All photos © Joanne Blair, Larry Bright, Phil Dyer, Lola Mauer, Bob
Reece, Megan Reece, Mike Semenock,
and Sharon Small, as
Friends Summer Events 2008 -- 132nd Anniversary of the Battle of the
By Megan Reece
This year at the Little Bighorn Battlefield was the same in many ways; the
132nd anniversary celebrations revolved around history, debate, and
friendship just as in years past. But this year was also different in many
ways. It was a year of transition; former Superintendent Darrell Cook only
recently retired and an interim superintendent, James Charles, has been
appointed to hold the job until a permanent superintendent can be found.
Keogh Sector Flora - photo by L.
The flora and fauna of the battlefield were also different this year; a
late spring bloom is the likely reason. Instead of purple flowers dotting
the landscape, lacy yellow flowers – which apparently go by as many
different names as there are people naming them – provided the backdrop
for the otherwise familiar scene. Rabbits were out in an even greater
abundance than usual, and they were also far more sociable. Ask me about
the baby rabbit that tried to crawl onto my lap at the bottom of the Deep
Ravine Trail next time you see me.
Last Stand Hill - photo by
The greatest difference that the Friends trail volunteers noticed, though,
was with the visitors. We predicted smaller-than-normal monument visitors
on the trails for two reasons. First, we did not actually work the trails
on the anniversary; in order to better accommodate volunteers’ work
schedules, we moved our trail work back a few days to correspond with the
weekend. Second, we predicted that higher-than-ever gas and food prices
would prevent many tourists from venturing out to our part of the country.
We were right about the tourists; while visitation to the battlefield has
been up this year overall, volunteer interaction with visitors was quiet
for the most part. At least it was with American visitors. Apparently,
this was the year for the overseas tourist. The Euro and the Pound are
doing quite well on the international market and this showed at the
battlefield. I met several English and Welsh, as well as Australians,
Irish, Scottish, Austrians, and countless others. It was enlightening and
inspiring to hear these visitors talk about their interest in the American
West. It made me appreciate my own American heritage very much.
Some of our members and
volunteers that make-up The Friends
Another change at the battlefield this year was one that offered several
promises. There were a few young women – either affiliated with the
Friends or with an overall interest in the battle – present. Friends board
member and newsletter editor Lola Mauer worked down at the Keogh Sector as
a quick stop off during her family vacation. A graduate student from
Columbia University, Lane Anderson came to the Friends’ events to learn
more about the battle, as well as the origins of some attendees’ passion
for its history. Friends member Jolene Peterson’s young granddaughter
worked out at Reno-Benteen and answered visitors’ questions. It is
inspiring to see young people – especially young women – so interested in
the battle. Younger generations’ participation means that the battlefield
will stay pristine and safe for many years into the future because more
people will be along to take care of it.
The differences I observed at the battlefield this year served to make me
reflective and somewhat sentimental. Being at the bottom of the Deep
Ravine Trail always makes me pause to think not only about the soldiers
and warriors who died at this place, but also about the origins of our
country and what it means to me to be a citizen of the United States.
Change is occurring in every corner of our special country, and the
battlefield is just one reflection of this change.
Now, to the events. The Friends were treated to a fantastic lineup of
history, food, and fun this year. There was not a quiet night during the
whole trip. On Friday, Jerome Greene presented his paper on American
Indian accounts of the Battle, and intrigued the crowd with his
abbreviated history of the Battlefield from his own perspective. Greene is
always a joy to hear. He lets his passion for history shine through
everything he says, and is a wonderful friend to know.
Jerome Greene presentation at
Jump here to read his
Greene’s presentation brought history fans out of the woodwork. Honored
attendees included James Brust, Richard Fox, Jim Donovan, Ron Papandrea, and Cricket Pohanka Bauer. Kay Hunsaker introduced Jerome Greene before his
presentation after President Bob Reece thanked all attendees.
Greene’s speech about the history of the American Indian battle accounts
was intriguing and exciting. His personal story about the origins of his
interest in the battle was humorous and heartwarming. I am sure many of
the folks in the audience were able to identify with the inspiration
Greene took from seeing the Errol Flynn movie “They Died With Their Boots
On” as a child. Greene left plenty of time for questions and answers and
then spent some time signing copies of
Stricken Field: The
Little Bighorn Since 1876, as well as anything
else attendees happened to bring along.
Greene’s graciousness and sociable nature showed through in the hours
before his presentation Friday night as well. He stopped by staff housing
Apartment C – the temporary Friends’ headquarters – to talk and sit for a
while before he would speak formally. Volunteers who happened to be in the
apartment at the time seemed to enjoy his presence fully, as he talked
about his experience with the battlefield and with his other historical
Greene spent time at the Friends’ headquarters throughout Saturday and
before the Feast began that evening. He even used the time for an
impromptu book signing. I had already asked him to sign my new copy of
Stricken Field, as I am lucky enough to live not too far away from the
Denver Tattered Cover bookstores where Greene often speaks, but I did hand
over a brand new copy of Evidence and the Custer Enigma for him to
Bob Reece and his new fiancée Joanne Blair, bustled around the apartment
kitchen doing prep-work on the food. Seventy Friends’ members and guests
congregated on the back patio of the seasonal staff apartments for
burgers, hot dogs, – and veggie dogs for those brave enough – salads, and
fixings, as well as two kinds of cake. Reece grilled the food and he and
Blair wore matching Friends aprons. VIP attendees included Darrell Cook,
interim Superintendent James Charles, and Big Horn Canyon interim
Superintendent Sande McDermott.
