Posts Tagged ‘Custer’s Last Stand’

We flew down the freeway from Itchkeppe City Park in Columbus, Montana, bound for the rental in Hermosa, South Dakota. Gas & breakfast at a truck stop on the Crow Reservation, and then a side trip to see the site where General George A. Armstrong met his unglorious end.


I visited this site in 1966, and it is still just as sad and lonesome as it was then. The voices of the people who lost their way of life (this battle was the beginning of the end for the First Nations) and the cries of the white men who died there still whisper in the winds. The very ground cries out, and the crickets in the grass sing sorrowful melodies.


Prayer flags flap in the wind from the monument that was erected to honor the warriors who died defending their sacred lands.

We drove out to the site of Reno’s Retreat, and gazed in awe at the expanse of contested land, and wondered at Reno’s frustrations as he could not reach the ill-fated Seventh Cavalry.

We also logged two new birds for our life-list: the lark bunting (which I never got a photo of) and the lark sparrow.


The sparrow left his own commentary on the history plaques, most of which was not kind to the human species and their wars.

We raced across Wyoming and into South Dakota, stopping in Rapid City for gas. There, I did something so 21st Century that it amazes me still: I figured out how to get Waze o tell me how to get to the rental in Hermosa! This was a good thing as the house was way-the-heck-out-there. (For my adult children: I programmed Waze and then handed the phone to Donald with the instructions, “Waze will start talking, so just hold onto this.”)

We still; had lovely weather when we arrived at the rental, and all the cousins were planning on a trip out to see the evening ceremony at Mt. Rushmore, so we decided to jump into someone’s car and join them. It’s a good thing we did as the mountain was shrouded in clouds for the rest of our visit!


(Photo courtesy of Ellen Block)

Saturday, we went off on our own to drive through Custer State Park. I apologize now if you were someone who got trapped behind us as we wandered through those winding little roads at the posted speed limit: I just drove over 1300 miles to see the damn park and I wasn’t going to speed up simply to appease someone who can’t slow down and look at the flowers. We also apologize to anyone who stopped behind us thinking we saw animals: we were looking at wildflowers and trying to identify them. You should try it sometime – it might expand your world.


The narrow tunnels were amazing. Not sure who that guy is or why he’s holding up the granite wall…


Every last one of the cousins managed to arrive at Sylvan Lake on Saturday, but at different times.

Don and I drove down to the little town of Custer because we wanted to check out the beer sub culture. We ended up in the Bugling Bull, sitting at the bar next to a lovely couple from California who were celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary.



The taxidermy was wonderful: some very lifelike poses, and then these two items. On the right is a typical Jackalope (which, despite the name, sports antlers and not prongorns). On the left is… um… what I referred to as a “beavalope” but was informed it was a “horny beaver”. I did not name it.

There was also a drunken pheasant on its back, balancing a bottle of whiskey with its legs, but I did not capture a photo of that anomaly.

It rained all day Sunday, so we simply stayed in and enjoyed each other’s company on our last day of the 2018 Melrose Family Reunion sans the Melrose Girls: Phyllis (died 2017), Donna (too frail to come at age 88), and Mary Lou (died 1995).

Tomorrow: the road home

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1967. Badlands. The little girl on the left dressed meticulously in her favorite colors: pale blue with matching shorts. She was between Fifth Grade and Sixth Grade and the summer was the only pleasant part of those years.

She weighed 64 tons that summer. Yes, I wrote 64 tons. She bragged about it in the car as the family traveled from Winnemucca, Nevada, to Durand, Wisconsin, for the oldest cousin’s high school graduation (and first Melrose Family Reunion). No amount of crying “No, no, no, no! I meant pounds!” (through fits of giggles) would ever change that weight. It was recorded by the kid in the middle. 64 tons.

That little girl got out of the Worst Year in School (so she thought) early. Family vacation. Trip to Wisconsin. “We’ll make it educational.” Her cousins wouldn’t know that she peed her pants in the 5th Grade because the teacher wouldn’t let anyone, no matter how desperate, use the bathroom during classroom time. (That teacher was lucky to keep her job after the little girl’s parents found out that their daughter had been humiliated in front of the entire 5th grade.)

Lesson #1: how to advocate for your child. Notes taken.

Her girlfriends at school got their ears pierced (YUCK!), started dating (double YUCK!), and some girls even started wearing nylons. Not panty-hose – those hadn’t been invented yet: you had to wear a garter belt to hold up the nylons. She still wanted to grow up to be a wild horse and her best friend was two years younger than her.

