Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On the Road Again - Last Stand

August 26, 2009

I'm having a last stand of my own, although trying to mostly tell about the actual famous Last Stand. The day before our Vacation Bible School started in Plentywood, I because ill with a nasty respiratory disease. After almost 3 weeks of not improving, I finally sought medical attention and was diagnosed with a likely bacterial infection. The first round of antibiotics didn't finish the job, so now I'm on my second, stronger dose...trying and trying to get well enough for the next surgery, which is being put off till the hacking, coughing, and wheezing go away.

So I have lots of sympathy for Custer at his last stand, even though politically incorrect folks, many of them, believe Custer to have been stupid. "Stupid" is most definitely not PC, and may even qualify as a Disrespectful Judgment. But whether he was stupid, or simply tactically challenged, the whole operation was one bungle from start to bloody finish.

July 24, 2009

We awoke in a teepee at our campground close to the battlefield. We hardly even noticed the gravel stabbing holes in our spines. First chance I got, I slipped off with my camera and took the patriotic panorama found at the very end of today's blog. Somehow, I also managed to squeeze in cooking breakfast and making the kids wash dishes.

Now, carefully notice this first picture. What do you notice about it? It's not ugly, exactly, but far from my most beautiful landscape, either. But this innocent-looking, boring place was where the 2-day fight first began.

From a far-distant mountain, right at the tippy top of the point, Custer and his men came on the scene of a massive encampment of numerous tribes, gathering and camping alone the far side of the river. They were so distant, in fact, that the Native guides they had hired were the only ones who could make out the village, campfire smoke, and the many horses. From the battlefield you can just see the peak off in the distance, and it's incredible that anyone could see anything.

The scouts said most firmly that the Natives were too large a body to attack successfully, and wanted to go get reinforcements before engaging them. Well, Custer had received word that hostile Indians had discovered the presence of his men, and he had to decide whether to wait, or attack immediately. General George Armstrong Custer, ultimately in charge of his troops, made the fateful choice to press on, sure he would gain the victory.

We all know how that worked out for him. Ditto for his brother, nephew, and brother-in-law. Ditto lots of other people.

It wasn't even all his fault, if we're going to be fair. Keeping in mind that this was in the days with no radio, TV, or even internet, information was a bit slow getting around. The US government had told Custer that there were about 800 "hostiles", they called them, that he would be facing. And that was correct...until a few weeks earlier when thousands of Native Americans just up and walked off the reservation to join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Yes, thousands.

The agents on the reservations didn't bother to send emails letting people know that they were short a few Indians. Quite a few Indians. They didn't even Twitter. As a result, no one (except Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse) knew what a gargantuan force Custer would come up against. See that great big plain beyond the line of trees? That's where the village stood, and thousands of horses grazed that bright June morning.

Major Reno was the first to engage. He and his men crossed the river, sneaking along the tree-line by the river. The same trees and brush that hid them from the village, also hid the village from them. One can only imagine what they thought when they popped out of hiding and opened fire on what turned out to be a behemoth.

In short order the braves had Reno and his men pinned down in the brush, even setting fires in places to try and drive them out. Coming to his own conclusions about the better part of valor, Reno hollered that anyone who wanted to escape had better follow him, and quick!

They straggled and stumbled up the gorge toward what is now called Reno hill, in such disarray that the native warriors were still laughing about it decades later.

At the top of the hill, they must have been much cheered to have Captain Benteen and a whole bunch of soldier fellas join them right then. The whole batch of them fell to digging rifle pits, which you can still see today. Of the whole group of us, Devon and I were the only ones who saw them. He was being naughty (shhh, don't tell anyone), so he was my trail buddy. Lucky for me he was too young to realize his good fortune, and thought it was an awful punishment, walking with Mom up to Reno's Hill.

Typically in war, the elevated position is the most desirable. This certainly proved true with Reno. Though there were a few close calls, he and his men were able to hold off the warriors until help arrived. They had the additional advantage of guns up on nearby Sniper Hill, as well.

