Saturday, August 1, 2009

Day 15: Amber Alert

Throughout our stay with them, Robert and Jaki had watched LK's scotch and soda start out as a beautiful amber color and slowly turn very pale as she sipped it and let the ice melt. As the drink approached transparency, one of them inevitably would yell out "Amber Alert!" and grab her drink and restore it to the proper color.

I tell you this because we nearly had a catastrophic Amber Alert yesterday. Because yesterday's post about Yellowstone was so long, I didn't tell you about our near crisis.

The previous night in Jackson Linda had finished the Johnny Walker that Robert and Jaki had so generously provided when we landed. No big deal, you would think, since we had a whole day to find a liquor store and buy another bottle.

Well, maybe that's not what you would think but it's what I thought. Especially when we exited Yellowstone and LK pointed out that we had just passed a state liquor store in the first town. "I don't want to turn around," I said. We had 60 minutes left to drive to Livingston and it was only 5pm. We'd get a bottle there.

Only when we got to the state liquor store in Livingston, it turns out that it closes at 6pm. AMBER ALERT! More than that, if I have well and truly stuffed this up by refusing to turn around when I could, I don't want to think of how many free passes LK will earn. Certainly it would be 2011 before I could point out a mistake without expecting to hear, "Well, at least I didn't refuse to turn around when I was asked to."

Fortunately, the hotel clerk told me of the one (ONE!) place in Livingston that sold booze after 6pm. It was a bar with a bottle shop attached, and Johnny Walker cost more (MORE!) than it does in Australia. Best money I have ever spent.

Anyhow, now that that is out of the way, let me tell you about today when we visited Little Bighorn National Monument on our way to Buffalo, Wyoming.

My Aussie friends may not know it, but Little Bighorn was the site of one of the US Army's greatest defeats at the hands of its native Indians back in 1876. Popularly called "Custer's Last Stand", it is the place where General George Custer and his men were all killed when their plans to secretly attack an Indian village went badly awry.

We learned a lot about the battle before we went out to see where it happened. When we went out into the actual places where it happened, it did not do much to enhance our understanding of the fight. Much of it looks the same, and you don't have to actually stand on the highest point to understand that they went to the highest point to defend it. Anyhow, there are a few pictures here but I don't think you will get much out of them. And I should point out that, with the exception of the cemetery itself, the stones mark where fighters on both sides of the battle fell.

I suspect a real history buff - especially one who is into war and battles - would get a lot more out of a visit than I did. I have never been that much into war (says the master of understatement), and I have only ever been to four places that memorialized war or battles. Besides this one from the Indian War of 1876, I was at two Civil War battlefields, Antietam and Gettysburg, and two years ago went to the museum about what we call the Vietnam War when we were in Saigon. (They call it the American War, for obvious reasons.)

So there you have it: Little Bighorn, Antietam, Gettysburg and Vietnam. Despite the US having one of the greatest winning percentages in history, I've managed to catch them when they were slumping - 1 win and 3 losses. I think it's time for LK and me to visit Grenada.

As for what I learned today, it doesn't seem like there's too much of relevance from the Battle of Little Bighorn in today's world. I mean, consider this:

1. The US Army was there because American citizens wanted precious natural resources in the area and chose to ignore treaties in order to get them.

2. The US president had wanted to bring US values to these "lesser" people. In US Grant's words, the US Army was there "to Christianize and civilize the Indian and to train him in the art of peace."

3. Which leads to the third point. The US president actually said he would bring peace to the Indians by attacking them.

4. The US military failed to take into account that the Indians knew the area better than they did and were more dedicated to victory because they were trying to protect their homeland rather than occupying it.

As I said, not much similar to anything in recent history.

And one final point, although Custer was caught out when he was part of the US Army trying to make a secret attack on a village full of women, children and elderly as well as the warriors, the conservative media in the US painted the loss as a trap and ruthless massacre on the part of the non-Christian savages.

The US president used this to whip public opinion into a frenzy and got massive funding to send huge numbers of troops into the territory again to "bring peace" to the Indians. This eventually led to all Indians being forced into quarantined camps called reservations.

As I said, no relevance to today from Custer's Last Stand.

Tomorrow, art class. We're heading to Mt Rushmore.

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