The idea was to get a hotel, the first of the trip, in Sheridan, and then visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield the next morning. Back on the 14, however, driving through the Bighorn National Forest, I came across a small, deserted campground by the side of the road. It was too easy not to pull over right there and set up camp for the night. The sun had already gone down behind a mountain, and it was cold. I foraged for wood, gathering kindling, and fishing a few half-burned logs out of another fire pit. One of them was big enough to burn for a few hours once it got going. There was a lot of smoke, which stung my eyes, and just a little bit of heat. After a while I gave up and got in my sleeping bag.
There was a bull elk lustfully screaming all night long. Around four in the morning I got up and loaded the car, the stars overhead like a bucket of jewels, and got on the road. Coming around the first bend, what should be there, but the elk, enormous, at least ten points on each side of its rack of antlers. I continued driving through the dark, my headlights flashing around the curves and at one point illuminating the Little Tongue River. I reached the battlefield as the first bands of dawn were beginning to stretch across the sky, but they didn’t open until eight. I returned to a gas station that I’d passed, to fill up on gas and get some coffee, and saw they were operated by the Crow Tribe.
The Crow Indian Reservation was established in 1868, and nearly, 7,000 tribe members live on it. As a people, they were forced to relocate from the east, near Ohio, due to aggressive neighbors, and ended up in Canada and North Dakota, before eventually settling in the Bighorn region and adapting to the ways of the Plains Indians. Their three greatest enemies amongst the other tribes were the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe, who had encroached upon their reservation prior to the Battle of Little Bighorn. It was the Calvary’s attempt to drive these three tribes back onto their own reservations that resulted in the Battle of Little Bighorn.
The Crows had more than one name for the creator, one being Old Man Coyote. They believe that the world was begun when Old Man Coyote, floating in the ocean alone, came across two male ducks. One duck dived to the bottom and retrieved a root. The other went down and came back up with some soil. Out of these, Old Man Coyote created islands and plants and trees. Then he created man and woman. Then two female ducks, before meeting another coyote, and embarking on many adventures.
They believe there are three worlds, the physical world, the spirit world, and the world where God lives alone, above the other worlds. Spirits can come in many shapes, many in the form of animals that lend their specific strengths to those who appeal to them. Maybe I had my spirit animal in the form of the Mountain Bluebird. It was certainly serving me valiantly, so far. Toss in Karen from Google Maps, and it was also like I had the assistance of Athena, guiding Jason and the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece. My journey had been scattered and strange, but there was no doubt that the gods had been smiling on it ever since I’d set off from Huntington Beach.
Filling up with gas at the Crow Nation Express Center only cost twenty-five dollars. While I was in there an old man in a wheelchair came in for cigarettes. Another customer knew him and greeted him. It took a long time for him to recognize her. Next door was the River Crow Trading Post, but there were no lights on inside. I drove a short distance and pulled into the parking lot of the Custer Battlefield Trading Post. It too was closed. I was exhausted but decided to try and meditate.
There were six tipis set up outside the store. I sat facing them, white, yellow, red, white, white, white. What were they used for, outside of ornamentation? Had anyone ever lived in them? Were they for sale? Two flags were flying, an American one and a Montana one. On the outside of the trading post, three buffalo skulls were mounted, interspersed by three sets of elk antlers. Two wagon wheels were propped up in front of it, and a sign in the shape of a buffalo advertised buffalo steaks and burgers.
The sun began to rise in the east, beside a billboard. Outside of that there was nothing to stand in its ways, no clouds, or obstructions, only miles of endless, rolling plains. I shut my eyes and took a few deep breaths, unable to stop my mind from thinking back to all I’d seen, or wondering what I’d see next?
Would my National Park Pass be good for the Battlefield? I hoped so. For eighty dollars, it had already been a good deal. Strange though, how they hadn’t accepted cash. All future wars will be fought on battlefields we can hardly imagine. My eyes shot open. The sun grew and grew until it was the size of an orange, a burning hoop of fire. When I closed my eyes again, I could still see it, glowing in the center of my forehead. That had to mean something. Didn’t it?