State 17: Montana - October 1, 2017
“If you talk with the animals, they will talk with you, and you will know each other.
If you don't talk with them, you will not know them, and what you do not know you fear. What one fears, one destroys.”
Chief Dan George
After taking 2 days off the road in Cody, WY, we felt relaxed, rejuvenated and ready to continue on our trip. Today, we drive Northeast, and enter the 17th state on our cross country journey to discover America and find a new state to call home Montana: The Treasure State. It is a state motto that is both thought provoking, and factual. The state's early settlers made fortunes mining gold and silver for the mountains of Montana. As mining continued within the state, copper, garnet, platinum, agate and sapphire have also been discovered. Although, I don’t think we will be doing any mining over the next week, Montana is the first state we have visited with no state sales tax, and that sounds like a treasure to me! We can’t wait to see what additional treasures are in store for the Cross Country Couple during our week in Montana.
The first task of the day was a 163 mile drive Northeast to Crow Agency, MT to visit the Cross Country Couple's “Historic Location” for Montana; The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. More commonly known by the Plain's Indians as the Battle of Greasy Grass, and to White Americans as Custer's Last Stand, The Battle of Little Bighorn was an armed engagement between the Plains Indians, and the 7th Calvary of the US Army on June 25-26, 1876. The U.S. 7th Cavalry consisted of a force of 700 men, led by Civil War hero Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. The outcome was an overwhelming victory for the Plain's Indians, and resulted in a crushing defeat of the US forces. As the battle drew to a close, the few remaining US troops shot their own horses to death to use as cover on the hill at the north end of the ridge. The Indian warriors surrounded the hill, and killed every man in Custer's command. Thus, history has come to know The Battle of the Little Bighorn as "Custer's Last Stand". After the fighting had ended, Custer, his two brothers, a nephew, and a brother-in-law, and 268 US soldiers died while fighting several thousand Indian Warriors.
I was very excited to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield, and apparently I am not alone. Over 300,000 visitors each year come to Little Bighorn to memorialize the fallen members of the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry, and to commemorate the Plain's Indian's most significant armed effort to preserve their way of life. What Gettysburg is to the American Civil War, so is Little Bighorn to the American Indian wars! Please see the pictures below.
Admission to the park was $20.00 per vehicle, but we got in for free with our National Park Pass. We made our way into the visitor center to speak with the ranger, and get our passbook stamped. We also watched a movie about the battle, and viewed a small museum. The museum featured a historically significant collection of artifacts which included; Lakota Chief Sitting Bull's bow, and Custer's sword, jackets and trunk. Please see the pictures below.
August 1983, brush fires burned 600 acres of the battlefield. Excavations of the battlefield in the subsequent years yielded over 9600 artifacts including: arrowheads, guns, bullets, cartridges cases, an Indian saddle, boots, buttons, coins, horse bones and more. Please see the pictures below for a selection of the unearthed the artifacts.
The most interesting items recovered in the 1980’s excavation included 2 unidentified human skulls. The skulls were sent to forensic scientists, facial reconstruction was performed and 2 busts were subsequently produced. The skulls were determined to belong to 2 soldiers under Custer’s command. One had been identified, and the others' identity remains a mystery. Looking at 2 of the faces who fought in the battle was very cool, but exceptionally eerie.
After departing the visitor center museum, we reunited with Rosie, and set off for a 5-mile drive across the Little Bighorn Battlefield. In 1890, the Army placed 249 marble headstones across the battlefield to show where members of the 7th Calvary had fallen. These marble markers astutely put into perspective not only the specifics of the battle, but in addition painted a poignant picture of the loss of human lives of that fateful day. Please see the pictures below.
During the Battle of Little Bighorn an estimated 60-100 Plains Indians lost their lives. In 1999, stone markers began to be placed at the known locations of the Indians who died fighting to protect their way of life. Below are pictures of a few of the markers of the Native Americans who fell at Little Bighorn.
I am not going to go into great depth about troop positions, and military strategies pertaining to the battle. However, I do want to discuss one very historic battlefield location called Last Stand Hill, which is the exact location of Custer’s Last Stand. On this hill, 41 members of the US Army including Custer were hopelessly surrounded by attacking Indians. The soldiers were taking such tremendous enemy fire, they actually shot their horses in the head, and used their dead bodies as cover. Eventually, their position was over run, and all 41 perished. I apologize for being graphic, but I felt it necessary to relay the desperation of the soldiers situation. Today, Last Stand Hill is surrounded by a locked iron fence. Within the fence are 41 marble stones depicting where the soldiers fell. The exact location where Custer fell, is the marble stone embossed in black. Please see the pictures below.
