Tag Archives: trip of a lifetime

The Little Big Horn

During our Trip of a Lifetime, we did not visit a single place that did not generate conversation around the supper table or campfire at the end of the day.  We discussed the bone chilling truths of the Minuteman Missile Historical Site in Interior, South Dakota; the treasures found in the Buffalo Bill Museums in Cody, Wyoming; the mystical metric system we encountered in Canada; and the incredible talent of a twelve-year-old female fiddle player in Mountain View, Arkansas.  From man-made history and marvels to the beauty carved by the hand of God in the Badlands National Park in South Dakota; Banff National Park, Canada; Glacier National Park, Montana; and Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, we spoke of it all, sometimes with excitement and sometimes in reverent awe.  Yet, the stop that generated the most conversation, immediately and for many days afterwards, was The Battle of the Little Big Horn National Park in Montana.  The place where Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the United States 7th Calvary met their Waterloo June 26, 1876.

The Little Big Horn Battlefield challenged every belief we held of the famous battle.  Although we did not realize it until we surveyed the battlefield and read the markers, listened to a native American guide, and visited the museums, our perceptions of the battle, from childhood to adulthood, had been schooled and skewed to be politically correct, twisted by racial ignorance, and warped by Hollywood theatrics that took liberties with the truth.  The markers, museums, and guide presented us our first unbiased truth – the 7th Calvary was not all good nor were the Sioux Indians all bad.  Atrocities took place on both sides; Indians scalped and disemboweled bodies of fallen soldiers, as well as cut the tips of Custer’s fingers from his hands, but only after the 7th Calvary desecrated their burial grounds and fired the first shots of the battle into tipis along the Little Big Horn River killing defenseless women and children.

Last Stand Hill itself, the site of Custer’s fall, also presented a different picture than the one we were taught in school and saw in the movies.  Rather than riding their ponies in circles around and through the outnumbered soldiers, the Sioux, many of them armed with Henry or Winchester repeater rifles given to them by the United States government to hunt buffalo, lay concealed in the tall yellow grass or along nearby hills picking off Custer and his men much like an old-time turkey shoot.  Not until the besieged soldiers, armed only with single-shot, breech-loading Springfield carbines and Colt revolvers, ran out of ammunition did the Sioux warriors swarm over Custer and his men.   When the struggle was finished, 268 men of the United States 7th Calvary, including Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, and an estimated 40 to 60 Sioux warriors, including 6 women and 4 children lay dead on the battlefield.

With every step, we took through the park, our perception of Lieutenant Colonel Custer’s last stand and the final fleeting glory of the American Indian gained a bit more clarity.  The gallant Hollywood image of Custer, revolvers blazing in each hand, as he made his final stand against incredible odds, melted as we scanned the landscape from the ridge where Custer and his men perished to the Little Big Horn River below where thousands of Sioux Indians once camped.  For us, one of America’s most provocative myths, the June 26, 1876 Battle at the Little Big Horn, died.  It was replaced by bloody truths provoked and reciprocated on both sides.   It was the day a new America of white settlers, soldiers, and Washington, D.C. politicians and aristocrats in top hats endured its worst battlefield defeat at the hands of Native Americans; the day the sun set on the old America of native sons hunting and living off the land.  The Battle of the Little Big Horn ushered in a new era where all Americans, new and old, became forever locked under a veil of distrust, dishonor and deceit.

That is not to say, the men of the 7th Calvary and the Sioux nation who died on the battlefield were not men of honor; soldiers and Indians alike died believing they were right.  Their bravery should never be questioned, but the underlying dishonorable political and self-serving greed of the new Americans that sent the 7th Calvary to provoke the battle should be questioned and never forgotten.  The Little Big Horn resolved nothing.  For the new America, the violation of fallen bodies on the battlefield, gave credibility to breaking treaties with Godless heathens, and helped them justify their own barbarism at a place called Wounded Knee.  To the old America, the merciless slaughter of the 7th Calvary temporarily vindicated them against a treacherous “forked-tongue” enemy that looked upon them as less than human.  However, in the end, any credibility or vindication claimed by either side was short-lived.  No one won at Little Big Horn; the new America lost its honor, and the old America lost its way of life.

JL

©Jack Linton, September 11, 2017

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The Trip of a Lifetime

After six months of planning and preparation, the time has finally arrived.  My wife and I are taking a long awaited get-a-way; she calls it The Trip of a Lifetime.  Our travel trailer and truck are serviced and packed, the house sitters are in place, people to take care of the pool and lawn have been secured, and the bank account has been depleted.  Our kids think we are too old and feeble to completely comprehend the magnitude of the trip we are undertaking, and the grandkids cannot understand why we are not taking them.  Although we have assured our children repeatedly we are not too decrepit to take a two-month camping excursion, they roll their eyes and say, “Dad, have you thought this through?  Sometimes people your age do crazy things;” “Mom, ya’ll don’t have a clue how to use an ATM;” or “We’re sure the two of you will have a great time, but where’s the will just in case?”

