Saturday, November 21, 2015


This week's Cemetery Traveler blog was guest written by my friend Teresa Lambert. I saw some of her images on Facebook a few months ago and was intrigued. She gracefully accepted my invitation to write an account of her visit to the Little BigHorn Battlefield. Her fascination and curiosity epitomize the reasons some of us go out of our way to visit cemeteries. Enjoy! - Ed Snyder

Teresa Straley Lambert

As a child of the ‘60s, I grew up watching TV westerns: The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Maverick, The Wild, Wild West, and even an occasional F-Troop. And, as a child, it never occurred to me to think that perhaps not all of the characters or situations were portrayed as being historically correct. The “good guys” (Cowboys) all wore white hats and won all of the battles, and the “bad guys” (Indians) all wore very little and lost all the battles. Nor did I think about the “Cowboys and Indians” as a possible metaphor for what was happening during the Cold War at the time. After all, I was just a kid. But whether the shows were historically accurate or a mirror reflecting events and culture during the time they were on the air, they encouraged my life-long interest in history, especially American history. In addition, having a father and other memorable teachers who taught that subject helped, as did our summer family vacations. I swear we stopped at every historical marker in the entire country while traveling!
Now, as a woman in her 60s, I still like to watch an occasional western, but mostly I enjoy traveling around the country and discovering or rediscovering historical sites to see what I can learn and to see if what I learn alters what I thought I knew about the place.
This is what happened this year when my husband and I took several road trips in our VW camper (“Our Blue Heaven”), covering thousands of miles all over the United States. One of the many memorable places we visited was Little Bighorn Battlefield, a national park in Crow Agency, Montana, featuring not only the battlefield where Custer and over 200 of his men fell along with numerous Indians of various tribes , but also the Reno-Benteen Entrenchment Trail, the Indian Memorial (yes, that’s its name), and Custer National Cemetery.

Custer National Cemetery
We arrived at the national park early on a sunny September morning and discovered that because we are over 62 (I was actually four days shy of that age, but my husband qualified), we could get a “forever” pass for U. S. national parks for the unbelievably low sum of $10.00. The best ten bucks we ever spent!
Sadly, what I knew or remembered about “Custer’s Last Stand” from my history classes, I could have written on the back of a postcard. With room left to draw a picture or two.  But after exploring the Visitor Center, with its dioramas, maps, artifacts, and film, I had a better understanding of the events that took place on this wide expanse of southeastern Montana on June 25-26, 1876.

 “Last Stand Hill”

Custer’s marker
Trudging up the path to “Last Stand Hill,” I first saw gravestones surrounded by an iron fence with a large monument standing in the background. The “graveyard” holds over 40 markers signifying where George Armstrong Custer and some of his soldiers fell.  But where the soldiers’ markers are solid white, with a shield bearing the soldier’s name (if known), the 7th Cavalry, and the date (June 25, 1876) carved on it, the shield on the one in the center, George A. Custer’s, is painted black.

Indian markers

However, none of these soldiers is actually buried here. Custer, for example, is buried at West Point, NY, at the United States Military Academy. More white markers dot the vast landscape, from Last Stand Hill to the Reno-Benteen Defense Site, about five miles away. In addition, red granite markers mark the places where men from various Indian tribes fell during the battle “while defending the [tribe] way of life.” Also, across the road from “Last Stand Hill” is a marker commemorating the 7th Calvary horses that had been killed.
Indian Memorial
The walkway then led to what at first appeared to be a large, circular mound with four narrow stone openings and some kind of metal artwork behind it. Approaching one of the openings, though, I saw that steps led down into a large space honoring the Indian cultures represented at the battle. Granite slabs on the stone walls, with etched or carved photographs, drawings, documents, quotes, lists of names, and explanations, comprised the interior of the mound.

Indian Memorial
Tribes represented include Apsaalooke, Arapaho, Arikara, Cheyenne, Crow, Lakota, Oyate, and Sioux. In 1991, Congress changed the official name of this area from Custer Battlefield National Monument to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and ordered a memorial to the Indians to be built there. Six years later, after conducting a competition to create an Indian memorial, a design was chosen. The memorial’s primary messages are “Peace through Unity” or “Power through Unity.” 

Inside Indian Memorial
Inside Indian Memorial

Many historians believe that the Battle of Little Bighorn did not end on top of “Last Stand Hill” but in “Deep Ravine,” several hundred yards below the hill. Another pathway leads through the prairie to this ravine, with warnings not to stray because of the rattlesnakes’ habitat! Didn’t have to remind me twice! However, some visitors disregarded the sign and we can only hope that they did not cross paths with any venomous critters.

Deep Ravine
Next we returned to our VW bus and drove the five miles to the Reno-Benteen Entrenchment area. The companies of Major Marcus A. Reno and Captain Frederick W. Benteen arrived at the bluffs along the Little Bighorn River on the evening of Custer’s debacle. There they attempted to establish communication as well as a defense perimeter. The Indian warriors, now finished with Custer and his men, surrounded these soldiers and fought into the next day, threatening to break the defense perimeter.
Field hospital

From the trails winding around the outer borders of the entrenchment area, one can imagine the improvised field hospital in the center, designated with a red cross marker; the rifle pits and trenches, with dead horses and mules piled on them to add cover; the volunteers trying to get water from the river to the injured soldiers, who had been without it for hours; and the retreat crossing of the 7th Cavalry, with Crazy Horse, Wooden Leg, Black Elk and hundreds of warriors in pursuit.


On our ride back to the Visitor Center and the Custer National Cemetery, I contemplated what I had seen and learned at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Most impressive to me, I think, was the Indian Memorial, with the many quotes by both whites and Indians. In 1869, for instance, after the Washita Battle, and seven years before the Battle of Little Bighorn, George Armstrong Custer was quoted as saying, “I will never kill another Cheyenne.”  In reply, Cheyenne tribesman Stone Forehead said, “If you break your promise, you and your soldiers will go to dust like this.” Additionally, one hundred years later, in 1969, John Wooden Legs said, “Our Land is everything to us. . . . I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember that our grandfathers paid for it – with their lives.”

Unity through Peace

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Teresa Lambert's odyssey next week:

Teresa Straley Lambert, a teacher of academically gifted students for nearly thirty years, discovered upon retiring in 2011 that her hobbies of photography, travel, writing, and genealogy have turned into a second career. Last year she published The ABCs of Gravestone Symbols, an alphabet book using her photos of gravestone symbols as well as verses she wrote to help explain possible meanings to those symbols. She has also created many photo books of her travels and of cemeteries.

She is a member of the artists’ co-op “Gaslight Gallery” in Findlay, Ohio, where she displays her travel photos, greeting cards, calendars, and books with photographs from places such as England, France, Canada, Peru, and all over the United States. 

      More about Teresa Straley Lambert at the following websites: (search “Teresa Lambert”) (author/book page) (search “Dead Ends Cemetery Photos”)
       Dead Ends – Teresa Straley Lambert (Facebook page)

Teresa Straley Lambert