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Before Crazy Horse rode into battle he would paint a lightning bolt on his forehead, paint hail on his chest, and place a pebble behind his ear. This was much less than what the other warriors wore. Most warriors dressed in their best headdresses and clothing. But, Crazy Horse had a vision that he would never be hurt in battle as long as he was humble about being a warrior. In a culture that cherished strong, brave warriors, he refused to be perceived as a hero. I learned this from a retired history teacher at the Battle of Little Bighorn site in Montana.

It was 102 degrees and not a cloud in the big blue skies of the West when my family headed over the border from South Dakota into Montana. At the battle site a ranger came through the museum announcing that there would be a talk in three minutes on the back patio. My mother and I went outside to see a packed crowd facing the battle site. The ranger introduced himself and told us he came here for the first time when he was twelve, about the same age I was when I first saw the site. I didn’t know anything about the battle when I was that young because I didn’t have the chance to have a ranger talk. He told us he was a retired history teacher and that he loved his job at the site. He then told the story of the battle.

It was easy to get swept up in the story because we were facing where the battle occurred. Sitting Bull, one of the elders of the village, had told his people not to go to the reservations. Sitting Bull knew that their time on their land was almost up. He wanted his people to live freely. These words created a very populated village that the Americans thought was smaller. When they were riding towards it, the American soldiers attempted to stop their horses near the village when they realized it was bigger than they thought. However, two brothers from New York could not stop and went into the village. Later their heads were found on poles.

When the Native Americans saw the soldiers coming, young boys made a dust cloud around the camp using their horses’ tails with bushes tied onto them. Guns started to fire and after a while no one knew where Custer was. The soldiers bodies were mutilated and the river ran red with blood. Crazy Horse rode his horse over a blind hill. He was going straight for the soldiers with guns. He had no fear because of his vision; he was not going to die in battle that day. White Bull followed Crazy Horse over the hill and all the warriors followed those two. As soon as the battle was over, the village moved South as the sun went down. Two Moons was asked how long the battle lasted, he responded with “as long as it takes a hungry man to eat his dinner.” A total of 263 soldiers and 160 warriors were killed, but those are only the known ones.

During this lesson, my then history teacher, pointed with an arrow to where Crazy Horse ran over the hill, to where the red blood river was, and to where the soldiers killed their horses so they could hide behind the dead animals. It was easy for me to be taken back into a time where cultures clashed and times were changing. The clashing of cultures is a theme that always stays. No matter what time period or nation, people often assume their ways are better than another’s.

After our lesson the ranger asked the crowd if war is worth it. Yes, some wars have been necessary. He wasn’t going to deny that. But, are all wars needed to get another country to cooperate? To get another nation to understand views of another? That’s what he ended with. He didn’t end with blaming the Native Americans or American soldiers for the battle. He ended with the thought: Is war worth it?

The first time I went to The Battle of the Little Bighorn I was around age 10. My family, and my cousin Lucy, were headed to Glacier National Park in Northern Montana. I didn’t have a lesson the first time I went, I just knew that it was battle between Native Americans and American soldiers. I have a picture of my sister, cousin, and me underneath a Black Elk saying “Know the power that is peace.” As a ten year old I didn’t think through what I was standing underneath. I didn’t understand what might have happened if the European Americans came in knowing that. After my ranger lesson, my father, mother and I headed over to the saying. I looked at it this time with a different view. My mother took one of my three disposable cameras and took a photo of my father and me underneath the saying. I am on his shoulders and holding my arms out right underneath the words. This is one of my favorite photos because I love the saying. I have the two images of both pictures in my head. Ten year old Stevie smiling with a Boston Red Sox cap on with her arms around her cousin and sister. Then there is my more recent photo. A sixteen year old with new knowledge and new meaning to the saying.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn shows a dark mark in American history. It shows that our nation was willing to kill a village because we wanted land. The Constitution pushes the idea of freedom and equality. That this land was an opportunity for all. The battle reflected the opposite of this idea.We didn’t want freedom for all, just for us.

Two days before we visited the Battle of Little Bighorn my sister and I drove to Devil’s Tower, Wyoming to deliver books for my grandfather’s business. I looked at the map and told my sister we could drive into Montana and still get back to Rapid City by dinner time. We decided to jump on the opportunity. When we crossed into Montana we stopped to take pictures by the welcome signs. As we were running around on highway 212, no cars passed us on our twenty-nine mile drive, I saw a sign about Camp Devin. It was inscribed with a mini-lesson about the Ft. Laramie treaties of 1851 and 1868. The Sioux were promised the Black Hills “for as long as the grass shall grow and the river shall flow.” But when gold was found in these parts, the treaty was broken. It amazes me that a treaty, an important one that promises land to a nation, a people that were here before the Europeans came over, was broken. This is also a dark mark on America. Breaking a treaty is a bad way to make peace with any nation.

My adventure out West this summer was one that I will not forget. Walking up the hill at The Battle of the Little Bighorn made me realize how much history there is that I don’t know. I want to be able to learn about what else America has done in the past. It’s not everyday a student is learning about what his or her country did wrong. Every country has its mistakes, and in order to move forward we need to learn about them. I would tell all my friends, if they could, to go out to Montana, and to enjoy the hot weather and big skies as they drive out to The Battle of the Little Bighorn site. I would tell them to stop at the trading post across the street and eat a bison burger. Then I would tell them to get a ranger talk, not to ignore them. And I would tell them that the walk up the hill, no matter how hot it is, is worth it. To stand on hill where a battle took place and to have Black Elk’s words echoing in your thoughts is worth everything.



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