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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Cheyenne Riders Honor Those Who Fought Battle
by TOM LUTEY - Billing (MT) Gazette Staff

77 on horseback mark 133rd anniversary of fight with 7th Cavalry

LITTLE BIGHORN BATTLEFIELD NATIONAL MONUMENT - From a grassy crease in a shallow draw, one rider in feathered headdress released a rageful wail quite possibly like the one Lt. Col. George Custer heard before dying here 133 years ago.

One rider raced into view on a hillside less than 200 yards from Custer's last stand. Then appeared another, and another, emerging from the same grassy crease where minutes earlier there seemed to be only nettles and prickly pear. They raced like angry ants from a disturbed colony, several dozen of them on horseback. The Morning Star Riders - old men, young girls, teenage boys - wailed fiercely.

When the mob of several dozen riders crested the hill, Terrence Limberhand burst to the fore. He was riding bareback, squeezing his horse so tightly with his thighs that his legs were cramping.

Limberhand raced in the direction of the battlefield monument, then pulled up quickly at a barbed wire fence. He was thinking of Limber Bones, his great-great-grandfather, a suicide rider who vowed to fight to the death the day Custer and more than 200 7th Cavalry men were killed.

"That's exactly how he rode," said Limberhand, who wore a customary mask of ghostly white. "It feels good. It makes me proud of our people."

June 25 is a special day for the Cheyenne and Sioux, who come to the Little Bighorn Battlefield in honor of their ancestors who fought in the 1876 rout known to Indians as the Battle of The Greasy Grass. Here, the red granite commemorating the fallen warriors state that they died "defending the Lakota way of life."

"It gave me goose bumps to ride in today," said Bently Spang, a Northern Cheyenne Indian and contemporary artist and author.

There were 77 riders Wednesday. They met at Mile Marker 13 on Highway 212 and proceeded to the monument. Elders in wagons joined the procession after a smudge ceremony to the riders.

"The Morning Star Riders is our way to honor the Northern Cheyenne and Sioux who fought here 133 years ago today," said Leroy Spang, Northern Cheyenne president. "When we rode today, we thought about them. They live in our hearts again today."

Spang told a crowd of roughly 80 people gathered after the horse ride that the day before the battle the Sioux and Cheyenne were protecting the living and assuring their way of life survived. That day, a massive encampment of Indians stretched for more than a mile along the Little Bighorn River. The Cheyenne had been in a battle with the Cavalry just eight days earlier but didn't expect another fight.

With an estimated 800 to 2,000 warriors, it didn't take them long obliterate five companies of the 7th Cavalry.

The Cheyenne honored former battlefield superintendent Barbara Sutteer, the first Indian woman to serve as a National Park Service superintendent. Sutteer, worked with the Cheyenne and Sioux to change the name of the park from Custer Battlefield to its current name. She also worked with them in getting other key battle sites recognized.

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