Quintin Birdinground III poses for a photo after participating in the Battle of Little Bighorn Reenactment on Sunday, June 26, 2022, along the Little Bighorn River. "You all got the full effect of the ferociousness today," Birdinground said of the reenactment. He has been participating in the reenactment for the past ten years.
Henry Real Bird poses for a photo after the Battle of Little Bighorn Reenactment on Sunday, June 26, 2022, along the Little Bighorn River. Real Bird's family has been running the reenactment since they began it in the early 1990s.
Cavalryman Hunter Bolt pats his horse, Penelope, after participating in the Battle of Little Bighorn Reenactment on Sunday, June 26, 2022, along the Little Bighorn River. Bolt, who is originally from California, says he had "never been on a horse before this year."
Mark Wilson poses for a photo after participating in the Battle of Little Bighorn Reenactment, in which he played General Terry on Sunday, June 26, 2022, along the Little Bighorn River. Wilson has a Ph.D. and is a retired ecologist and biogeographer. He now travels around the United States participating in reenactments. He's been participating in this reenactment for the past 21 years.
A crew of four soldiers dressed in authentic uniforms fire off a live cannon. Two hundred bucking horses gallop across the stage, kicking up dust before crossing the Little Bighorn River. A grandfather helps his son put on his headdress before he joins the fray.
It was all part of a reenactment marking the 146th anniversary of the Battle of Little Big Horn, drawing thousands of spectators to land owned by the Real Bird family near the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument outside Crow Agency.
The event ran for three days last weekend. The script, written by former Montana Poet Laureate Henry Real Bird, is told from the perspective of Spotted Wolf, a Northern Cheyenne warrior who fought in the 1876 battle. Spotted Wolf’s story was carefully handed down through the Real Bird family from Spotted Wolf’s son, Pat Spotted Wolf.
Jim Real Bird said it's the caliber of the horses, stock horses all raised by the Real Bird family, and the stage, the actual land where the Sioux Nation was camped during the battle, that sets their reenactment apart.
The event wasn't always so elaborate. Thirty years ago, you would have found a scattering of onlookers sitting on the hill overlooking the Little Big Horn River. From there they could watch the show, comprising of only a few warriors, some cavalrymen, and maybe a horse or two.
“It was a real small production back then,” said Jack Real Bird, Henry's son.
Although it has grown considerably, the story and land have remained the same.
“We only use it three days out of the year,” Jack Real Bird said, “so it has that rest of the time to grow back the way it's supposed to look.”
The crowd now sits on wooden bleachers instead of grass, with people often overflowing into lawn chairs on the ground. There are also now about 140 reenactors involved with the production, including about 40 warriors and 70 cavalrymen and foot soldiers trained in a weeklong training course through the U.S. Cavalry School out of Fort Harrison.
Over the course of the weekend, the Real Bird family will see nearly 3,000 visitors. They also offer trail rides through their property from spring through September or October, showing people the last trail General George Armstrong Custer ever rode.
But when it comes down to it, Henry Real Bird said, “the land is the one who tells the story. The land is the star.”
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