They could hear shooting off to the north, and in disobedience to their orders, some of the men left to try and reach Custer. They could see Indian warriors shooting...something...on the ground, but couldn't see what. Then the warriors from the encampment drove the soldiers back to Reno Hill, where they remained until the next day.

Custer and his men, once they made contact with their opponents, engaged in a running battle strung out across rolling hills, and through little gorges known as coulees, before becoming pinned down at Last Stand Hill. Captain Keogh and his men, apparently trying to join Custer, were taken on by Crazy Horse. At first the men tried to make a stand, and you can still see the sad little cluster of markers where they fought so desperately.

The last few survivors tried to make a run for it, and were picked off one by one, all in a row. The farthest made it perhaps a quarter of a mile from the main body.

Last Stand Hill hardly even qualifies for the name. It's more of a funny little bump in the ground. Though it technically qualifies as elevated ground, there wasn't much advantage to be found there. Not if you were with Custer.

As I stood on the hill and surveyed the landscape, I could see why it was such a hard place to defend. The wide, gently sloping sides grew just a bit steeper right before the top, so instead of sheltering the attackers-turned-defenders, it had a big blind area. If the warriors kept low, they wouldn't see them till they were right on top of their position.

Seeing the seriousness of their situation, the soldiers shot their horses to provide battlements. With the men running low on ammunition and all help either dead on the surrounding hillsides, or pinned down far out of sight, they had to know their chances of survival were slim to none. (None, as it turned out.) The siege couldn't last very long.

Finally, in one sweeping charge, the Native Americans swarmed over the hill, leaving no one alive. The slain from both groups dotted the hillsides over several square miles.

The Indians, for the most part, gathered their dead for burial elsewhere, though markers show the spots where some of them died, and a large memorial commemorates their bravery. The US troops were simply buried where they fell. Later the troops were reinterred atop Last Stand Hill, and the officers buried all over the place. General Custer took up a very permanent residency at West Point.

A large trench was dug for the mass burial of the horses. Later excavations showed they were still contained in the wooden-sided pit, and they even have their own special marker.

At first, Americans in general were terribly outraged by the massacre. In later generations, as the strong feelings became diluted by time, it became possible for most people to accept that this attack, while tragic, was not exactly unprovoked. The native peoples had certainly suffered their share of heartache, loss, and even starvation.

It is certainly not my intention to try and divide up the blame for something that happened back in 1876. It's hard enough to divide the blame amongst my own kids when they get in trouble. (Why sort it out? Consequences for everybody!) Suffice it to say that plenty of bad things happened to both sides, and in this worldwide famous Battle of Greasy Grass Creek, as the Native Americans call it, there was courage aplenty on both sides.

How inspiring it was to visit that quiet, somber place and think of all the brave men who gave their lives, fighting for what they believed in.

A national cemetery now spreads its way down the slope from Last Stand Hill. The brave and honored dead of many wars joined in with Custer's men for one last stand. Frozen in time, there they all wait...together.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

On the Road Again - Wild Kingdom


Massacre Rocks State Park

We awoke early, and in my case, grudgingly. A shower made an amazing difference. (Little did I know that on the way back, when we stayed there for the second time, I would accidentally use - or misuse - the disabled shower and get my clothes all wet.) After a flurry of artistry, photographic and painterific, the camp wife (me) got started cooking breakfast.

It was such a nice camping spot. The flat space for the tent, as well as where the rest of us slept out under the stars, was right down by the car, then we walked up steps in the bank to reach our picnic area. Above the table and firepit, more rocks lured the kids into climbing.

When the visitor's center opened, we went in to learn more about the area. As a bonus, we all got to try on a bunch of pioneer clothing. Except Grandpa - we didn't want to offend his dignity. Tiggy had it the best, and the boys didn't do too badly. By the time Tina and I pulled on as many layers upon layers of clothes as the pioneer women wore, over the top of our own clothing, we looked a mite pudgy, to say the least. On the bright side, we looked and felt very sturdy. Devon couldn't help but benefit by the appearance of extra pounds. And I still think Tina grabbed the thinner dress first. That's just the kind of sister she is.

