The Little Big Horn

June 15, 2013

Here’s my current location and trip path so far. Orange marks projected path forward. Click here for full trip details, day-by-day.


I was sitting at breakfast on Wednesday when I overheard a waitress say to a customer, “I don’t want to be an Indian giver.” She said it very innocently, with no racial overtone in her voice. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about the origin of the term. Its meaning is “one who gives a gift but later takes it back.” It derives from the alleged practice of American Indians of taking back gifts from white settlers. It is more likely that the settlers wrongly interpreted the Indians’ loans to them as gifts. The term was most likely coined to denigrate the Indian. I want to believe that historians today would now agree that, where deceit was concerned, it was the settlers who were the front runners. It isn’t uncommon for a conquering race to attempt to justify their invasion by dismissing the conquered as dishonest and stupid.

My destination after Yellowstone was the Little Big Horn in southeast Montana. But coming out of Yellowstone, Wyoming still had some surprises for me before passing back into Montana. And then once there, I’d drop back down into Wyoming to visit Devil’s Tower before riding into southwest South Dakota with the intention of visiting the Black Hills and the Badlands. See the map, above. On the early morning out of Shoshoni, Wyoming, where I stopped due to dangerous winds, I continued to ride through the colorful and peaceful Wind River Canyon before I rode up over the highest mountain pass of my trip, the Palo Flachado Pass at 9,100 feet (2,700 meters). What a beautiful way to start the day! And no wind. Here are a few pics.

Wind River Canyon

Wind River Canyon

The road approaching the last set of big mountains I’d cross on this trip through the Palo Flachado Pass at 9,100 feet.

Wyoming Prairie

By the end of the day I arrived in a small town a few miles outside the Little Big Horn National Monument, my next day’s destination.

Photo Jun 13, 1 48 49

Early morning at Little Big Horn. I wanted to be the first one in line when the gates opened. It was important to me that I experienced this spot in relative silence. It was only me and a few other cars at 8 AM.


How did this confrontation come about between the U.S. 7th Cavalry, led by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, and the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes? In my estimation the events that led to this had their start in the Laramie Treaty of 1851. I know some would argue that it had its conception when the white man landed in the Americas. The Laramie Treaty was signed between the U.S. government and eight plains tribes. It recognized certain territorial claims by these tribes in exchange for free passage of settlers on the Oregon Trail. The Native Americans also allowed roads and forts to be built on the land. But when gold was discovered in South Dakota and settlers flooded into these lands in the 1870’s, tensions rose. Settlers were killed, which gave the U.S. government the opportunity to nullify the treaties. Indians were now being rounded up and forced to live on reservations. Sitting Bull, the spiritual leader of the Sioux, sent out messengers for other Sioux, Arapaho and Cheyenne to join him in resisting. They were not going to live on reservations. They just wanted to continue to live their traditional nomadic life. In 1876, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer was ordered to bring the Indians in, or kill them. On June 25th, after ignoring his scout’s reports of an encampment of nearly 10,000 Indians, Custer attacked at Little Big Horn. This is a man who graduated last in his class from West Point, but excelled as a cavalry officer in the Civil War. He was bold, brash and arrogant. He avoided injury during the Civil War. He referred to himself as bullet-proof. Well, George Armstrong Custer wasn’t so bullet-proof on June 25, 1876. Thousands of Native American warriors led by Crazy Horse defended themselves against Custer and his men. It would be the last big victory for Native Americans. After this battle, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and their people retreated to Canada. Years later both would be captured and killed.

Pictures from around Little Big Horn.

The hill Custer defended. White gravestones mark where archeologists determined 7th Cavalry soldiers fell. Custer’s marker is seen in the center, with black on it.


It wasn’t until 1991 when President George H.W. Bush changed the name of the battlefield from Custer National Monument to Little Big Horn National Monument. It was at that same time that a monument to the Native Americans who lost their lives here was also conceived, designed and built.


Horses graze on the prairie battlefield.

Grazing Horses

Standing Waiting

As the crowds thickened around the national monument I hopped on my bike to make one last dip into Wyoming – the northeast corner – to see Devil’s Tower. The native myth of Devil’s Tower goes as follows:

“A brother and his seven sisters were out one day playing in the fields. Suddenly the boy started to transform. He began to growl and make all sorts of noises. He grew fur and long claws. He chased his sisters. Just as he was about to grab them a tree sprung up from the ground and told the sisters to climb on. The tree continued to grow. The boy – now transformed into a bear – clawed at the mighty tree. The tree delivered the seven sisters into the sky where they became the constellation, The Seven Sisters.”

Others may just associate this monolith with the movie, Close Encounters. Either way, it’s an impressive site, being the only piece of rock to rise out of the surrounding grassland.

Devil's Tower

Let’s see what we can find as we zoom in.

Devil's Tower

Devil's Tower

Rock Climbers!

Devil's Tower

Now let’s zoom out. Keep an eye on the climbers in order to get a perspective on the size of this monolith.

Devil's Tower

Devil's Tower

Devil's Tower

I pressed onto Spearfish, South Dakota, for the night. The following day I planned on visiting the Black Hills and Badlands. But I was foiled by more road construction and mobs of traffic. I had had one too many close calls over these weeks on my bike resulting from distracted drivers watching the wildlife and scenery rather than the road. I think I was also experiencing some National Park burn-out by this time. I know, some of you may find that surprising, but I’ve been virtually hopping from one national park to the next for the past several weeks. I’ve felt very fortunate to have seen all these beautifully preserved parks. The road construction was the real kicker, though, and now I was enmeshed in it in the Black Hills. Since Montana I’d sat in and driven through too much road construction. At one stop I started chatting with the flagger. I told her I couldn’t believe how much road construction there was in Montana. She replied, “In Montana we say we have two seasons: winter and road construction.” See, it’s not just my imagination!

Road construction

And if I want to be completely honest with myself, I had also had it with the number of restaurants, resorts and trading posts that had the name “Custer” emblazoned on them. There’s even a town named after him. So does it take arrogance, a murderous hatred for the American Indian and a foolhardy decision to attack thousands of Indians with only 600 troops – nearly all of whom were killed – to get your name plastered on everything? My good friends, if fame and immortality is what you’re after in this country, I suggest you stop being so nice and start being a son-of-a-bitch and bastard.

This guy wasn’t bothered by anything. He said, “Steve, chill out!”

Don't mind

I bailed from the Black Hills and made a direct path east through the lonesome plains of South Dakota. There’s something hypnotic about traveling at 75 mph (yeah, that’s the speed limit), on a straight road and holding the handlebars of your motorbike. I won’t use the word “steer” because the road’s so straight you really don’t need to steer. All you need to do is hold the bike upright, balance and pull the throttle back.

It was one of those days when I just felt like riding, and riding and riding. 445 miles later I landed about 50 miles short of the Minnesota border at sunset.

South Dakota Sunset

South Dakota Sunset

Found a quiet cemetery that seemed to call me to pitch my tent. So I road to the back side of it and pitched in the far corner adjacent to a farmer’s field. This is what I was treated to the next morning.

South Dakota Sunrise

I’ll be visiting Hibbing, Minnesota, tomorrow, June 16. Anyone know why I might want to go there? Take a guess.

Here’s one for the road.

Peace, brother!


All content Copyrighted © Stephen Tavella

2 thoughts on “The Little Big Horn

    • Spreif, you are correct. I am having a contest on Facebook to see who can guess why I’m here. Not fair to not include my WordPress followers. Give me your address and I’ll send you a small gift. Cheers!

      PS: what’s your name?

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