Custer, South Dakota

After wandering around the Crazy Horse Memorial site I decided to pick up something I’d been long meaning to read: Stephen Ambrose’s “Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors.” I started reading it at the Black Hills Mile Hi Motel in Custer, South Dakota. Quite fitting, I believe. Then I wanted to bring the book along with me to the Buglin’ Bull, where I ate a delicious Buffalo burger, but I thought that would be a little too cheesy.

So I read most of the book back home in Denver, wherein I had an increasingly hard time picturing George Armstrong Custer in his namesake town where I spend subdued evenings spotting deer along the Mickelson Trail.  I don’t think the quiet small town matched the General’s flamboyant personality. Custer as the guy who racked up the most demerits at West Point (one hundred were allowed every six month period. Custer once hit ninety in the first three months), wore conspicuous attire even in the battlefield, and spent months in New York and Washington schmoozing with reports and politicians.

However there is no denying that Custer loved the area. He was constantly itching to get back west where he could hunt buffalo, march his men through blinding blizzards, and hunt Indians. Even when everyone else was miserable, Custer rarely found anything on the Great Plains to complain about. Custer once toured the area with Colonel Stanley, and his love of the area is downright comical when compared to Stanley’s notes:

“Stanley said it had rained four out of the past six days, sometimes in torrents, and that he was miserable. Custer said, ‘Our march has been perfectly delightful thus far.’”

“No artist, he [Custer] wrote, could fairly represent the wonderful county we passed over, while each step of our progress was like each successive shifting of the kaleidoscope, presenting to our wondering gaze views which almost appalled us by their sublimity.” Stanly told his wife that while the river itself was beautiful, “the country adjoining is repulsive in its rugged, barren ugliness.”


Custer’s cockiness, optimism, and craving for attention caught up with him though. When he and his entourage (which typically included a menagerie of animals, a band, and a reporter) headed out to Little Bighorn he refused extra cavalry support, refused to rest his men and horses before the battle, and refused to properly scout the area. Crazy Horse and the largest collection of Sioux Indians that had “even collected on the northwest Plains,” trounced the cocky General. Custer and his 225 soldiers died that day.

I hate to say it was a good thing Custer died, but…well…yeah. Ambrose cautiously suggests that had Custer been victorious, he may have secured the Democratic Presidential nomination. And this pro-slavery Southern Democrat (who “had nothing new to say – he merely repeated whatever the current wisdom of the Democratic party might be. He filled his letters and his conversations with political slogans, which enlightened no one…”) would have been a terrible president. A town named after him is okay, but I’m glad school children have never been expected to revere him as a president.

A few miles north of Custer, SD is the Crazy Horse Memorial. Kind of. It’s actually the site of a museum that looks out at a huge rock face that barely appears to have Crazy Horse’s face carved out, despite the fact that construction has been going on since the late ‘40’s. The memorial is going to be HUGE, although I doubt I (or anyone reading this) will be alive to see it completed. The fact that it’s taken over half a decade to carve out but a face is kind of sad, but maybe symbolic of Crazy Horse. Unlike Custer, he was a much more modest leader, recognizable in battles for his lack of war paint and feathers.


*Purchasing “Crazy Horse and Custer via the affiliate link above will earn me a bit of cash, so thanks!

The Kevin Whirlwind Horse Memorial Run/Walk in Spearfish, SD

I became a fan of The Kevin Whirlwind Horse Memorial Run and Walk the moment I noticed that it didn’t start until 10:30. Most races have this annoying habit of starting at 8am on Saturday mornings. I promptly signed up for this race that would allow me to sleep in.

Except Spearfish is six hours away from Denver and I couldn’t get out of work/the house until six Friday night. Not wanting to drive through unfamiliar mountain roads (okay, they are hills, not mountains, but still) at night I ended up staying the night Lusk, Wyoming. This required me to get up at 6am anyways in order to make it to the race. So much for sleeping in.

I’m glad I did the drive in the morning though because highways 85 and14A from Lusk to Spearfish cut through the coolest part of South Dakota – the Black Hills. It being April, the plains leading up to the hills (which can be rather ugly in the winter) were several shades of green. If I didn’t have a race to get to I could have stopped and stared at deer for awhile as they were out in full force. Once the road crosses into South Dakota the hills proved to be also more green than black, covered with Evergreen trees that reminded me of home (where I grew up in Seattle, not my Las Vegas home. Obviously.) It was also gray and rainy so maybe that contributed to the homey feeling. The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway was also so gorgeous and remote that I had that startled/blinking-in-confusion feeling when I emerged from the canyon and hit I-90, new housing developments, and the manicured golf courses of Spearfish.

I drove aimlessly around Black Hills State University until I found the telltale sign of a race about to start: A bunch of skinny, unusually dressed people stretching their calves near a cluster of porta-potties. For future reference, this is near W Quincy St and N 3rd St, just east of Black Hills State University’s Ida Henton Park.

I paid my $15, got my T-shirt, pinned on my number, and took off with the small crowd of runners. It was a pretty good out-and-back run. The course mostly followed a paved trail alongside a creek (an offshoot of the Belle Fourche River, I believe), winding through city parks and neighborhoods. 10K and 5K participants start and run the first mile and a half together, which I always like.

After the race I skipped the awards ceremony and the Lakota Omniciye powwow in favor of getting back into my car which had heat. Plus I had more of the Black Hills to explore. I headed east out of Spearfish, looking forward to taking the long way back to Denver.

The Kevin Whirlwind Horse Memorial Run is an annual event sponsored by the Black Hills State University. The following excerpt is from BHSU’s website:

 The Kevin Whirlwind Horse Memorial Run/Walk is sponsored each year on the Saturday of the Lakota Omniciye spring powwow in memory of this young man, a former BHSU student who was killed in a car accident in 1984. Marla Herman, a fellow student and member of Lakota Omniciye, organized the first memorial run in the spring of 1985 and it has been held every year since.