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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Reenactment

Lauren and Justin: So, after several weeks of giving directions, answering questions from the general public, we finally got a chance to see what all the fuss was about. First of all, it was about 95 degrees out, or at least it felt that way since we had both opted to wear full-length jeans and our black "History Matters" t-shirts. On bench stadium seating, with no cloud cover or canopy. Awesome. We had to show up at 12 o'clock for a 1 o'clock showing, in order to secure good seats. There was a tent for t-shirts, which also sold a small collection of animal-pelt crafts - meaning just ONE bearclaw necklace and ONE skunkskin medicine bag, a tent for food (despite declaring he would only order a hamburger, Justin eventually and proudly ordered an Indian Taco) and a a minitent for drinks. When things were finally set up, we had a long gauntlet of events to transgress before coming to the ultimate event. The most satisfying thing to watch was probably the paratrooper jump by the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborn out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Two large planes circled over the area, then ten minutes later each let loose a string of paratroopers, draping them over the landscape. As the men dropped from the sky, a couple of them became entangled and though it didn't result in any serious repurcussions, it did attract the concern of the crowd. Afterwards, the Native festivites could finally begin. First there was an introduction by the Emcee, then an "Indian Wedding" which mostly involved Indian singing, some smoke, and a couple of white people with their faces painted (and the woman's face painting looked suspiciously like a beard). Then there was a Naming Ceremony, where a little girl was christened with Indian smoke and prayer and given a name - "she who likes to look at horses" or something. Anyways, as she was named that she kept pointing at the horses, so even though there was no explanation of the name necessary, they still did it, then let her wander around to the "oohs" and "ahs" of the crowd for a few minutes. Then there was more singing by the local band - during which there was some confusion as they snuck in some English lyrics, and a young man who has participated in several Ultimate Warrior challenges was given a painting....of himself. During this ceremony, I (Lauren) started getting excited because I could see the cavalry gearing up to go- finally, we're going to see some fightin'! But no, it was just to escort several officers from the paratrooper group over the river. They rode all the way to the grass in front of us, dismounted, and the superior officer gave a talk and eventually shook hands with Sitting Bull's great (or great-great, we're not entirely sure) grandson. Then they announced the "players" in the reenactment and said that we would start the program. But the program, it turned out, was a lot more broad than we thought. They told the story with a narrative over the loudspeaker while actors mimed the actions described, INCLUDING: a father telling his son the story of the Battle of Little Bighorn, hand-to-hand combat including the act of scalping and dancing around a dead body, smoking the peace pipe, chasing a white man out of the village, and the herding of "wild" horses. Eventually, Clark and Sakagawea showed up, herding a group of Indian children ahead of them, which proved to be a kind of ineffectual misdirection to give the paratroopers enough time to ford the river and get to the "stage." They marched in to applause, and there was another talk, eventually ended with Sitting Bull's great (great?) grandson leading a massive circle dance around the field with the paratroopers following behind him. Then, once they had cleared off to go score some Indian Tacos, we were promised fighting. And, because we had been telling people that this was a reenactment of the Battle of Little Bighorn, we rightly expected the fighting to be of that historic event. WRONG!!! It was the Fetterman fight first, with Crazy Horse taunting the cavalry with a green towel. Not sure what the green towel had to do with it, but at least there were guns being fired. Then there was the Battle of Rosebud reenacted, and then finally, finally, FINALLY we got to the LBH action. Unfortunately, by this point Justin had lost all concentration and almost consciousness in the hot sun. This was compounded by the fact that the action of the majority of the battle was carried further away from the stands, across the Little Bighorn to a strip of land about 400 yards away. It was over in about 5 minutes, everyone cheered, and so did we because it meant we could finally get out of the sun. The swirling storm of Indians that crossed back over the river towards us was probably the most exciting part, while they rode around carrying the American and the 7th Cavalry flag. The whole thing was concluded with a song about Comanche. You know, Comanche- the horse. Yes, he has is own song, and it was sung while a horse was positioned on the top of the hill. It was an experience, and the pictures tell the majority of the story. In the same vein as Lauren's previous post, we've decided to compile a list of things we've learned after watching the reenactment:
1. Its very cool to watch but doesn't seem particularly pleasant to ride bareback as the Indians do. You have to contend with sweat, chaffing, and the chance that you'll fall off -at least the one that we saw knew where to land, since he fell off in the river.
2. It will ALWAYS be funny to watch a white guy get whacked off his horse by an Indian. Maybe it's schadenfreude, maybe it's retribution, either way it's hilarious.
3. If you put a lot of effort into coordinating an instructive cultural exhibition, don't ruin it by having people sell concessions like you're at a ballgame. It's hard to take the rammifications of Manifest Destiny seriously with "MOUNTAIN DEW!!! LEMONADE!!!COKE!!!" being screamed in your ear. And if the vendors are about 10 and dropping the waterbottles everywhere, it also doesn't help.
4. Justin should wear sunscreen on places other than his face.
5. When someone tells you the Indians do something "fast and loose," they mean it. Really.
6. Always tell Justin when you're planning on taking a video or he'll throw a strop.
7. Custer's role in the battle was little to none- he may be a schnazzy dresser but he didn't do jack.
After all the excitement and sun, we came back to the desk tired and sweaty and the rest of the day did tend to drag on a little, but we were comforted by the fact that we wouldn't have to answer any more questions on the location/duration/information of a reenactment. Next stop, Crow Fair!!!! -JD & L