After the battle, the 220 fallen soldiers, scouts and civilians were buried in a mass grave. In 1881, a stone memorial containing the names of each of the US lives lost were erected at the site of the grave. Custer was not buried at Little Big Horn; He was buried in West Point, NY. Across the road stood a monument at the site where the horses of the 7th Calvary who perished in the battle are buried. Please see pictures below
Despite the horrific battle which occurred here many years ago, today Little Big Horn Battlefield was quite beautiful and peaceful. Please see additional pictures below.
After leaving Little Bighorn, we drove 201 miles West to Bozeman, MT for the Cross Country Couple's “Can’t Miss Attraction” for the state of Montana; “Montana Grizzly Encounter, A Bear Rescue and Education Sanctuary. At the beginning of the 19th century, grizzly bears thrived throughout much of North America, but by the mid 20th century the grizzly population numbered less than 2000! This decline in population was primarily caused by habitat destruction related to human development. Today, all that remains of the grizzly bears natural habitat in the continental US is Yellowstone National Park, and parts of Montana along the Rocky Mountains. A Montana native named Casey Anderson and his wife wanted to curb the disturbing trend of declining bear populations, and public misconceptions about grizzlies. In 2004, Anderson founded Montana Grizzly Encounter; a Bear Rescue and Education Sanctuary. The facility provides a safe, spacious and natural setting for rescued grizzlies. At the same time, it offers the public a place to come and learn about grizzly bears as they watch these majestic animals safely, up close, and with no bars or cages to obstruct the view.
I like many, was afraid of bears, because I did not know a lot about them other than they might want to eat me! EEEEK!!! I think I drove Nate crazy during our entire time in Yellowstone frantically looking around for bears. As an avid hiker, Nate knows more about bears then I do, and assured me my fears are exacerbated due to a lack of knowledge. I was nervous to see a grizzly bear up close in person without cages or bars separating me from the bear. However, I am in Montana for the next week to learn about the state. Since the grizzly bear is the state animal for Montana, I guess I am off to meet a grizzly bear today!
Since Montana Grizzly Encounter receives no government funding, proceeds go to provide a great home for rescued grizzly bears, and to insure that grizzly bears continue to live in the wild. We paid our $7.50 per person admission to a worthy cause, and made our way to the grizzly enclosure. I slowly and cautiously made my way up to the front on the display to get a closer look. After all, when would I ever have the opportunity to see a grizzly bear again. The voice of the sanctuaries proprietor; Casey Anderson came from behind us. For over 45 minutes he stood in the snow, and spoke to all of us about everything you could ever want to know about grizzly bears. Casey was an undeniable expert about bears, and we were amazed by the amount of knowledge he openly shared. He has possessed a love and passion for these animals since he was 4 years old. The two bears; Bella and Brutus, who were on display appeared healthy, happy and well cared for. Nate and I watched in awe as they chomped away on rib bones obtained from a nearby wild game slaughter house. Casey joked that the bears he cares for actually eat better than he and his wife, and then proceeded to recite what each of the 5 bears had for dinner last night. In addition, all of the 5 bears are fixed so they cannot be bred. Casey made a point to state with the exception of cases of neglect and abuse, wild animals belong in the wild, and we should be suspicious of any sanctuary breeding wild animals in captivity. Please see pictures below of Casey, his wife and their bear sanctuary.
As a vegetarian and animal rights activist, I am more critical than most about holding wild animals in captivity. I am against zoos, circuses, or any entity that exploits, breeds, or sells animals for profit. Clearly, this was NOT the case at the Montana Grizzly Encounter. The 5 Grizzlies which live in the sanctuary were either born into or rescued from inhumane captive situations all over the U.S. Therefore, these bears could never be released back into the wild. Although they must live in captivity to survive, the 5 grizzlies: Brutus, Bella, Sheena, Jake, and Maggi at Montana Grizzly Encounter are doing their part to help educate visitors insuring there will be wild bears in our forests for generations to come.