They are right; we may be a dime short of crazy and clueless about an ATM, but I am confident the great explorers Lewis and Clark also did not have a clue about an ATM and were called crazy when they set out to explore the northwest.  Like those trailblazers, this will be our first trip to the northwest United States, and like them, every turn will represent a new adventure for us.  If all goes well, our trip will take us north to the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Big Sky country of Montana, to Calgary, Canada, northwest to Banff National Park, back south to Glacier National Park, and Yellowstone National Park.  That is just the first 3,500 miles.  Where we go beyond Yellowstone, we haven’t a clue.  We may head southeast through Colorado and Kansas, or we may chase rainbows and UFOs to Roswell, New Mexico and beyond.  The only thing we are sure about is, the good Lord willing, we will come home eventually.  As for a will, the kids are being a little presumptuous in my opinion, besides we sank everything we own into this trip.

I have waited for this trip for fifty-three years.  When I was ten years old, I remember a school friend, Rocky, telling the class about his summer camping trip to Yellowstone National Park.   He talked to us about boiling water that shot hundreds of feet into the air, a grizzly bear studying him from the trees bordering his campsite, buffalo that stopped traffic for an hour, and mountains capped by snow in mid-summer.  Hooked, I told my parents, being careful to leave out the boiling water and grizzly bear, about this fantastic place Rocky had visited.  I did my best to sell them on friendly buffalo and mountains with snow cone peaks, and I believe my father was hooked and ready to go, but my mother said, “No!  We cannot afford it.”  Desperate, I blurted, “Tents don’t cost much.  We could camp like Rocky and his family.”  That was maybe the greatest blunder of my youth.  My mother was a beautiful lady – prim and proper – and although she worked hard, she had never dropped a bead of sweat in her life, and she was not about to do so camping in a tent.  “Over my dead body,” she said, and that was the end of the camping discussion and as it turned out the Yellowstone discussion as well.  I have often wondered if things may have been different if I had kept my mouth shut about camping.  The closest I got to Yellowstone after that was National Geographic and pictures of grizzly bears and buffalo my teacher gave us to color in class.  At the time, I despised her; I felt she was intentionally trying to rub salt in my wounds.

This trip is my wife’s dream as well.  I don’t know if there was a Rocky in her life to inspire her, but regardless, I have never seen her more energized and excited.  She has taken on the persona of a “town crier” excitedly sharing with anyone who will listen every detail of the trip.  By now, all our children, grandkids, and friends know the color of every outfit she plans to bring and wear, know the menu by heart for each meal, know the locations by city, state, latitude and longitude of every picture she plans to take, and know how many times per week she plans to do laundry.  As for me, one pair of shorts and jeans as well as a couple of t-shirts and pairs of underwear are all I need; you waste less time if you wash a t-shirt and a pair of underwear in the sink and dry them on the back of the camper as you travel.  Fortunately for me, stately and dignified was not high on the compatibility list when we married.

For years, we talked about this trip, but always found an excuse to put it off to next year.  Of course, life has a funny way of pushing by several “next years” before you know it.  Finally, we woke up one morning, not as young as we once were, and realized the possibility of running out of “next years” was too close to home for comfort.  We had some decisions to make.  We could hang around the house and help our kids plan how to make our home of thirty years more elderly friendly and accessible when we were no longer capable of climbing the stairs, we could practice for the retirement home, or we could thumb our nose at age, get off our butts, and take the flipping trip we should have taken years ago.  We decided to take the trip!

Once we decided the trip was a go, my wife started planning, packing, and talking.  She told everyone where we were going, until one day, she mentioned it to some good friends who decided to join us.  They had recently bought a new travel trailer and truck and were anxious to get on the road.  We were absolutely thrilled to have them join us on the trip.  Since our kids had stopped coming to see us for fear of having to listen to their mother talk about the latest trip menu or “ooh” and “aww” at the latest gadget I had purchased or built for the truck and camper, it was good to finally have some likeminded geriatric souls (seniors only in the eyes of our kids) to talk to about the trip.

The only downside was our planning became competitive.  In a very short time, the trip wardrobes for both wives doubled.  Heaven forbid they would ever be caught wearing the same color, style, or brand of shoes or clothing at the same time.  As a result, the bunk area of both campers had to be re-purposed to provide space for their wardrobes.  However, to be fair, I must admit my good friend and I became a little competitive ourselves.  When he bought a gadget for his truck, I one-upped him with a bigger gadget for my truck, and of course, he would counter with a fancier gadget for his truck, which in turn led me to reciprocate with another blockbuster gadget for my truck.  The dashboards of our trucks now look like the cockpit of the space shuttle.  There are monitors for the GPS, monitors for dashcams, monitors for rear view cameras, monitors for the monitors, and wires so thick it looks as if the dashboard is overgrown with black vines.

But, all is okay; all is better than good.  Before we leave, we may be forced to have a fire sale to lighten the camper and truck load, but if I must put a harness and blinders on my wife to help pull the camper, we are going on this trip.  Next year has finally come for our Trip of a Lifetime.  The family thinks we are crazy, but they are behind us one-hundred percent, and we are living and sharing the dream with good friends who we pray are still good friends by the end of the journey.  We are blessed with a family, friends, the means, and the health to make such a trip possible – life is good.  In a few days we will head north, so keep us in your prayers, we’ll see you somewhere along the six or seven-thousand-mile mark.

JL

©Jack Linton, July 5, 2017