What the place is really known for, instead of the nonexistent massacres, (ten pioneers and an unknown number of Native Americans were killed in a skirmish somewhere else...) is Register Rock. In the days of the Oregon Trail, the wagons followed a difficult road, coming at last to a peaceful spot not far from the river. As they camped and rested, many of them carved their names on the rocks, particularly the one very large boulder that gives the place its name.

One enterprising young fella did a whole lot more than carve his name. JJ Hansen, age 7 in 1866, carved pictures of a parson and an Indian chief, facing each other on the same rock.

Later to become a famous artist, he returned as an adult to the scene of his youthful sketches and added in the date of his visit.

Not bad at all for a 7-year-old.

Speaking of kids, 8-year-old Devon was kind enough to demonstrate one of the sad and scary aspects of pioneer life. Don't tell anyone, but sometimes the men had to wear bonnets.

See, hats were so very flyaway. All it took was one big gust of that ever-present prairie wind, and no more manly hat. The sun would take over, blistering day after day. These poor desperate men with no hats were driven, driven I tell you, to wear sunbonnets. With their handy-dandy fasteners, they didn't blow away, and the long floppy brims shaded their faces so nicely.

Don't mock them. You have no idea how many of your great-great grandfathers had to wear those cute little flowery bonnets.

After lunch at Harriman State Park, we drove through West Yellowstone, skirting along the edges of the park. And thus it was we found the fulfillment of a life-long dream.

"What are all those people looking at?" Tina asked. "Probably some stupid elk."

"I wouldn't mind seeing an elk," I needled. (Hee hee, I just typed 'elf' by mistake - I'd be real interested to see one of those, too!)

Still muttering, Tina pulled off to the shoulder. With her sharp eyes, she saw what it was while I was still squinting and looking for antlers.

"A bear! A GRIZZLY bear!!!!!!!!"

Immediately we all began clawing and trampling, trying to be the first out the door. Except for Tina,
who blithely stepped out the driver's side, already holding the binoculars.

What I wouldn't have given for a monster telephoto lens as big as my arm! My digital camera was smoking as I cranked up the superzoom, always a bit fuzzy but at least you can see it's a bear.

Then a few miles down the road, we came on another clump of people. This time it was a moose, a thin young female with all her ribs showing. Devona the Moose was so busy eating, head stuck all the way in a bush, that we never did get a look at anything but her flank. Win some, lose some.

That night we camped in a teepee in the Crow Nation. Once again, everyone else stayed awake long enough to listen to the coyotes, except me. This, in spite of yet another night in the same sleeping bag as Devon, since we had somehow ended up one short. Short one sleeping bag = short one in my sleeping bag.

We slept, we dreamt, visions of grizzlies danced in our heads.

Until the next adventure,
Noni Beth

Harriman State Park

On the Road Again - Across the Wasteland

(Finally! A bit late and out of order, but we are starting in on the trip out to Montana...)


Excuse me, the Adoreablelands. Wednesday morning, July 22, we left for Montana. “We” consisted of me (of course), Damon, Tiggy, Devon, Tina, and Grandpa.

Our first stop would have been the historic town of Dayton, NV, right near Carson City. However, since no one could wait that long for a pit stop, we tried to find something closer. Except we were in that long stretch of bathroomless mountains between Kirkwood and Minden.

At long, long, long last, we found a sign that promised gas stations. Maybe they were there, but we sure couldn’t find them. All we could find were the Human Services offices. “Well, we’re human,” Tina said. “Most of us, anyway. And we’re definitely in need of services.”

It would have been a much faster stop, but Grandpa had to Comb His Hair. The only way we had gotten him out of the house by 7:00 am was not letting him see a mirror. At Human Services, our chickens came home to roost. On the bright side, we learned loads of stuff about WIC, Healthy Families, Food Stamps, and got a free How to Prevent Lead Poisoning calendar. Hey, you take your education wherever you can find it. Did you know that good hand washing is essential to prevent lead poisoning? And of course, don’t eat paint.