Before leaving, we asked Casey the most important things he would like others to know about grizzly bears. To help foster a better understanding of these grossly misunderstood animals, I would like to share with you the a few of his responses. First thing you must know is bear attacks on humans are extremely rare! In actuality, grizzlies have very little interest in harming humans, and most actually possess a fear of humans passed down from mother to cub. Most bear encounters are simply the result of human ignorance or stupidity. For example, getting close to a bear to take a selfie. Although grizzly bear attacks are extremely rare, below are the top 3 reasons grizzly bears attack human.
3. You surprise them!
Imagine if you walked into the bedroom of your home tonight and came face to face with a total stranger. How would you react? Most likely you would fight back to protect yourself, your family and your home. Now consider the following; The wilderness is the grizzly bears home. Now, here you come walking down a trail, and startle a grizzly you happened to come across. Although grizzly’s will most likely detect you long before you detect them, the best way to avoid a surprise grizzly bear encounter is to verbally speak words aloud such as “Here I come down the path Mr. Bear”. This will let the grizzly know you are coming, and allow him the opportunity to leave, thus avoiding a surprise grizzly encounter.
2. You come to close to their food!
Imagine you just got off work for the day and are extremely hungry! You decide to go to local restaurant to treat yourself to a steak and lobster dinner. The waiter delivers your food, and you dig in. Your meal is absolutely delicious! All of a sudden out of the corner of your eye, you notice a stranger walking closer and closer and closer to your table! Then, the stranger sits right down at your table, and he leans in closer and closer, and starts licking his lips. How would this situation make you feel? I am sure you would be more than just a little pissed! I was surprised to learn approximately 80% of the grizzly's diet is green vegetation, wild fruits and berries, nuts, bulbs or roots of plants. The remaining 20% of a grizzly diet consists of fish and scavenged animal carcasses, which are the grizzly equivalent of a steak and lobster diner. If you approach a grizzly bear while he is eating an animal carcass you are just asking for trouble, because they will defend their meals! The best way to avoid such an encounter, is to avoid contact with animal carcasses when in the wilderness. Effective ways to do so include: keeping your eyes open for scavenger birds, and keep your nostrils flared for foul odors indicative of a nearby decaying animal carcasses. Just know bears may return to an animal carcass more than once. If you come across an animal carcass on a marked trail, notify a park ranger so it can be removed.
1.Mother is protecting her cub
Imagine you bring your 5-year-old daughter to a local park on a sunny summer afternoon. While she is playing on the jungle gym, you sit down on a park bench, and pull out your phone to check your emails. When you look back up from your phone, you see a strange man pushing your daughter on the swing. How would you react? I can’t speak for everyone, but I would be at that swing set as fast as I could to protect my daughter. If you find yourself in a close proximity to a grizzly bear cub you can expect a visit from mama bear. A female grizzly mother acting to protect her cub from human interference accounts for 85% of all bear attacks on humans.
The best way to avoid the aforementioned scenarios includes the common practices listed below. When in bear country: speak out loud to prevent surprising a bear. Carry bear spray. Stay on the marked paths. Store food in bear containers, or hang food from trees. Travel in groups of 6 or more. Grizzlies are solitary animals, so there is strength in numbers. Finally, take the earbuds out of your ears, enjoy the sounds of nature, and most importantly, always be aware of your surroundings! Both humans and bears like to feel safe in our homes. Both humans and bears like to enjoy meals without interference. Both humans and bears want to keep their children safe. Hopefully you see grizzly bears and humans have much more in common than you ever thought.
One final point I would like to leave you all with. The deadliest animal in the world is NOT lion’s tigers and bears. The deadliest animal in the world, which is responsible for the death over 725,000 humans each year is the pesky mosquito! Before grabbing your bear spray, it actually makes more sense to grab your bug spray first! Statistically, you are more likely to be killed and eaten by a cannibal than by grizzly bear! However, people fear what they don’t understand. Since most don’t understand grizzly bears, regretfully the grizzlies are the one who pay the price. I hope this article has helped foster a better understanding of grizzly bears. They are truly beautiful, smart, and amazing animals, which we are still tragically losing to habitat destruction, and human misconceptions. However, Casey, his wife and the 5 rescued bears at Montana Grizzly Encounter are doing a great service to educate the public. I wish I visited their sanctuary before I went to Yellowstone. Perhaps, I wouldn’t have been so afraid of Grizzly Bears and I could have relaxed a little more! After departing the Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, we found a Walmart across town in Bozeman, and had a restful night sleep.