Red Cloud's War

We were told that they wished merely to pass through our country ... to seek for gold in the far west ... Yet before the ashes of the council fire are cold, the Great Father is building his forts among us. You have heard the sound of the white soldier's axe upon the Little Piney. His presence here is ... an insult to the spirits of our ancestors. Are we then to give up their sacred graves to be plowed for corn? Dakotas, I am for war.

Red Cloud, 1866

From March 19 to 22, 2001, I drove from Wisconsin to Washington accompanied only by my dog, Magellan. It was like summer on the plains, only without the heat, humidity, and bugs–sunny, warm, perfect driving weather. Along the way I took the opportunity to visit several sites from the Plains Wars: Little Bighorn, Fort Phil Kearny, the Fetterman Massacre, and the Wagonbox Fight.

Custer's Last Stand has been so well documented and the battlefield so well mapped and photographed that there's little point in covering it again here. I would only say this: if you have the opportunity to visit the site and walk the Reno-Benteen battlefield, don't just view it standing up. Pick out a likely spot near one of the rifle pits and hunker down on the ground to get the sort of view that a member of the 7th Cavalry would have had. It will alter your notions of the battle significantly.

The other three sites were all significant a decade earlier during Red Cloud's War. While they are famous sites, you seldom see photos of them in history books. I had formed mental images of these battlefields from countless readings over the years, but my reaction on actually seeing them was plain shock. They looked nothing like the way I pictured them. Suddenly, things that never made sense before fell into place. It was a stirring experience.

So, for the sake of anyone else out there with a past, present, or future interest in Red Cloud's War, here are the photos I took as I and Magellan walked the battlefields. Bear in mind that all were taken with a wide-angle lens, which makes distances look longer than they really are.

Fort Phil Kearny

Fetterman Massacre

Wagonbox Fight

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