Dayton was the very first settlement in Nevada. Near the Comstock Silver Mine, it looks like just any other small town today. Back then, it was booming. After reading a little information about Chinatown, we kept looking around for something to tell us which part of Dayton had housed the large Chinese population. As it turns out, Dayton itself was Chinatown.

Its cemetery was founded in 1850 or 1851, depending on which plaque you believe, and the man whom Virginia City was named after was among the first buried there. You will be vastly relieved to hear that his name was not Virginia. I know I was! James Finney was NICK-named “Old Virginny”, since he was from Virginia. (Also, and this is just a guess here, his last name appears to rhyme with “Virginny”.)

On the steep hill above the cemetery, remnants of the California Trail are still visible, and we walked along the ruts for some distance. We walked, Devon ran. And ran. And ran. You will notice how blurry he is. That is not camera shake.

Good job, burn off some of that extra energy, little kid. It’s gonna be a long day in the car.

I didn’t realize at first, that the California Trail was basically just part of the Oregon Trail, which makes it seem more special since everybody’s heard of the Oregon Trail. The split was near Massacre Rocks in Idaho, with the more famous Oregon Trail continuing on to…you guessed it, Oregon, and the California Trail splitting off toward…see if you can get this one too…that’s right! California! You are incredible!!!

A bit farther along, at the Dunphy rest area, we happened across another bit of Trail history involving the Donner Party. Yes, the same ones that got stranded in the wintertime in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, many of them died, and scientists are still arguing about whether or not they actually ate each other. Many seem to think the reports of cannibalism were false, but who knows?

So there at Gravely Ford, (which, for how it’s pronounced should be spelled Gravelly, and pffffft to Tina), the Donner folks may or may not have been involved in the famous Reed-Snyder fight there, but they most definitely came through. There are also the remnants of a ghost town somewhere near the town of Beowawe, which I hope to see at some point on a trip through.

It was very late, 11:30 local time, when we got to our campsite at Massacre Rocks. As we were to find out, there wasn't ever much of a massacre - just a few stray deaths, much like any former frontier area. It wasn't called Massacre Rocks until the 1900's, when local merchants hoped to use a gory name to entice more traffic to stop. See? Our generation wasn't the first to invent crass commercialism.

Perhaps it would've been easier to put up the tent for the first time in the light, but we managed pretty well. And by the end of our trip, we were old pros. The only adventure remaining to us before bedtime was finding a way to get Grandpa to the bathroom. That accomplished, all we had left on our agenda was looking at the stars and listening to the coyotes. Everyone else listened to the coyotes and gazed at the stars. After approximately 2.7 seconds, I slept.

Having lots of adventures,
Noni Beth

So Close and Yet So Far


Holter Lake

On our trip back to sunny, HOT California, we took the slightly longer, northern route across Montana. I've been that way a couple times, but with no time to stop and look around. Plus, in a semi, there's a limit to where you can stop anyway. And poor Tina had never been across there.

It was already almost lunchtime when we left, so we pushed as far as we could before stopping in to eat. The first part of the trip was interesting, with scattered badlands (or adoreablelands, as we call them), but the rest was pretty much the same, mile after hundred miles.

Ah, yes, lunch. That was a special lunch for me. When I got back from the bathroom, Tina had so kindly fixed my sandwich and weighted it down with a package of cheese slices. I bit in. Mmm, mmmm, mmmmm. Hunger is a good sauce! Eating my way around the crust like I always do, I could hardly wait to get to the soft and tender middle. Oddly enough, after several bites of the tasty middle, it tasted just about the same as the crust. Curious, I opened the sandwich, only to find it was empty. Bread. Yum.

I put my fillings in, but so late that they stuck out everywhere. Great, just great. Then the next day for lunch somebody spilled something or other on my sandwich, and I had to pick out all the bread in the middle. Eat off the crusts, and only filling is left. Figures. If it doesn't go wrong one way, it goes wrong the other.

We stopped for the night in a wondrous place. We all wished we could've stayed longer, and we're definitely going back again! It's our new favorite camping place of all time. Lake Holter is a little ways north of Helena, MT, is part of the Missouri river, and very near Lewis and Clark's famous Gates of the Mountains.

