There’s little that thrills me as much as when two passions collide- like outdoors and history! Dive into both during the Battle of the Little Bighorn Anniversary each June in southeastern Montana. The third weekend in June is filled with commemorative events, rodeos, living history, and plenty of excitement to keep you busy.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Visit Southeast Montana. As always, my opinions are my own!
Little Bighorn National Monument
To understand what all the fuss is about, your first stop should be the national monument. The Little Bighorn National Monument stands as a solemn testament to one of the most iconic clashes in American history – the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Nestled amidst the expansive landscape of southeastern Montana, the monument serves as a poignant reminder of the conflicts and cultural complexities that defined the era of westward expansion and Native American resistance in the late 19th century.
The genesis of the battle traces back to tensions stemming from the encroachment of European settlers upon Native American lands and the subsequent clashes between indigenous tribes and the United States government. The year was 1876, and the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes had come together under the leadership of prominent chiefs such as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Faced with the prospect of losing their ancestral territories and way of life, these native warriors took a stand against the advancing forces of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry, led by the ambitious and controversial Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn, which transpired on June 25-26, 1876, unfolded in a flurry of violence and chaos. The combined Native American forces demonstrated remarkable tactical prowess, decisively defeating Custer’s detachment and dealing a staggering blow to the U.S. Army. The battle marked a pivotal moment in the struggle for Native American sovereignty and stands as a symbol of the complex interplay between cultures, land rights, and military might.
In the aftermath of the battle, the site became a touchstone in American history. The Little Bighorn National Monument, established in 1879, preserves and commemorates the hallowed ground upon which these events unfolded. Visitors to the monument can explore the battlefield, witness moving memorials, and gain insight into the lives and stories of the individuals who participated in this historic clash. As a place of reflection and remembrance, the Little Bighorn National Monument stands as a testament to the enduring impact of the past and the lessons it holds for generations to come.
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Battle of the Little Bighorn Reenactment
If you’re roadtripping Montana, you need to visit the last weekend of June to experience the Battle of the Little Bighorn Reenactment! This was seriously one of my favorite activities in Montana, an event that left a lasting impression on me. Whether you share my passion for history or are simply seeking a one-of-a-kind adventure, this experience is for you!
The reenactment unfolds on the Real Bird Family property, adjacent to the national monument, and spans approximately 90 minutes. During this time, participants from the Crow, Cheyenne, and Sioux tribes ride in stark contrast against reenactors from the U.S. Cavalry School, effectively recreating the dramatic events of Custer’s Last Stand. Preceding the battle, crucial historical contexts are also presented, enriching the overall narrative.
One of the most breathtaking moments of the reenactment is a vivid depiction of the horse herds that once roamed the Plains. More than 100 horses gallop through the reenactment grounds, expertly guided by Native American riders. The sensation of the ground vibrating beneath you as they thunder past is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The reenactors’ impressive horsemanship, especially the bareback riding skills displayed by the Native Americans, leaves a lasting impression. These moments evoke a wild sense of freedom that is difficult to put into words.
Lastly, we were able to grab a photo with Custer himself, before his demise. 😉
Crow Native Days
Crow Native Days is an annual event in June, coinciding with the reenactment, not to be confused with the Crow Fair held in August. It runs for about a week, and is a fantastic opportunity to experience their culture. Montana is home to thirteen Native American tribes, so no trip to the state is complete without a native event or visit.
Dozens of events take place during Crow Days, from pow wows, to rodeos, to ultimate warrior challenges. To find the most up to date information on Crow Native Days, check Crow Nation News – CNN and Crow Native Days Events on Facebook.
Little Bighorn Days
The anniversary of the Battle is a big deal in south eastern Montana, and along with the reenactment and Crow Native Days, the city of Hardin holds Little Bighorn Days. During this weekend celebration, there’s a parade, live music, dances, a rodeo and more.
A must-visit is the Little Bighorn County Museum, where you can experience a 19th-century infantry reenactors’ encampment. Engage with living history demonstrations, including daily cannon firings. The encampment also offers a taste of historical cuisine, featuring staples like hardtack and pemmican—an indigenous survival food.
The PRCA Little Bighorn Stampede Rodeo kicks off on Friday, standing out as one of the most remarkable rodeos we’ve attended. Witness thrilling events like bareback Indian relays, bucking horses, breakaway roping, and a personal favorite, the mutton bustin’. Picture this: toddlers and young children riding sheep until they fall off, showcasing the rodeo stars of tomorrow.
In 2023, the rodeo faced the challenge of severe storms that turned the grounds into a muddy terrain. Yet, true to the cowboy spirit, participants persevered, delivering an awe-inspiring show. Following the inaugural night rodeo, the rodeo grounds come alive with live music and dancing—a perfect finale to this captivating event.
The closest RV park to the Little Bighorn National Monument and the reenactment is 7th Ranch RV Camp. It’s a great park with full hookups, laundry facilities, and a coffee shop. Just minutes from the national monument, it books up months in advance for the reenactment weekend so plan accordingly! We booked six months early, just to be sure we secured a spot.
The RV park has a couple trails, and is a very quiet and relaxing place. I recommend 7th Ranch even if you’re just passing through. How about this stunning sunset photo, no editing done, just showcasing the big skies of Montana from the campground!
Books to Read
Before visiting the monument or the activities around the battle’s anniversary, consider reading up on the actual events. For me, two books stood out.
The Earth Is All That Lasts: Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and the Last Stand of the Great Sioux Nation by Mark Lee Gardner provides great insight into the battle itself, as well as the circumstances that surrounded it. The Battle of the Little Bighorn was a momentous event in US history, and Gardner does an excellent job laying it all out in a very readable format.
For a bit more controversial read, try My Life on the Plains, by Custer himself. Keep in mind it is a product of it’s time, but it brings Custer to life. You probably won’t like him anymore than I did after finishing it, but I wanted to understand the man behind the legend.
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