Post by Diane Merkel on Mar 30, 2006 9:04:47 GMT -5
From The Billings Gazette, March 29, 2006:
Bighorn Battlefield to map vegetation
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument will have a meeting to begin a new project -- mapping all of the vegetation in the monument -- from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday in the administration building at the monument, according to Superintendent Darrell J. Cook.
The National Park Service staff will begin mapping efforts in collaboration between the National Park Service and scientists from the University of Montana. The project consists of a combination of computerized aerial photo interpretation to generate maps and field work conducted by a crew of botanists to accurately characterize the plants within each unit of the map. The map will become base information for use in management planning and decision making and for the long-term natural resource monitoring program.
For more information, direct calls to (406) 638-2621 or go online to www.nps.gov/libi.
Post by George Armstrong Custer on Apr 7, 2006 18:15:49 GMT -5
The announced project will be an unusual addition to the battlefield's historiography, Diane. It won't be the first interest in the flora and fauna of the site, however, as the following evocative extract regarding a 1950 visit reveals:
'About mid-morning we crossed a meandering river where ripples glinted in the sun among the gravelly shallows and long quiet pools reflected the yellow of the overhanging cottonwoods. Each sandbar was edged along its upstream end with a kind of golden fringe where drifting leaves had stranded. Beyond the cottonwoods a long sweep of sunlit sagebrush ascended gradually to a ridgetop. The stream was the Little Bighorn. For three miles along this Montana river, in June 1876, Sioux and Cheyenne warriors had camped 4,000 strong. For the slope beyond, now stretching away in peaceful sunshine, was the most famous of all the battlefields of the frontier, the scene of Custer's last stand.
' "My every thought," General George A. Custer once wrote, "was . . . not to be wealthy, not to be learned, but to be great . . . to future generations." In one of the paradoxes of history, this seeker of glory is known to these future generations of which he thought not for what he achieved in life but for the spectacular disaster that marked his death. Rash, arrogant, quarrelsome, callous to the suffering of others, he led a stormy life that lasted for thirty-six and a half years. Time and again luck saved him from his impetuous folly. And, in a way, luck was with him on that Sunday in June when the waves of screaming, painted Indians, almost invisible in clouds of dust, swirled around him, firing and vanishing and, in the end, wiping out every living member of his command. The tragic finality, the mystery of events in those last hours, with no single man to say, "I only have escaped alone to tell thee" - these circumstances have surrounded Custer's name with a kind of somber splendor, symbolic and ironic. And beside the river, among the cottonwoods on that Sunday of slaughter, Lonesome Charley Reynolds - the scout whose disregarded advice might have saved all - had died alone with sixty-eight empty cartidges beside him.
'Since that day floods have shifted the course of the Little Bighorn slightly. But the dry slope beyond is dominated by sagebrush and grass, yucca and tumbleweed, just as it must have appeared to Custer when he swept the landscape with his glasses on the morning of that twenty-fifth day of June. Meadowlarks flew down the slope over the white markers that indicate where Custer's men were slain, and red mounds of tumbleweed billowed up beside the iron fence that encloses the spot where the general and his officers fought on until, one by one to the very last, they were cut down.
'Wandering along the edge of this old battlefield in the tranquil sunshine we heard around us the crackle of grasshopper wings. Once when we bent down to obtain a bit of perfumed resin from a gum plant, a dark, nondescript dragonfly rattled up out of the dry vegetation and shot high into the air above us. And wherever we went along the hillside, we came upon the circular patches of cleared ground and the low mounds of the harvester ants. Ages before a moving cloud of dust along the ridgetop advertised the coming of Custer and his men, grasshopper and dragonfly, gum plant and harvester ant had formed part of the life of the valley of the Little Bighorn.
'Of these it was the harvester ant that interested us most that morning. Throughout the higher, dryer western autumn, we were to see their mounds - thousands and hundreds of thousands, millions, no doubt - on both sides of the Continental Divide. But it was here, at this historic site, that we were able to examine them closely for the first time . . . Watching these ants of the battlefield on their slope above the river and the yellow cottonwoods, we were seeing some of the last gleaning of the year. The days were shortening and the foraging workers were utilizing what might well be, in this high country, one of the last days of sunny warmth . . . Driving northward again, beyond the Custer battlefield and the mounds of its seed-gleaning ants, we crossed the Yellowstone River a little below Billings. Soon afterwards a gray tiger beetle flew in the open car window. It rode with us, like some local guide, through the city and left us as soon as we reached the open country beyond............'1
Apart from the elegiac imagery of the timeless endurance of nature at the battlefield, the extract is interesting from the point of view of the author's iconoclastic attitude towards Custer. It was written some sixteen years after Van de Water's debunking biography and its clear that, for many, that had become the established view of Custer by the 1950's.
It is also instructive to recall just how many such rambles over the field had taken place over the years - and how many artefacts must have been picked up as souvenirs - before the site became as protected as it is today. This is a point worth considering by those inclined to give unquestioning credence to the conclusions drawn by Richard Fox from work on a seriously compromised and disturbed (archaeologically speaking) site.
1 Extracted from Autumn Across America: A Naturalist's Record of a 20,000-mile Journey through the North American Autumn, by Edwin May Teale, Dodd, Meade & Co., New York, 1956, pp. 159-165.
He was one of those men in whom nature runs riot; she endows him with not one or two but twenty different talents, all of them far beyond the average, and then withholds the one ingredient that might have brought them to perfection - a sense of balance and direction....