It's also near Mann Gulch, a place I have wanted very much to see for a number of years now. Back in the 30's, the new field of smoke-jumping was changed forever by the deaths of a number of firefighters during a blowup along the steep slopes of Mann Gulch. The three men that survived had an incredible story to tell. Eventually I'll go there, and bring back pictures. In the meantime, I contented myself with being closer than I had ever been before, and being able to see the actual peaks that were near Mann Gulch.

Arriving at sunset was magical. The place is gorgeous anyway, but throw all the colors of the sky into the lake and make them darker, and you've got a visit to remember. The deer were everywhere, just like giant squirrels.

In fact, when Tina woke up during the night, a whole herd was trampling right through the middle of our campsite. Poor Mr. Finley didn't handle that so well. He's used to genteel, discreet deer that keep their distance and mind their own business, not cheeky rascals that walk around as if they own the place. Oh, wait - they DO own the place. The softly bloodcurdling wails were enough to make your hair stand on end.

Grandpa sure had fun. As you scroll down, look carefully so you don't miss the joy on his face.

The next day, I admit we dawdled. None of us wanted to leave. Almost none of us. So it was later in the day than it should have been when we saw the statue known as Our Lady of the Rockies.

More than 8500 feet above sea level, and overlooking the town of Butte, the statue sits atop the Continental Divide. From what I've read, the sculptor who built it made the hands and head first, intended to be part of a 120-foot sculpture. Upon finding out that, according to FAA regulations, any structure over 90 feet had to have flashing lights, the rest of the planned construction was shrunken, but the hands and head remained the same.

So now they have a 90-foot statue with no blinking light on top of its head, and if you don't know it's not proportionate you don't notice too much.

We made Massacre Rocks just in time to set up camp before dark, and had a tasty supper of vegetable soup. True, it wasn't quite all the way hot, since the last of the propane went out in a quiet whoosh, but when you're camping, who cares?

Camping or no camping, it would have been nice to have a few more dishes than we did. Not to whine or anything, since it worked out fine to eat in shifts and drink our hot chocolate in shifts. We had a lot more dishes on the
way out, and I'm still not sure quite what had happened. On the way back to CA there were only 2 cups and 1 or 2 bowls. Silverware was limited as well, but that didn't matter so much. You can eat almost anything with your fingers. Oh, except soup.

The weather was beautiful, the mosquitoes weren't bad, and I think it may be our second-favorite campsite now. Very near the top, for sure. Grandpa loved it too, I only wish I could tell you how much.

The last day of the trip, we drove out by Gravely Ford in Nevada. Sometime, with 4wd, we might even be able to go see the graves from the folks killed in the Donner Party, as well as the location of the famous fight.

We made it back in the wee hours. Good thing there are no pictures of what we looked like by that time! And I've been working on the house ever since, getting it cleaned up and ready for vacancy. Not so much time to have adventures while moving, but that's ok. I'm still working on writing about the ones I've already had.

Until the next adventure, and may it wait a while,
Noni Beth

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hello? Is This the Craft Man?

So here I am, back in CA and working very hard. I have to finish getting the house and garage cleaned up, then it's hopefully time for my last surgery. It's going to be a bit hectic, so I'm glad the kids are able to help.

Yesterday, Damon was working in the garage. Doing what, exactly, I'm afraid to find out. After a while, he came and asked me an odd question, to which I replied, "Um, NO!" And gave it not another thought till I heard him in my bedroom on the phone.

"Hello, is this the Craft Man?"
(unintelligible murmuring)
"Is this the CRAFT MAN?"
(unintelligible murmuring)
"The Craft know, the one who makes power tools."
(mumble mumble)
"Yes, that's it! Well, I wanted to know ~ can you push-start a riding lawnmower?"
"Um, NO!"

What I want to know, or maybe not, is how long he and Tiggy pushed the lawnmower all around the driveway trying to start it, before they gave up and called.

Really, you cannot push-start one of those things. Trust me.

Until the next adventure,
Noni Beth < - - - banging my head slowly against the wall

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Too Many Adventures!

