A Heck of a Trip Out West, With a Way Cool Ending

1 08 2017

For nine days at the end of July, I took a little trip out west with some like-minded history geeks, most of whom I’ve known for a long time, and some of whom are now new friends. I thought about how – or even if, given its nature – I would post about it here. This trip wasn’t Bull Run related, nor was it even Civil War related, at least not directly.

The long and short of it is that I visited Yellowstone National Park for the first time;

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At Artist Point. Clockwise from me in the Penn State hat are three Gettysburg area residents and my car-mates on this adventure: Bob George (who knows everything); Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide and trip organizer Chris Army, in his magic hat; and Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide/thespian John Zervas. The background is real.

and the Buffalo Bill Cody Center of the West, in Cody, Wy., for the first time;

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Yep, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

and Fort Phil Kearney, including the fields of the Fetterman Massacre and Wagon Box Fight, also in Wyoming, for the first time;

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and Buffalo, Wy., near the famous Hole in The Wall, and seat of the Johnson County War, for the first time;

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Nate Champion, casualty of the Johnson County War. If you’re gonna be remembered, there are worse ways than this.

and the Rosebud Creek battlefield in Montana, for the first time;

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The hardy bunch who trekked to the top of the Rosebud battlefield’s Conical Hill. Me in the red, white and blue hat. Clockwise from Kendra Debany are James Hessler, Don Caughey, Rosebud historian Bob O’Neill, Bill Burkman, and Rosebud historian Neil Mangum, our guide.

and Pompey’s Pillar, a site visited by William Clark on his return trip, which overlooks a campsite of George Armstrong Custer and his men during the Yellowstone Expedition of 1873, for the first time;

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and the sites associated with the Battle of Little Bighorn (LBH), for the first time;

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Medicine Tail Ford from the battlefield side of Little Bighorn. Yes, that’s a sweat lodge. With lawn chairs nearby.

and had I gone to the rodeo, across the street from our hotel in Billings, Mt., it would have been my first time, too. But I didn’t, because we simply had no time.

As you can imagine, that’s a lot to cram in at once, and I’m still trying to process it all. So I’m going to just point out two cool tidbits from a trip full of cool tidbits.

Our guide for Little Big Horn and Rosebud was former Little Bighorn National Monument superintendent Neil Mangum. Through his efforts we were able to visit some sites not typically accessed, including battlefield spots Sharpshooter’s Ridge (special permit from the park) and Medicine Tail Ford and Nye-Cartwright/Luce Ridges, which are on private property. Another site is located on private property in the Rosebud Creek Valley. This is in the area of the Sun Dance, held in the month leading up to the Rosebud and LBH battles, in the mobile village of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe. During this, Hunkpapa Sioux spiritual leader Sitting Bull had a vision of Soldiers Falling Into Camp, which was interpreted as an impending victory over the U. S. Army. This vision was then recorded in pictograph on a formation which had been used for such a purpose for many years, Deer Medicine Rocks. Here’s an image I recorded of the glyph for Soldiers Falling Into Camp:

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“Soldiers Falling Into Camp”

Fascinating stuff. The rocks are visited to this day by individuals who leave offerings and prayers, which take many and colorful forms.

On Sunday, we completed our two-day tour of the Little Bighorn Battlefield. We recorded the last of many group photos, this one on Monument Hill (you may know it as Last Stand Hill):

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The whole shootin’ match on Monument Hill, Little Big Horn battlefield. Tour leader Neil Mangum seated.

It was after this that a great trip, meticulously planned and organized by friend and Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide (one of four on this trip) Chris Army, wrapped up just about as perfectly as it could. One of the last stops on our tour was the site of the death of Captain Miles Keogh of the 7th U. S. Cavalry. Keogh had served in the Civil War on the staff of General John Buford at Gettysburg, and so is of particular interest to the Guides in attendance, three of whom stand near Keogh’s marker:

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Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guides Chris Army, James Hessler, and Wayne Motts at the marker for Miles Keogh.

Later, before mounting up for the ride back to the hotel and the farewell dinner to follow, attendees took some time around Monument Hill to visit sites not on the tour or cruise the Visitor Center bookshop. I was doing the latter with long-time fellow battlefield stomping friend John (he’s completely off the social media grid so will remain last nameless). We were discussing the relative merits of various Little Bighorn titles – I was by far the dumbest of this group when it comes to Indian Wars – when a young man approached John and asked his opinion of a book. The book was about Keogh, and he informed John that he was a collateral descendant of the Captain. Overhearing this, I spotted Neil Mangum and brought him over to meet Philip, who spells his name Kehoe. Then I sought out Little Bighorn student and LGBG James Hessler, and things snowballed from there, with even the Park staff joining in. It turns out Philip was visiting the field with his brother Brendan and cousin David, who lives in Keogh’s boyhood home.  Brendan and David share the middle name Miles. All three are teachers and were visiting from Leighlin Bridge, County Carlow, Ireland.  I’m not sure the lads anticipated the attention, but it was a great way to end our last day on the field!

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On the steps of the LBH Visitor’s Center with, front row left to right Brendan Myles Kehoe, Eric Wittenberg, David Myles Kehoe, and Philip Kehoe; back row left to right me, Neil Mangum, Kendra Debany, and James Hessler.

I managed to do the whole trip without buying a single book (other than a small one on the art museum in the Buffalo Bill Center). But I took photos of plenty of books that caught my eye. Has this western trip spawned a new obsession? Only time will tell.