Friday, June 26, 2009

Record Day at Custer Battlefield Museum

Justin and Lauren: Team Awesome Interns has struck again!! We are happy to announce that yesterday the CBM had a record day in terms of sales. We would like to take this time to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, I mean after 15 years of being in existence we think its only appropriate to credit ourselves for the record day. It's safe to say that we are the best interns to ever walk the hallowed grounds of Garryowen, MT. Along with our greatness, quite a lot of activity has transpired in the last couple of days here. On Wednesday, the Crows held their 4th annual Meth ride (despite its title, the ride is to prevent drugs on the reservation not promote) where Dr. Joe Medicine Crow gave a speech before the ride. Dr. Medicine Crow is the oldest living member of the Crow Indians, and his grandfather (White Man Runs Him) was one of Custer's scouts for the Battle of Little Big Horn. He also is the last oral link we have to the battle. The Meth ride consists of 150 mounted riders through the reservation ending at the Crow Agency Park. Furthermore, yesterday was the 133rd anniversary of the battle, and to honor both sides of the fight we held a cermony here in Garryowen. The ceremony was appropriately proper and somber. Members from the U.S. Calvary school including the actor playing Custer in the Real Bird Reenactment lowered the American flag to half mast, and presented arms in a three fire volley out of respect. The culmination of the event was the laying of a wreath by two officers upon the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. On a lighter note, our glorious leader was interviewed by an Irish documentry film crew tracing the steps of Myles Keogh, an Irish soldier participating in the battle under Custer's command. Side note, the weather here literally changes like the wind. Out of nowhere two days ago the temperature spiked up about twenty degrees, and then today the thermometer dropped twenty degrees. We're not sure there are many places around the world where the weather changes drastically in such a short time. Anyway, we guess that is all for now. More to come after we see the reenactment, maybe together maybe not, we fly by the seat of our pants here at the CBM. JD & L

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lesson Learned

Lauren: Seeing as how my living situation is so drastically different from everything and anything I've done or been to before, I thought I'd take stock of the changes in my life. So here's my list of things learned so far:
1. Montana lightning storms last forever. Like, 7 hours. It's the most beautiful thing you could see in the sky, excepting the aurora borealis, perhaps. It's also mildly frightening because there's always several strikes happening at the same time - just a few miles apart, so there's a kind of unpredictability and enveloping power to it, which makes me not feel like venturing very far from my little porch. I'm learning to love these storms, because of the way they look and the way they smell- there's the scent of electric cellulose, like every cell in every green thing is vibrating in the static air. And everything's so clean when it's all over.
2. People REALLY want to walk the whole battlefield, and nothing - nothing - nothing you say can or will put them off from it. It doesn't matter if you tell them there are cow pats everywhere, mini tributaries you have to jump, sinking marshy mud, hoards of swarms of mosquitos, herds of ticks, and slightly skittish but possibly irritable cattle to avoid. Oh, and it's private land. THEY WILL STILL WANT TO GET BACK THERE. And you can, for the nominal fee of $10, walk a brisk pathway to the Little Bighorn, provided you hop a barbed wire fence. I don't know why everyone wants to walk the exact path Reno took to the Reno-Benteen Battlefield. I mean, it was no picnic of a hike for him, and he had horses; granted, he was being chased by hundreds, possibly thousands of affronted and aggressive Indians. Either way, it's a steep climb. And you have to ford a river. You can appreciate it much better by looking down on the valley from the top of the Reno-Benteen Battlefield, without the sweaty, muggy, bug-infested treck through the cow pastures and a strong river current.
3. History DOES matter. Buy a T-Shirt.
4. It is much harder to draw a man with a mustache than an Indian. I'm not sure what the practical applications of this knowledge are, but there you go. Linda had asked me to draw life-sized carboard cut-out busts of Sitting Bull and Custer to put t-shirts on and it was a lot of fun. SB came out pretty well, but for some reason Custer came out a little feminine, even with the 'stache. I'll put up pictures to show it, but let's just say that even though I didn't get him spot-on, I was very kind when it came to his receding hairline.
5. People LOVE pressed pennies. We have a pressed penny souvenir machine in the front of the museum and it gets used at least 10 times a day. I've seen fully grown men get more excited about pressing a penny than the monogramed gun of Thomas Custer (who won two congressional medals of honor, by the way) just five feet from the machine. There are websites devoted to documenting every themed pressed penny machine across the US. That means that there are actual Pressed Penny Cartographers out there, whose sole job is to map out every pressed penny you can get.
There are more crazy things I've learned in the last few weeks, but I'd like to leave room for reenactment week stuff and Justin's next entry. More later..... -L

