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Go west old man…
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Go west old man…

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We are headed to Montana next week, on a trip to Glacier National Park to visit my son Matt and his girlfriend Sara, who decided they’d spend the summer up there working. Not a bad decision.

We will load up the old Honda and drive the 1,800 plus miles, one way. I plan to take my time getting there, stopping for sites along the way. It’s a good thing I like to drive.

Our first stop will be in Sioux City, Iowa. What’s to see in Sioux City? Well I couldn’t really say, but it is the fastest route, according to Google Maps. There’s that, and the fact that I lived there for a bit when I was a young boy. That would have been 1963 to 1966. I haven’t been back since.

When we left Iowa and moved to Oklahoma City, I was in the fourth grade and learned how to play baseball for a team called the Red Foxes. I was also on a soccer team, which for me was more fun than baseball. I’m hoping I can find our old house in Sioux City. I don’t have the address but do know the street so I feel good about my chances. I wonder if it will be as big as I remember.

From Sioux City, we will head to Sioux Falls, S.D., which is less than 90 miles. Then it’s due west on Interstate 90, into the heart of the northern Great Plains, towards Badlands National Park and Rapid City. In Rapid City, the plan is to see Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, which they’ve been working on since 1948, when Henry Standing Bear, a cousin of Crazy Horse, commissioned sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski for the project in the Black Hills. When completed it will depict the Lakota warrior riding a horse and pointing toward his tribal land. But they have a long way to go, with only the face of Crazy Horse being completed.

After that we will stop in Deadwood, and see where Wild Bill Hickok was laid to rest, after he drew that last hand of aces and eights on August 2, 1876.

There is another story about Hickock about him driving a freight team from Missouri to New Mexico in 1860. According to Hickok’s account, he found the road blocked by a cinnamon bear and its two cubs. Dismounting, he approached the bear (they didn’t call him WB for nothing) and fired a shot into its head, but the bullet ricocheted off its skull, infuriating it. The bear attacked, crushing Hickok with its body. He managed to fire another shot, wounding the bear’s paw. The bear then grabbed his arm in its mouth, but Hickok was able to grab his knife and slash its throat, killing it. He spent three months in a hospital.

Back on the road we’ll cross into Wyoming, where we’ll stay in the car if we come across a bear in the road. We’ll pass through Sheridan, close to where Martha Jane Cannary claims she was christened Calamity Jane in 1872.

Then we’ll come to Montana, and the Crow Indian Reservation, where we’ll find the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. It was there, back on June 26, 1876, when 220 U.S. soldiers, led by General George Armstrong Custer died at the hands of Sioux and Cheyenne braves, among other tribes. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse had protected their Black Hills from the white intruders, if only for a while.

Several individuals claimed responsibility for the actual killing of Custer, including White Bull and Rain-in-the-Face of the Lakota Sioux. But at a public meeting in 2005, Northern Cheyenne storytellers said that according to their oral tradition, Buffalo Calf Road Woman, a heroine of the Battle of the Rosebud, struck the final blow against Custer, which knocked him from his horse before he died.

If you are also headed west this summer, or anywhere for that matter, here’s wishing you safe travels.

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