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The Next Generation In The Study Of Custer's Last Stand
Little Bighorn Reflections
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June 26, 2001
By, Megan Reece
Speakers: Robert Utley, Bill Henry, Jerry Greene and Neil Mangum
Panel Discussion: Barbara Sutteer, Paul Hutton and Linda Pease
Chairman: Bob Reece
Martin Pate's original wayside exhibit paintings were on display during the symposium.
For those of you lucky enough to attend The Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield symposium, “Little Bighorn Reflections”, on June 26, 2001, I’m sure you will agree when I say that it was a tremendous and memorable day. For those of you unable to make it, I can assure you that it was a success.
To commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, seven former (or present) employees of the battlefield came to share their personal stories while employed at the battlefield. Each speech was lively and quite enjoyable to listen to.
Robert Utley spoke about being a "summer aide" for the Monument in the 1940s and the 1950s and about the American site that has changed tremendously over the past 60 years. Mr. Utley spoke about Edward Luce, the superintendent of the battlefield, who was kind enough to offer the 17 year old Utley a summer aide job, even though the position was normally open only to those 21 years and older. About the militaristic Luce, Utley explained, "He was a champion of Custer to the very core." He also told some rather amusing stories about Luce. A particularly good one was of the 75th anniversary of the battle, when Luce drove a government car with the emergency brake on. Luckily, no one was hurt when it caught on fire. Utley also talked about the coveted bottle of Scotch protected by Luce. That bottle of Scotch only came down for the most sacred of occasions, and Utley was very honored when it was brought down as a toast to him at the start of his military career.
Interpretation of the battle was far different in the 40s and 50s. With America just coming out of W.W.II, there was an extreme patriotism echoing throughout the country. The interpretative programs at the Monument spoke of militarism and the "Boy General" leading the brave 7th Cavalry full of soldiers willing to sacrifice their lives for the good of America. Unlike today, Native Americans held no part in the interpretations, except as the "savages" who slaughtered Custer and his men.
Photos below © Bob Reece
William Henry spoke about the 1960s, when America was in a great state of change. Vietnam was beginning and patriotism wasn’t as popular as it had been in the 50s. According to Henry, a few people still believed that Indians lived in teepees, and that if they were to drive to Montana to visit the battlefield, they may be ambushed in a scene reminiscent of a John Wayne movie. Of course this was not the case, but Henry exclaimed that it was amazing to see what people were willing to believe.
Henry explained that in the 60s, living history was becoming popular. People would visit the battlefield dressed in cavalry uniforms, buckskin, or as warriors. A few of them arrived for one of Henry’s first experiences at the battlefield; when Major Marcus Reno was re-interred in the National Cemetery. There was a huge amount of press coverage, and according to Henry, the event brought out some strange characters. With some of these people arriving, abnormal things began to happen involving the site. In fact, a file was started to keep track of odd occurrences. One told of a woman who claimed to have a deep understanding of Keogh. She believed that Keogh had fallen in love with a Mormon, and that they were to be married. Unfortunately, Keogh was killed before the plan could be followed through. The woman claimed to have had visions of Keogh and his love together in Heaven, so perhaps there was a happy ending to that story.
After a string of dangerous events at the battlefield that included the superintendent being hit in the head with a camera by a disgruntled seasonal, security was brought up a notch. Before that, however, Henry explained that when he came on as an employee, he was handed a gun and told to shoot off a few rounds. Apparently, after he had completed this "training," he was experienced in safety and law enforcement.
Jerry Greene, who spoke about the late 1960s and early 1970s, began his speech with the story of his first visit to the battlefield. It took a lot of effort to arrive, and when he finally did, the site was closed. Back then, however, the gates were left open at night, and so Greene just walked on in and camped out near the cemetery. It was a rather uncomfortable night for him, and he put it rather gracefully when he reminisced, saying, "In short, I froze my butt off." The next day, Greene visited the museum and attempted to walk the four-something mile hike out to the Reno/Benteen site. Unfortunately, somewhere around Medicine-Tail Coulee, he crossed the path of a rattlesnake and decided to turn around. Greene must have truly fallen in love with the place to keep returning after such an experience!
Several years later, Greene was selected to be a ranger at the battlefield and he talked briefly about some of his seasonal companions such as the late Cliff Nelson, Bob Carr, Wendy Day, and Christine Jeffries. (Women had been allowed to work at the battlefield only as recently as 1968, so Greene admitted that he and the other male seasonals spent quite a bit of time admiring these "rangerettes" in their flight-attendant like uniforms.) Greene reminisced about using a bullhorn to call back visitors who had strayed off of the set paths, and of the smoking habit that ran rampant through nearly every employee working at the battlefield. Greene also explained that he worked with more than a few die-hard Custer buffs. Since Reno had recently been re-interred in the National Cemetery, some were unhappy over his presence. Once in a while, the seasonals would hold parties with plenty of beer. Often after they had finished drinking, a few of them would walk up to Last Stand Hill to admire it in the moonlight. Since Major Reno’s grave was on the path to the Monument, Greene said that a few of the passing seasonals would kindly "share their beer" with Major Marcus Reno. Greene finished off his speech brilliantly with a quick description of a ranger who, having been startled by a rattlesnake at the Reno/Benteen defense site, proceeded to shoot it in the head in full view of several visitors.