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reenactment Week

Justin: We are quickly coming upon the busiest time of year in Custer Country, Reenactment Week for the anniversary of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Starting next Wednesday, on the Crow Reservation the Crow Indians begin their week long Crow Native Days celebration. Included in the celebration are rodeos, parades, fireworks, dances, crafts, food, etc. Personally, I'm hoping to attend one of the rodeos seeing as I've never been to a rodeo, and where better to see a rodeo then in Montana? And it's a Crow rodeo no less. Also, I'm hoping to compete in the 3 mile run/walk race for diabetes. The main event of Crow Native Days is the Battle of the Little Big Horn reenactment. There are two battle reenactments that take place every year, one just outside of Hardin, and one on the Real Bird Loop of the reservation. In my humble opinion, the Real Bird reenactment is a better choice as it's on the site where Custer tried to cross the Little Big Horn river during the battle. The Hardin reenactment from what I hear is also a must see, however their portrayal of the battle takes place more than 15 miles from the actual battlefield. Unfortunately, the reenactments are scheduled within 30 minutes of each other so attending both is not an option. Moving on, the past week at the museum has been a busy one. The foot traffic through the museum has almost doubled overnight. I attribute this fact to all schools around the country are now out for the summer, and the closer we get to the anniversary (June 25) the busier Custer Country becomes. Well that is all for now, more to come later this week or early next week. JD

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Calm Before the Storm

LAUREN: So.... we've finished the case. Chris (the director) is busy securing a new acquision for the museum, and at the moment things are slow, but it's definitely a comfortable pace. I like it when it's slow here because you get to speak to people more and you don't feel harried. Granted, because we're attached to a convenience store/sandwich shop, we do get quite a range of people coming in, but most of the time that's what makes working the desk so fun. All sorts of people end up walking through that door. I know (or at least I've been informed repeatedly) that from June 24th through the 4th of July, it's going to be crazy. Experts apparently flock here for the reenactment, and I know that while it's going to be an engaging challenge to hold my own amongst Custer experts, there's something about seeing the excitement of new knowledge in someone's face, and that usually only happens with people who stumble across the site, rather than make a B-Line for it. As Justin and I have discussed, we both really hope we can go to the reenactments in Hardin and on the reservation, preferably together. The Crow Native Days sounds amazing, too, with Indian food and dancing, crafts and parades and fireworks. I may even go to my first rodeo. Even more shocking, I may even try to ride a horse. At some point. Hopefully not too soon, though, because I'm still in the process of warming up to the idea.
In any case, we still have a LOT to do here at the museum before the reenactment week, and while I'm optimistic and semi-organized with my semi-anal "To-Do" lists, I know it all won't get done. I would at least like the museum to be organized, well-labeled and clean. For now, I'm going to enjoy leisurely inventory-ing the post cards, taking my time to clean the cases. -L