Greene visits Friends members
before his presentation Friday night as well as photos from the Friends
After everyone was full and happy, Reece held the Friends general
membership meeting. He took the opportunity to present some of the guests
and to fill the group in on Friends happenings. The Friends raised $1700
during Friday and Saturday alone. Much of these new funds could be
attributed to the Friends’ information table that Friends treasurer and
secretary Kay Hunsaker, her husband Randy, and board member Mike Semenock
ran in front of the visitors’ center. They provided information about the
Friends and sold tickets to Greene’s Friday night talk. Hunsaker’s
sociable nature and good carrying voice surely coaxed many visitors
Hunsaker and Semenock surprised Reece and Cook after the president’s
announcements. Kay stated that the Friends board had voted – without the
president – to present him and Cook with special jackets as a token of
appreciation for all of their hard work. Reece and Cook were surprised to
receive the navy blue jackets with the Friends’ logo on the left and their
names on the right.
Following the Friends’ Feast, Sharon Small and Friends board member and
park ranger Jerry Jasmer took members
into the archives for a fascinating
showcase and tour. They had laid out several artifacts for perusal,
including jewels from the Slim Buttes Village. Keogh’s guidon was a
highlight, as well as the 7th Cavalry regimental standard. Other items of
interest included Custer’s officer commission and West Point graduation
diploma signed by Lincoln, pipe bags, maps, and bugles. Small asked
Friends member Craig Fischer to talk some about the bugles. He was able to
tell the crowd a few things about when they were made and what their
purposes were; he was able to glean this information after studying the
instruments for only a few moments.
Small took the Friends into the archives in two groups. The first thing
that struck the crowd was the size of the archives. The space is
incredibly limited; it is so small in fact, that Small keeps some of the
inventory in her own office. Small started the tour with a gorgeous
re-creation of the Sitting Bull buffalo robe which was donated by former
superintendent Darrell Cook’s son. She then took us through the archives
and we were able to see the drawers and cabinets in which the maps and
other battle and historical artifacts are stored. She then led us into the
humidity controlled vault where particularly special items are kept when
they are not on display. Some of Custer’s personal effects are stored in
this space, for example.
After Small’s tour, Jasmer gave a talk about the Slim Buttes artifacts.
The two of them then led us up into the visitors’ center for a very unique
tour. Jasmer showed the group his own 1873 Springfield. The gun’s serial
number and Jasmer’s research suggest that it was only a few numbers away
from being in the battle. Small then took the group through the key that
goes along with J.K. Ralston’s painting “After the Battle” that hangs near
the exit of the visitors’ center museum. It was interesting to take a
deeper look at the painting and to come away with a better understanding
of what it really means. Small also gave the Friends a helpful rundown of
the new Sitting Bull exhibit and explained what some of the paintings on
the buffalo robe meant.
After this amazing and enlightening tour, the Friends parted ways. Most
people headed to their respective corners of the country and the world the
following day. Saying goodbye is difficult, but there is always the
promise of another year; the Little Bighorn Battlefield and her Friends
will always be drawn back to explore, debate, and, of course, eat.
From Bob Reece:
As we expected, the 132nd anniversary weekend and Friends events were memorable
for Friends members and their guests. Megan's report has captured the essence of that experience
well. I’d like to conclude this report by thanking the many volunteers who
interpret along the trails. They share their interests for this story and
love for the Friends organization with the visitors. It is not hard to
imagine that many visitors take that passion with them, which produces
many new memberships in Friends over the following months.
I can’t thank the NPS staff enough for all their help over the weekend.
Acting Superintendent James Charles welcomed Friends with open arms. His
allowing us to use apartment C for our command post provided a perfect
place for volunteers to congregate. Most importantly, preparation for the
Friends Feast would have been impossible without use of the apartment.
Chief of Interpretation Ken Woody ably assisted Mike Semenock with all
preparation for the trail volunteers. Jerry Jasmer assisted us in
preparation for the Feast. And, Sharon Small and Jerry Jasmer led the
impressive tour of the archives which included a theater presentation.
Thanks to board members Mike Semenock and Kay Hunsaker for their
dedication to Friends and the incredible amount of time they gave over the
months before the anniversary weekend. Their idea for an information table
in front of the visitor center paid off in new memberships, book sales of
Greene’s limited edition of Stricken Field, and tickets to his
presentation. They spent most of their free time manning the table on
Friday instead of viewing the battlefield. Now, that’s dedication!
Thanks to Joanne Blair. She did another incredible job in
prodding companies to donate to the Friends Feast. Her persistence paid
off and resulted in big savings for Friends. Her past experience with
owning restaurants in the Denver area enabled her to easily prepare and
handle feeding 70 people. The Feast could not have been such a success
without her leading it.
Little Bighorn Battlefield sunset --
photo by Joanne Blair
like to thank those individual companies from Denver's United Sales &
Service brokers that
contributed food and water:
Box Bakery Cookie Dough
Reser's Fine Foods (Potato and macaroni salads)
Lightlife Veggie Dogs
Simply Fresh Fruit
Mountain Valley Spring Water