Neil Mangum, who spoke about the 1980s, has been an employee for the park service since 1969, when he was hired as a seasonal. He was hired for a permanent position in 1971, and was always looking for a job at the Little Bighorn battlefield. When the position for Battlefield Historian opened up, Mangum was hired.
Mangum shared a few of his experiences while working on the battlefield. There was the time that two skunks had previously been spotted around the Visitor’s Center were found trapped in a window well about a month later. Mangum and Chris Summit were assigned the messy duty to get them out. They placed a wooden plank down in the window well to allow the skunks to climb out, and while it worked, Mangum and Summit also succeeded in getting sprayed by the two frustrated animals. While they were driving back to Hardin to clean up, the two of them must have grown used to the smell, because suddenly, they didn’t notice it anymore. And so, they decided to stop by the local grocery store in order to pick up some supplies. Apparently, all of the customers at the IGA noticed the horrible stench. It took a little while, but eventually they caught on and, lucky for the other shoppers, high-tailed it out of there.
Another great story that Mangum told was about the time when he was Park Historian and meeting Melissa Matheson, Harrison Ford, and Jimmy Buffet. Matheson was hoping to write a screenplay based on the book Son of the Morning Star, and to gain some knowledge of the battle, she brought her husband, Ford, and their good friend Buffet along for a visit.
Now, Mangum hadn’t seen a lot of movies, nor listened to a whole lot of modern music, so he really had no clue who these gentlemen were. He escorted the three out to Reno/Benteen and was trying to explain to Matheson the difference between reservation Indians and non-reservation Indians of 1876. In the process, when he had to speak to Ford, he ended up calling him by the wrong name, and when he went to speak to Buffet, all he could say was, "Mr...um, I’m sorry, what is your name again?" The employees at the battlefield all shared a good laugh over their superior’s lack of "civilized" knowledge.
The Panel Discussion
The panel discussing the 1990s included Barbara Sutteer, Paul Hutton, and Linda Pease. It was very interesting and enlightening to listen to and a strong unifying message was portrayed to the audience. Barbara Sutteer was the Superintendent during the early 90s. Not only was she the first woman to become Superintendent, she was also the first Native American. She spoke briefly of her experiences in the groundbreaking job. An event that particularly stands out in her mind is of the changing of the name from the Custer Battlefield National Monument to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in 1991. A lot of people believed that visitation would plummet, but instead it grew. In fact, after the name change, visitation skyrocketed up 21.5% to 400,000 in 1991.
Perhaps the change invited more people of different races to begin visiting; it was a start towards making the battlefield a memorial to all who had fought there and at last, warriors as well as American soldiers were being honored.
Paul Hutton shared his experiences of being on the Indian Memorial Committee that selected the design for the soon to be built Indian Memorial. It was long, hard work and there were many things to be considered.
A design was decided upon; it will be built to honor the brave Native American warriors who fought at the Little Bighorn to defend their homes and their way of life. The two monuments will stand near each other so that everyone standing at either location can clearly observe both structures.
Hutton expressed the importance of getting Federal Funds in order to build the Indian Memorial. Federal Funds paid for the 7th Cavalry Monument, and so should provide for a memorial to the Native Americans. Hutton put it well when he said that the Indian Memorial is not a counterpoint to the cavalry monument, but a complement.
White Man Runs Him, Linda Pease’s father’s grandfather, was a scout with Custer at the Little Bighorn. Pease told of her experience with the battlefield’s name change. On December 10, 1991, she joined a rally in celebration of the change. Protesters against the name were yelling, "Change it back!" and supporters were retorting, "It’s too late now!" Pease said that that day was a very monumental and exciting one for Native Americans everywhere. It had taken 115 years, but at last, the name for the battlefield was there to represent not only the 7th Cavalry, but also everyone who had been involved. Pease also said that after the name change, more Native Americans began visiting and working at the battlefield; proof that the change meant a great deal to people everywhere.
Every person kind enough to speak at the symposium must be congratulated. It was an amazing, informative, and interesting day for all who attended. Thank you all for coming, and thanks again to the speakers for giving us all a glimpse into the history of the Little Bighorn Battlefield.
Copyright 1999-2013 Bob Reece
Friends Little Bighorn Battlefield, P.O. Box 636, Crow Agency, MT 59022