Saturday, June 13, 2009

World Premiere of the Artillery Case at the Custer Battlefield Museum

Justin: Well, the day has finally come, the glass is ready to be put back into place and my case will officially be done. Welcome to the world premiere!! Coming into this endeavor, I thought the implementation would take half a day, maybe a day tops. I was sorely mistaken to say the least. To begin, working on a case and simultaneously running all other aspects of day to day museum operations is a task within itself. Educating vistors while running the register while anwsering questions while trying to put a case together is extremely time consuming and exhausting. On top of that, there are many obstacles along the way in terms of translating from a mental plan to a physical actuality. On several occasions, I had to improvise in order to complete the task. Not everything worked out the way I initially envisioned, but I am thoroughly happy with the end result. Some of the improvisations actually came out better than I had anticipated. For example, with the help of my fellow intern, we were able to build an impromptu stand to hold the British Bulldog revolver. The stand, which is composed of loosely molded black fabric, allows for the revolver to have a singular presence in the case, the impact of which is felt when examining the firearm's mysterious and exciting past. This particular revolver is the same model General Custer carried with him into battle but was never recovered. The aforementioned British Bulldog was purchased from a 82-year-old Cheyenne woman in 1988 less than 50 miles from the site of the Battle and may or may not be Custer's lost weapon. Another observation - no case can be completed by a single person. Without the help of Lauren, I do not think the case could have been done. It is simply too much work for one to complete by one's self. Furthermore, with the help of Lauren's brain storming and ideas the case really came together quite nicely. In the end, the journey from start to finish of designing a case is extremely rewarding. Despite its tumultuous and often frustrating development, it is incredibly satisfying to objectively observe the evolution of a case, from humble and disorganized beginnings to a polished and coherent end. JD

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A few minor reflections

LAUREN: So, I've been thinking about what makes this place unique and I think I've finally come to a conclusion. This location is special, not just because it's the site where the Indians won their last true battle against the U.S. military, but because every permanent reminder of the battle is essentially a retrospective fabrication of an event. Unlike most indigenous peoples, the Indians didn't build any great monuments in order to preserve the memory of their lifestyle. What does that say about a culture, when they don't feel the need to etch their mark on the earth, carving memory out of the clay? We have this image of Indians as people who are so tied to the earth, but isn't it odd that this strong connection doesn't manifest itself in the landscape? In fact, the Cavalry men who died here left more of a mark than the Native Americans. There are strings of white stone markers peppering the landscape, some in straggling clumps and some in almost perfectly straight lines, like wet fingers dragging across suede, they leave imperfect marks to remind us where human brevity met eternal soil. Maybe it's a sign of respect to leave the land the way you found it - maybe that tie which binds the Indians to the earth is so strong that to carve anything into it would be like cutting into one's own flesh. When people ask "where's the battlefield," it's especially frustrating because it feels as if people are expecting some awe-inspiring monument that can be seen from the highway - like a Vegas strip and not a sprawling Montana landscape. Would people really appreciate it if there were a blaring neon arrow sign above last stand hill saying "CUSTER KILLED HERE"? I'm coming to realize that there's a particular kind of visitor to the museum that I enjoy: they are the quiet ones, the ones who don't feel the need to talk on their phone or take tons of pictures (which are prohibited, by the way), rush through the aisles, or ask that ever-aggravating question: "is this it?" The people I love are the ones who show the respect history deserves, who take their time looking in each case, reading each description, and absorbing everything, because it's not just information behind that glass - it's lives, it's dying breaths, it's passions, it's painstaking, skilled work. It's easy to get dramatic when you're here all the time, seeing the ebb and flow of traffic and tourists, but working in a museum is making me realize that the most dramatic moments are often observed in silence, in reflection and awakening. -L

Monday, June 8, 2009

So Close, Yet So Far Away

Justin: I began the day with aspirations of completing my very first display case. Everything seemed to be in order for this momentous occasion. At 8:00 a.m. sharp I met Chris in the office to look over a few pieces I wanted to add to the case, one of which may or may not be General Custer's British Bulldog Revolver. After looking over the pieces, I began typing up labels for the artifacts I chose from the collection in storage. While exictedly typing, Chris informed me we are missing a key element to the success of the completion of the case (the black felt to cover up the juvenile depiction of Calvary-Indian battle). Thus, I am sad to say that the case is going to have to wait until tomorrow to be completed, because a trip to Billings has to be made to purchase said felt. I will (tentatively) have pictures of the display up on the profile section of the blog either tomorrow or Wednesday. JD

