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Central Plains Archeology


Introduction

Special Publication No. 1 (1997), 77 pages, Reprinted 2006

A Good Walk Around the Boundary: Archeological Inventory of the Dyck and Other Properties Adjacent to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
by Douglas D. Scott and Peter Bleed


The Battle of the Little Bighorn of late June 1876 did not occur entirely within the limits of the present National Park Service (NPS) boundary. Battle-related relics have long been found on lands surrounding the park; however, systematic archeological investigations were not possible until Paul Dyck unveiled plans for development and construction of a new Plains Indian museum near the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Mr. Dyck's plans became the impetus for carrying out archeological investigations on the Dyck and adjacent properties. The purpose of the archeological investigations was to determine the extent that battle-related remains might extend into the museum development area. The museum being developed by Mr. Dyck is to be situated on his property, about 40 acres, that lies adjacent to the monument's current entrance road. Mr. Dyck gave permission to the NPS to conduct an inventory of his property to determine if battle-related activities took place on that locale. The park staff also obtained permission from the Crow Tribe and its members, the Custer Battlefield Land Preservation Committee, and Mr. Lynn Torske to expand the inventory project (fig. 1) to contiguous properties (total acres examined = 295) in order to ascertain the northwestern boundary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

The motivation behind the archeological project is the Park's Resource Management Plan (RMP). The RMP draft identifies and recommends several thousand acres of lands adjacent to the park for protection through cooperative management, easement, or acquisition. These lands are identified for protection because they are believed to have played a part in the battle. Some RMP-identified lands are believed to be the location of specific battle events, while other lands are deemed worthy of protection because they help to maintain the site's scenic integrity and are a part of the cultural landscape. Certain lands adjacent to the current park entrance road are specifically identified in the General Management Plan (GMP) and RMP. These lands are believed to have played a role in the battle as locations where Sioux and Cheyenne warriors took positions and fired upon soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry.

In a new interpretation of the use of these same lands Fox (1993), using previously collected archeological data (Scott and Fox 1987; Scott et al. 1989), has reassessed many of the Native American accounts of the battle and developed additional and in some cases alternative interpretations of the battle. The most relevant elements of these new interpretations suggest Lt. Col. George A. Custer and two companies, E and F, moved down the ridge adjacent to the western park boundary in an attempt to reach a river ford at the north end of the Indian camp lying along the Little Bighorn River. Fox argues that Custer was repulsed by attacking Sioux and Cheyennes and forced back via a route that lies under the current park staff housing area, the National Cemetery, and the visitors center to Last Stand Hill, where he met his ultimate fate. Fox calls this area Cemetery Ridge.

The lands lying along Cemetery Ridge have been significantly impacted by modern developments. Properties of Paul Dyck and the Crow Tribe are outside but adjacent to the development zone. If Fox's arguments are correct, those lands should contain artifacts pertaining to locations where Custer's column moved along the ridge to the river. The area should also contain evidence of movement of the warriors as they pushed Custer back to Last Stand Hill, where he was surrounded and the remaining command destroyed.

The scope of the 1994 inventory effort was to determine if battle-related remains and relics are present on the private and tribal properties adjacent to the park entrance road. In addition field schedules permitted the examination of about 155 acres of tribal lands adjacent to the southeastern corner of the park lying on Calhoun Hill and in the upper reaches of Deep Coulee and Custer Battlefield Land Preservation lands in Medicine Tail Coulee (160 acres), at Weir Point (250 acres), and at the northwestern boundary of the Reno­Benteen defense site (20 acres) (fig. 2).

The 1994 archeological investigations were carried out in a variety of locations as noted in Table 1. A total of about 880 acres were metal detected and inventoried during the field investigations. The Custer Ridge Extension area, including the Dyck property, yielded about 150 artifacts. The area inventoried was about 295 acres. Numerous cartridge cases and bullets were collected.

In fact, most of the items found on the 880 acres were bullets, many in the United States Army's .45-caliber for its Springfield carbine. Some Colt revolver bullets were recovered as were various calibers usually associated with Indian firearms. A small group of army carbine cases and a separate cluster of Colt revolver cases were also found. Other artifacts included a currycomb and parts to a Springfield carbine.

The area adjacent to Calhoun Hill and Deep Coulee included about 155 acres (see fig. 2 for locations of surveyed areas). These areas are assumed to be locales where Custer's troops moved from Medicine Tail Coulee and Nye-Cartright Ridge to reform at Calhoun Hill. About 125 artifacts were recovered in this area, again numerous cartridge cases and bullets. Other artifacts included two spurs, a picket pin, a currycomb, and a leather working awl.

The Medicine Tail Coulee inventory comprised about 160 acres near the mouth of the coulee on Custer Battlefield Land Preservation Committee lands. About 25 artifacts were recovered, mostly bullets. However, a small cluster of post-battle cartridge cases was located in an area reported by Don Rickey, Jr., of the National Park Service, to be a soldier's position. Also found there was the cylinder pin from a Colt revolver, a broken Model 1874 army mess knife, and a handle of a period butcher knife.

The Weir Point area inventory was also conducted on Land Preservation Committee lands. About 250 acres were inventoried, identified based on historical data about the movements of soldiers and warriors and selected in concert with Park Historian Douglas McChristian. Bullets and a few cartridge cases were recovered along with a Model 1870 Springfield takedown tool.

The final area of inventory took place adjacent to the Reno-Benteen defense site on 20 acres west of the northwest corner of the park boundary. Few artifacts were recovered there. The area was apparently used as a borrow source for road construction. Thus the area is heavily impacted, except for a hundred-meter-or-so wide strip adjacent to the boundary and along the bluffs overlooking the valley of the Little Bighorn.

The artifacts add to the inventory of battle-related materials recovered during past archeological investigations, and they were recovered in interpretable patterns. The fact that battle-related artifacts are present demonstrates that some element of the battle occurred on each of the inventoried areas.

The data collected in 1994 confirms there are archeological resources still in situ on the lands surrounding the park boundary. This information enhances the argument for preservation of these lands. Not only are these lands of historical interest, forming, as they do, a cultural landscape setting for the park area, but it is now certain they contain actual physical evidence-artifacts-of the battle.

The project's purpose was to ascertain if archeological resources related to the Battle of the Little Bighorn are present on the lands adjacent to the park boundary. The investigations determined that those resources are present, although previous relic collecting has depleted the total quantity.

 

 

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