HARDIN – In the United States, there are few battles more famous or controversial than the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Fought on the plains of present-day Montana (then a territory) on June 25 and 26, 1876, the battle saw Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors, led by dual legends Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, clashing with Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the U.S. Army Seventh Cavalry.
Nicknamed Custer’s Last Stand, this famous battle comes to life every year on a plain six miles west of Hardin, Montana. Now in its 24th year, this reenactment features more than 300 reenactors on foot and horseback.
“This is open-air theater at its best,” says Bill Joseph, chairman of the Custer’s Last Stand Reenactment and a former portrayer of Sitting Bull. “We give people a taste of what it was like on that day and during that time in history. In addition to the Indian warriors and cavalrymen, we have people who portray settlers, we have an Indian village with tipis, and there is a fort set up.”
Also this weekend, a reenactment is held on the Real Bird Ranch near the Little Bighorn Battlefield. The reenactment takes place at 1 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
The reenactment script for the Hardin reenactment is based on the notes of Crow Tribal historian Joe Medicine Crow, whose grandfather, White Man Runs Him, was Custer’s Indian scout. Medicine Crow, who lives south of nearby Lodge Grass and turns 100 on Oct. 27, 2013, used his grandfather’s passed-down accounts to craft the story through the eyes of his forefathers.
He has also attended the reenactment since it began, singing “Son of the Morning Star,” a Native American warrior song, to all those engaging in the battle.
“Each performance begins with the cavalry riding in military formation from the west, and the Indian warriors riding in from the east,” says Joseph. “They meet in front of the grandstands while Lee Greenwood’s ‘Proud to Be An American’ plays over the PA system. After the battle, the scene is repeated. It’s very powerful and it gives many people chills.”
Joseph says seeing the battle reenactment provides a deeper understanding of America in the 1870s, and especially of Native Americans as they dealt with the wars, treaties, relocations and other difficulties resulting from America’s westward expansion.
He says people travel from around the United States and the world to experience the annual event.
This year, one performance of the Custer’s Last Stand Reenactment will occur at 2 p.m. each day on Friday, June 21, Saturday, June 22, and Sunday, June 23. Visitors will be able to meet and take photographs with many of the reenactors as well as participate in other Little Big Horn Days events.