Saturday, June 6, 2009


JUSTIN & LAUREN: Yesterday we set out for the metropolis that is Billings Montana, the largest city in Montana to be exact. The reason for our excursion was the lack of supplies in our immediate vacinity, such as Target, CVS and any other sign of normal civilization. Although we set out with the intention of finding Walmart (or rather, one of TWO Walmarts in Billings, because really, who doesn't need an extra Walmart?), it was Target that came through, and by "came through," we mean popped up in our blind search for ANY large discount store. While wandering the cavernous aisles, Justin's ceaseless need for food mandated an immediate search for any restaurant WITH A TV, or as he likes to put it, "rumblies in my tumbly." From there, we "found" the Montana Brewing Company, albeit after circling the block 5 times, three of which was to find a parking space. I (Justin) wanted to bring a little home to the MT, by watching the LSU baseball super regional game against Rice on ESPN (to satify my other insatiable vice in life, SPORTS!!!). But to give a better mental picture of the situation, Justin made me (Lauren) sit under the TV so I couldn't see the game, but it's okay because no one can compete with his LOVE FOR THE GAME!!!!!!!!! After sampling some of the local fare (which included some of the worst fish I've ever had- what was I thinking, cod in Montana?!?!), we headed back to the compound through a steady sheet of heavy rain. The monotony was only broken by Justin's emphatic singing AND dancing to a long chain of classic rock and 80's pop, so in the end it was worth the trip. Oh, PS- "Little Big Man" is the devil. More on our adventures as the summer progresses..........-L & J

Friday, June 5, 2009

Introduction and Tom Custer's Revolver

JUSTIN: My name is Justin Davis, and I am from New Orleans, LA. I have recently graduated from the University of New Orleans with a B.A. in History. I stumbled upon this internship on a museum employment website, and decided to give it a shot. I did not know exactly what to expect moving from New Orleans to Garryowen. As you can imagine, the two cities are quite different. But, Garryowen has been pleasently surprising up to this point. The landscape is absolutely beautiful in this part of the country. Furthermore, working in the museum has been challenging as well as rewarding. Lauren and I have been allowed the liberty to restructure the museum floor plan, and some of the display cases. As Lauren mentioned in her blog yesterday, my favorite piece in the musem is Tom Custer's revolver. In my opinion, the revolver is one of the more pristine artifacts in our collection. The most interesting aspect of the revolver is the incscription of Tom Custer's initials, located on the butt. For me, the revolver makes the battle tangible because I can actually picture Tom Custer using his weapon in the battle with the Indians. I am currently working on the conceptualization of a case and hopefully soon I will be adding a fully loaded revolver that is rumored to have been one of George Custer's firearms. More on that later........-JD

Thursday, June 4, 2009

First Entry

LAUREN: This is just an introductory post to introduce everyone to the intern blog. I've been here for just over two weeks now and Justin got here on the 28th. We've been in the midst of a transitional period, rearranging the displays, updating the labels for artifacts and generally prepping the museum for the height of the season, particularly the reenactment week through 4th of July weekend.
The museum has a unique collection of artifacts and while I'll let Justin tell you what his favorite is out of the lot, my personal favorites are the Ghost Dance Shirt and the Death Mask of Sitting Bull. We also have a lock of Custer's hair, Sitting Bull's signed contract with Wild Bill Cody, first editions of the Lewis and Clark journals, a first edition of Libbie Custer's "Boots and Saddles" and many other fascinating finds. Displayed on the perimeter and accordion display boards of the museum is the largest collection of David Frances Berry frontier photography in existence. I personally believe that the museum has a rustic, intimate charm that requires at least an hour to appreciate, not including the 45 minutes it takes to watch the informational (and nationally acclaimed) video we show here.
Justin and I are trying to give the museum an extra dimension by giving an insider's perspective of the museum experience. I'm also hoping to set up a podcast or at least an audio recording from the battlefield reenactment at the end of June, so keep a lookout for that!
I'm loving the surrounding area of Montana; the hills and ridges are in full verdant splendor, and the expansive nature of the open horizon is both freeing and comforting. Coming from the Cape, I do miss the ocean and sand in general (though I never thought I'd miss always finding sand in my shoes), but this is such a pleasing surrogate environment that I barely ever feel something's lacking. Overall, I'm having a great time and I'm so glad I decided to embark on this adventure. Keep checking in for more posts and news! -L

Follow the road to glory....

Follow the road to glory....

The View From the Outside Looking In

The View From the Outside Looking In

All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses

The First Visit to LBH NM

The First Visit to  LBH NM

Battle Recreation Table

Battle Recreation Table

Ghost Dance Shirt

Ghost Dance Shirt

LBH Miniatures

LBH Miniatures
a close-up of the battle recreation

Custer's Cravat

Custer's Cravat
Somebody loves the cravat

Lewis and Clark

Lewis and Clark
A bear, a 400-year-old canoe and a ram head, with one thing in common

Justin and his gun

Justin and his gun
he is waaaay too excited about holding this gun

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