Vacation was wonderful. We pulled a camp trailer to Wisconsin, but we also stayed in motels and swam in motel pools. When we got to Wisconsin, all the cousins had gathered. Cheryl was the Belle of the Ball, graduating from High School (she was SO Old). Pegi was almost too old to be bothered with us little ones and at one point, she locked us all out of the house. Patti and Terry conspired to torment the rest of us. Janis and I were close. Valerie and Deni. Then the little ones who got locked inside the house with Pegi: Wendy and the Holy Terror, Vicky, who ran around saying “Shit!” and “HAHAHA that’s MY — (insert name of item)”.

We ran next door to the Dairy Queen and scored on free Dilly Bars. Make mine lime.

The trip home was a denouement. The car started over-heating with the trailer. We couldn’t go to St. Louis to see the Budweiser horses. The Black Hills were out of the question, with the visages of four presidents. We managed the Badlands and the memorial for Custer’s Last Stand. I was already a nerd: I knew how the battle happened, that the united Sioux Nation was retaliating for earlier murders, and the only survivor of the U.S. Cavalry was a horse named “Comanche” (ironic, eh?). I was fascinated to see the lay of the battle – Custer wasn’t on top of the hill, but his men were spread out on the side of the hill. The Indians came over the top and swarmed them. Mutilations were mere retaliations for earlier mutilations committed by the 7th. I was only interested in the horse that survived, and we drove by his museum without stopping.

In Yellowstone, Dad embarrassed the entire family by pulling up behind someone feeding the bears and laying on the horn. Other people just stopped and took photos or drove around the bear feeders, but not Dad. He had to make a scene out of it. “Gee, Dad, why’s that guy waving at you with his middle finger?”

We had magazines at home like “Sports Illustrated”, “Field and Stream”, and “Outdoor Life”. Recent articles on grizzly bear attacks in Yellowstone dominated the articles. DON’T FEED THE BEARS was a huge campaign. Dad was a federal Officer on vacation and he used his clout (the horn) to save many a tourist from an unprovoked bear attack. Yay Dad.

The 1964 earthquake shook up the geysers, Old Faithful was off schedule and only rose to a mere twenty or thirty feet in the air. Bust. (Years later, when we revisited Yellowstone, the geyser was back to herself – impressive!)

We camped in Yellowstone. There was this bear. It was huge, cinnamon colored, and hump-backed. It dragged a bag full of trash behind it as it ambled through the camp ground and people took photos.

Remember the little girl in the photo? She was a budding environmentalist. She happily followed the bear, picking up the trash, humming to herself about what a good little environmentalist she was. When the bear settled in a small grove of trees and started to munch on its treasures, the little girl continued to blissfully pick up the detritus. Cameras clicked.

Out of nowhere – and I mean NOWHERE – the vacationing Forest Ranger appeared. He was moving at speeds that would put Superman to shame. He grabbed that little girl by the waist and tucked her under his arm before retreating – quickly – back to the camper. He didn’t say a word, didn’t spank her, didn’t have the breath to speak. She cried because she picked up on the fear.

That night, the family lay snug inside the camp trailer, listening to the same grizzly bear toy with the huge logging chain on the garbage can that was buried in concrete and locked down. In the morning, the garbage can, lid, and chain had all been pulled out of the ground.

Lesson#2. Grizzly Bears are real. Grizzly Bears are superhuman. Dads are faster.

The family returned to Winnemucca, unscathed. The little girl was disappointed about all the missed horses (Clydesdales and Comanche). She called her school friend, Trudi, to tell her all about the trip. And that was when she found out about the rest of the school year that she’d missed – fortunately.

That 5th Grade Teacher was so strict and so mean, but she made one mistake. She allowed the students to “grade” each others’ workbooks. Workbooks were passed front to back or back to front, where a friend usually sat. And said friend would “miss” some of the mistakes on a test, thus ensuring a higher grade. Of course, if it was an enemy who sat before or behind you, all bets were off.

Said teacher discovered the cheating during the last week of school and a riot act was read. Hearts sank into stomachs. Grades couldn’t be changed, but a loss of trust was just as devastating to some of us. We actually idolized that teacher (for reasons still unknown to me, except she was pretty and young, and she had her nice moments). Caught red-handed (or not, because I couldn’t bring myself to succumb to the cheating), we all felt this huge wave of guilt…

Funny – as an adult, I think it was her just desserts, but at the time… I just felt shame and more embarrassment than when I peed my pants in class. Maybe it was because the teacher really tried to make that up to me after she nearly lost her job over it. Maybe it was because it was her first year teaching and she didn’t know what to expect out of a class of 5th graders. Maybe it was because she was pretty and young and my school friend, Trudi, adored her.

Lesson #3 – Cheating never pays. Even when the teacher brought it on herself.

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