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The Next Generation In The Study Of Custer's Last Stand
Unknown Warrior Marker
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By Friends' Board Member Mike Semenock
Wooden Leg Hill
June 25, 2003
All photos © Mike Semenock
(L) Ranger and Friends' Board Director -- Jerry Jasmer
(R) Park Historian -- John Doerner
While thousands gathered to dedicate a monument to the many who fought to defend their families and community, a tribute to one brave man went almost unnoticed. We know his stature as a warrior by the eagle feathered warbonnet he wore and his courageous deeds. But, we don't know his name. One hundred and twenty-seven years after his death, Indians and white men bowed their heads and honored him by dedicating a red granite marker to the Unknown Warrior of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
June 25, 2003 was a busy day at the battlefield. People swarmed to dedicate the long awaited, and long overdue, Indian Memorial. There were many speakers, a buffalo meat lunch, and the thrilling sight of Indian horsemen in places where the visitor usually can only imagine their presence. I took the path up to Last Stand Hill where I was to later do my stint as Friends' volunteer interpreter, and to get away from the crowd I have to admit. A ranger stepped into the small parking area near the 7th Cavalry monument. He announced there would be a dedication of an Indian marker in an area normally closed to visitors. I jumped at the opportunity.
A couple of people here, a few there, followed the ranger. We walked through the grass and yucca, dodging the prickly pear cactus, to Wooden Leg Hill about 100 yards northeast of the monument. The small crowd collected there could not have comprised more than twenty people. Beside Ranger Jerry Jasmer and John Doerner, Little Bighorn Chief Historian, the marker stood covered by a buffalo calf robe.
John described the flow of the battle that led to the events on that famous hill behind us. He spoke as only one who lives daily the history, the legend, and the landscape can. John then recreated what happened that day in 1876, on this very spot, in the words of eyewitness and Cheyenne warrior, Wooden Leg. The unknown Sioux warrior, his headdress as much a target as a symbol of courage, crouched behind a bunch of sagebrush. He would rise periodically and fire at the soldiers. On the last time he rose, a bullet struck him squarely in the middle of his forehead. He shuddered briefly before he lay still. Ironically, the firing ended soon afterward, the brave warrior never to fight again.
John then asked if there were any Lakota present. A young man named Moses Brings Plenty, hair braided in fur, his face painted with a black band across his eyes and red streaks below, and coupe stick in hand, stepped forward. His young son, Lane and his nephew Christian were waved forward and stood by the covered marker. As we bowed our heads in tribute to this warrior and his ultimate sacrifice, Moses pulled the robe from the red marker. At a place where red men and white once fought to the death, descendants of both cultures stood together in a place that now honors their shared history.
As I turned toward Last Stand Hill, I realized I was seeing it as the Unknown Warrior had; from a viewpoint now closed again to the public. I wondered what and whom he might have seen on that day. At which of those that lay on Last Stand Hill had he taken aim? And which of those had ended his life just shortly before theirs was taken? As I left the battlefield that day, the lore and legend had become a little more personal.
Copyright 1999-2013 Bob Reece
Friends Little Bighorn Battlefield, P.O. Box 636, Crow Agency, MT 59022