Friends Of The Little Bighorn Battlefield

The Next Generation In The Study Of Custer's Last Stand

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Summer 2016


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Friends Summer Events

June 24-25, 2016

140th Anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Storm On The Custer Ridge Extension

Photo by Bob Reece

Friends members attending the 140th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn had a great weekend catching up with old friends, as well as the added pleasure of making new ones. Our members contributed to the record-breaking number of annual visitors to the battlefield thanks to the Park Service’s brilliant marketing campaign for its centennial celebration.

Our members were busy assisting the Park Service as transport drivers for visitors to and from the battlefield from a designated off-site parking lot. At the visitor center, a parking spot was prime Montana real estate, so our volunteers also assisted the rangers with traffic control. Ranger Michael Donahue later told me the summer of 2016 had been the busiest he had experienced during his 25 plus years as a seasonal ranger.

Friday and Saturday, June 24-25, 2016

Friends volunteer interpreters returned to the Deep Ravine and Keogh/Crazy Horse Trails, Last Stand Hill, Indian Memorial, and the Reno-Benteen Battlefield to share the story of the battle with the visitors. For safety, our volunteers wear reflective green vests with nameplates. The vest is a huge icebreaker, and makes for a comfortable opening to perform a battle conversation.

Annual Field Trip "Following Custer's Left Wing Along the Custer Ridge Extension: Ford D, Exit One Mile Ahead"

This year, we had an incredible fundraiser field trip led by Park Ranger and Battle Historian extraordinaire Mike Donahue. Thanks to permission from the Custer Battlefield Preservation Committee, we ventured onto terrain most of us have only observed from a distance: The Custer Ridge Extension.


Supt Denice Swanke welcomes those attending the fundraiser field trip


Mike Donahue gives an overview of where we are about to venture


The late Cheyenne oral historian John Stands In Timber befriended a young anthropologist, Margot Liberty, whom he shared Cheyenne accounts about the battle. Margot included some of these stories in her classic book Cheyenne Memories, which is still in print. John discussed in detail how some of Custer’s soldiers continued further north beyond Last Stand Hill to eventually reach Ford D along the Little Bighorn River. Most likely, Custer intended to capture the noncombatants. Custer’s path beyond Last Stand Hill followed today’s Custer Ridge Extension.

Walking along the Custer Ridge Extension


Custer Ridge Extension at far left. Custer Creek flows out of Crow Agency and from behind the CRE (second group of trees)


Visitor Center on Cemetery Ridge as seen from the Custer Ridge Extension

Donahue points out Custer's route from the south onto the Custer Ridge Extension. 7th Cavalry Monument is seen on the ridge. Visitor Center at right with trees of the Custer National Cemetery

Once we reached as far along the Custer Ridge Extension we were allowed to walk, Mike shared some of his theories about this portion of the battle. These theories will make their way into Mike’s battle book, due for release next fall.

As we enjoyed this walk, we noticed the sky turning gray and ominous to the northwest. A storm was brewing, and it was not long before the wind hit us. We moved down the ridge a few yards to escape what we could of it, and thanks to our new PA system, we could still hear Mike’s presentation. The storm grew in intensity, so we were forced to return, but not before we shot some great photos along the Custer Ridge Extension.


Storm building. Entrance gate seen at left.


High winds hit was while on the Custer Ridge Extension


Storm began to subside as we walked back to the Indian Memorial


Spirit Warriors of the Indian Memorial and 7th Cav Monument

Saturday Afternoon – The Cheyenne Battle Dress

Friends members and lucky battlefield visitors met in the upstairs meeting room of the Administration Building to hear Cheyenne oral history regarding the Cheyenne Battle Dress. Presenting was Friends Vice President Clifford Longsioux, and Lynn Pankonin, Curator Emeritus, Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture in Spokane, Washington.

The Park Service temporarily displayed the battle dress in the museum over the 140th anniversary. The Park Service stated:

“While it would be very unusual for women to have worn clothing from slain enemies, the blue wool in this dress is said to have come from soldier uniforms recovered after the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The dress is made from at least two contrasting shades of dark blue woolen cloth, although the sleeves appear to be darker than normal for army uniform wool. This method of construction was not used in U.S. Army uniforms during the 1870s. Some seams of this type appeared in the 1883 pattern blue woolen shirt and were not generally used until the advent of the 1898 unlined blouse.”

For more information about the Cheyenne Battle Dress, please follow this link.


Friends VP Clifford Longsioux and Lynn Pankonin present the Cheyenne oral accounts of the Cheyenne Battle Dress


Saturday evening, the 25th, Friends Feast and General Membership Meeting.
Bob Reece Retires

Another year of Friends events, and another Friends Feast to thank our volunteers, and to show appreciation of our membership. Like the last two years, we were forced to bring the party in doors. This year was due to not having enough picnic tables on the outdoor grounds.

This was the first general membership meeting under the leadership of our new president, Mike Semenock. Mike welcomed everyone and thanked them for attending. He introduced Friends Treasurer Kay Hunsaker who then welcomed Joy Gilbert – widow of Friends member Gary Gilbert - and her family. Friends remembered the late Gary Gilbert who gave so much of his time in the building and maintenance of the Soldier Warrior List, which was begun by John Doerner when he was the chief historian.


Denice Swanke and Kay Hunsaker present Gary Gilbert plaque to Joy Gilbert


Gary Gilbert plaque presented from Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield


Gary and Joy Gilbert's Family

Superintendent Denice Swanke and Kay Hunsaker presented a plaque to Joy Gilbert. Joy had asked family and friends to donate in Gary’s memory to Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield in lieu of flowers. The money raised was used to purchase the new battlefield webcams.

Mike next thanked Bob Reece for his serving 16 years as president of Friends. Bob had announced his retirement the previous spring. Mike also shared that the board voted to bestow upon Bob Reece the new position of Friends Historian. Mike then gave the floor to Bob. He shared his feelings about his retirement, and that it is important for Friends to be managed under new leadership. To help with all that is required for this transition, Bob remains on the board.


Mike and Bob sharing a few memories

Superintendent Denice Swanke thanked the volunteers for the exceptional work they did these two days on the trails during the busy weekend. Their presence on the trails is a big help to the staff in order to be free to manage crowd control elsewhere in the Monument. She shared other battlefield news.

Supt Denice Swanke presenting battlefield updates

Mike closed the general membership meeting. Folks put away tables and chairs, packed up stuff from the command post, loaded their cars. We said our goodbyes for another year, and people drove away. Joanne and I were the last to leave. We turned off the lights to the administration building, and locked the door behind us. Change is good.

I’ll always look for you on Last Stand Hill.


See you on Calhoun Hill in June 2017

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