Being the sort of person I am, I don't like things out of order, but there's no help for it. The adventures have been flying thick and fast ever since we got here, and I'm still working on our trip log from before we ever got here!

So we had a spectacular trip, which you'll hear about eventually. I'm almost done with Day 1, woo-hoo! Considering that I've been working on Day 1 for almost 3 weeks, perhaps a woo-hoo is a bit overdone.

We hit the ground running. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say we hit the ground painting, but I don't think that will ever become a catchy slogan. Tina did the majority of the actual work, and did up all 3 kids' rooms plus the stairway. It looks so beautiful, so fresh, so clean. And we only lost one kid doing it.

Oh, we lost one cat, too. Diesel, usually King of the Water Bottle, decided to be Diesel, King of the Second Story. It didn't work out too well for him. Tina heard a faint scritch scritch scritch down the side of the house, and dashed to the upstairs window, fearing the worst. Diesel, King of the Lawn, stood there dazedly, blinking at his sudden change of surroundings. None the worse for wear, he found himself with another rapid change: Diesel, King of Being Shut Up in the Laundry Room.

So quickly, it was time for the county fair. Maybe next year I'll be able to devote the time and space to the fair that it deserves. There are huge differences between here and California, not the least of which is NO COST WHATSOEVER for admission. You just park and wander around to your heart's content. You have to pay for the rides, of course, but all the exhibits, livestock shows, and all kinds of stuff are free. Even the petting zoo is free! (Tina said it was actually the harassing zoo, and she wasn't too far off.)

Our church had a booth there, and the kids and I helped to man it on Thursday and Friday. The kids helped Jack to man it on Sabbath, and the fair was closed on Sunday. That's kind of interesting too - even though Montana doesn't have Blue Laws like North Dakota, and even though many of its businesses are open on Sunday, due to the high number of complaints the fair recently started closing on Sunday.

My favorite exhibit was the salt lick sculpture category. Now, these sculptures were not what has immediately sprung to your mind. They were not formed by humans with tools, but simply by cow tongues. The sculptures are the natural result of the cows licking and licking. The seal was exceptional and the Mardi Gras mask quite good. My compliments to all the bovine artists.

The kids became friends with the people in each of the other booths in our building. They all loved the massaging recliner display, and Devon really got to know the lady who was handing out free mints. She was a most patient person, and it was the second day of the fair before she told him he couldn't have any more. That explained the pocketfuls of mints he kept passing out...

After the fair it was high speed to get ready for Vacation Bibls School. The kids were the main feature each night, performing a segment of the musical play, The Three Trees. Our first night went along great, exactly like it was supposed to. Right up until Tina discovered Mom sick in the bathroom. Very sick. Too sick to move on her own. (Mom, moaning: "Just take the door off its hinges." Tina, cringing: "I can't. The hinges are on your side of the door.")

A few hours later, (ok, a whole bunch of hours later), Mom still couldn't move herself, and was so pale and terribly sick that she at last agreed to go to the hospital, right across the street. Two nights and two days later they let her out again, well on her way to recovering from acute food poisoning. She looked perky and almost fresh, considering that 2 days before they had to ship her off to the ICU in order to use the fancier equipment to try and find her pulse and blood pressure. They knew she was alive because she kept talking, they just didn't have any other way to show it. And hospitals are such sticklers about being able to prove that their patients are still alive.

Tonight was the last night of VBS, and it went splendidly. After the first night, Grandma Silva had been replaced in the play by Auntie Silva. The grandmotherly storyteller was now a motherly storyteller. It all worked out, even if it wasn't the original plan.

Oh, and it's hardly worth mentioning after what Mom went through, but I've been sick almost a week now, one of those miserable summer colds. I'd be asleep already if I could breathe better and stop coughing. But at least I'm not 3/4 dead.

Sunday we leave again already, and if I don't hurry, I'll be trying to still type Day 1 of Trip 1 while driving across the countryside on Day 1 of Trip 2. No, that's not confusing at all. Must write faster!

Until the next adventure, I can only hope,
Noni Beth