park

We were able to get a reservation in Estes Park…but just barely.  We were able to find space at our favorite Estes Park destination, Estes RV Campground at Mary’s Lake, but only for three nights.  We love this small, city campground.  The sites and roads are gravel, but there is a fantastic 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains.  And this time, the resident doe stood still to have her picture taken.

We were not disappointed.  Even though we had rain showers, there were fantastic sunrises each morning of our visit.

We especially enjoyed our time with my cousin, Frances, and her husband, Roy.  They have a lovely home in the Windcliff section on the edge of Estes Park.  

I took this sunset photo from their upper deck when we went over for chilled beverages and BBQ.

Another special treat was a visit to the visitor center at Rocky Mountain National Park.  The park has a couple of wonderful short films to give an overview of the history of the park, as well as its plants and animals.  This is the centennial year for RMNP, and everyone was celebrating the last 100 years of this wonderful park.

The dogs enjoyed our stay, as well.  Each day, we took short walks outside the campground to explore the nearby trails among the rocks overlooking Mary’s Lake.  There were squirrels, bunnies and ground squirrels to chase, which made for exciting outings.

We also took a walk up the Homer Rouse Trail near camp.  The trail begins at an access road, but soon crosses a lovely small stream and winds its way up the mountainside.  

The dogs didn’t have to wear their packs, but did get a chance to refresh their memory of the “trail” command.  That tells them that they are not free to explore the woods, but must remain on the trail.  Fortunately, they have good memories and quickly fell back into the routine we use when hiking.

Once again, because of problems with making reservations, we were forced to leave a place, and family, we love and move on sooner than we wanted.  We look forward to getting back for a longer visit...maybe next year.

Colorful Colorado

We had an uneventful trip from Raton to Colorado Springs.  It was uneventful for us, that is.  Just as we came off Raton Pass and approached Trinidad, we came upon and accident that had just happened.  The driver of the pickup with utility trailer had apparently lost control and overturned just moments before.  Other drivers had stopped to assist and direct traffic until law enforcement arrived, so we drove slowly past and on into town.  

We were fortunate to get into Colorado Springs shortly after noon, and were able to get a space at Cheyenne Mountain State Park just south of town.  The park is lovely, and the views of sunrise over Colorado Springs are spectacular.  

Our campsite was lovely, as well.  We had a visit at the top of these steps from a muley doe the morning we left. 

Rue was on her tie-out and, predictably, went into full alarm mode as soon as the doe appeared.  Unfortunately, though the doe wasn’t especially frightened, she hopped away before I could reach for my camera.

The highlight of the trip for me was a visit with my good friend Carolyn.  She and I attended school together from first grade through high school graduation.  We don’t get to see each other often, so we always have a lot of catching up to do.  

Carolyn is also a great tour guide and a fine ambassador for Colorado Springs.  This trip she took me for a tour of the Air Force Academy.  I was especially impressed with the lovely Cadet Chapel designed by the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill of Chicago.  That is Carolyn at the foot of the steps in the first photo.

 The section we toured is the Protestant Chapel, which seats 1200.  Here is the view of the altar.

And the magnificent pipe organ.

There are also separate Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist chapels with their own entrances, along with a large all-faiths room.  Each chapel has its own entrance, and services may be held simultaneously without interfering with one another. 

There is also another building under construction, which I believe is to house meeting or conference facilities.  The outer structure has been completed, but work is still in progress on the interior.

Carolyn introduced me to one of her favorite restaurants, Biaggi’s, where we had a great Italian lunch.  We had hoped to see Carolyn’t granddaughter, who works there, but unfortunately, she was not working the lunch shift.  

Our time in Colorado Springs was all too short.  We had hoped to stay several more days, but could not get reservations.  It seems that a combination of cheap fuel and a lovely, rainy spring have combined to produce lots of RV traffic in Colorado as well as New Mexico.  We’ll do a better job of planning next trip.