Crazy Horse & Custer Tour: War on the Great Plains

 4.8 - 4 reviews
I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.

– Chief Joseph's October 5, 1877, surrender speech to General Howard

On our Crazy Horse & Custer: War on the Great Plains Tour, you will travel through Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Montana, as you learn about these legendary figures and see where the buffalo and wild mustangs once roamed, the iron horse roared across the tracks, and frontier forts stood as sentinels to the progress of civilization to the West. Inspired by the months Stephen Ambrose spent traveling with his family out West as he researched and wrote his book, Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors, this tour traces their route. Traveling in a VW bus and pick-up truck, they studied the habits of the people, the land they lived on, and their history. They also grew deeply immersed in the lives of the two warriors on the Great Plains.

John P. Langellier, Ph.D., the historian for this tour, has studied Crazy Horse, Custer, and Sitting Bull for more than half a century. He will share his vast trove of knowledge and passion as he guides you back to the historic times of the Indian Wars. With the expansive plains, rolling fields, and surreal rock formations as a backdrop, you will analyze the various interpretations of this history. Through screenings of classic film and TV depictions, with group discussions around them, you will compare the Hollywood version to the authentic history of the same period.

“The Great Plains of North America on a cloudless stretch out forever under an infinity of bright blue sky.” 

– Stephen E. Ambrose, Crazy Horse and Custer: the Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors, 1975

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Highlights

  • Nelson Museum of the West: See a broad spectrum of older western cultures
  • Fort Laramie: Visit the fur trade outpost that played a strategic role in transforming the U.S.
  • Fort Robinson: Explore this fort set amidst more than 22,000 acres of exquisite Pine Ridge scenery and the Black Hills, land venerated by the Sioux Nation
  • Wounded Knee and Pine Ridge: Pay homage at Sitting Bull’s final home and the site of the Ghost Dance that ended the decades of conflict
  • Hill City Steam Train: Experience first-hand the power of the “Iron Horse”
  • Deadwood, South Dakota: See where Calamity Jane and “Wild Bill” Hickok once played a part in the colorful town’s story
  • Devils Tower: Be awed by the breathtaking volcanic curve that soars a spectacular 1,267 feet into the air, a sacred place for the Northern Plains Indian Tribes
  • Fort Phil Kearny: Learn about the events that became known as the Fetterman Fight that occurred along the Bozeman Trail, near this fort
  • Battle of Little Bighorn: See the Monument for the momentous battle between the 7th cavalry and Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors, often referred to as “Custer’s Last Stand”

Day-By-Day Itinerary

DAY 1 Welcome

Flight to Denver International Airport (DEN). Guests travel independently to the tour hotel. The first activity is an evening Welcome Reception and tour overview given by your historian, with introductions all around. Followed by dinner.

DAY 2 Fort Laramie, Wyoming to Fort Robinson, Nebraska

This morning we will head north to Wyoming’s capital, the city of Cheyenne. With events like the annual Frontier Days Rodeo, the capital is named after one of the great tribes who once roamed the Plains and it retains much of its “Wild West” atmosphere today.

You will begin a tour of this town with a visit to the Nelson Museum of the West which offers a broad spectrum of indigenous cultures, cowboy regalia, Charro art, and military aspects of the region. Continuing on to Fort Laramie, your motor coach will shadow the Overland Trail where soldiers, miners, migrants and ranchers ventured across the region throughout the 19th century. Amazingly, you can still view the many trail ruts and traces that remain as evidence left by the travelers of those bygone days.

At the junction of the Laramie and North Platte Rivers in southeast Wyoming, Fort Laramie played a strategic role in transforming the United States as the West was settled. The Fort began as a fur trade outpost that later emerged as a military garrison, but throughout its history Indian tribes could stop here to trade their buffalo hides. After the U.S. Army purchased the post in 1849, thousands more migrants bound for Oregon, California, and the Salt Lake Valley continued to stop here.

En route from your stay at Fort Laramie to Fort Robinson, you will visit the location of the so-called Grattan Fight, the clash that experts say was the opening engagement of the First Sioux War of the 1850s. When you arrive at Fort Robinson State Park, you will visit the former U.S. Army garrison that features more than 22,000 acres of exquisite Pine Ridge scenery and now serves as a protected area and state park. Set against the dramatic backdrop that frames the park, your stay at rustic Fort Robinson will enhance the continued story of the Cheyenne and Sioux (Lakota), and their interactions with the frontier military.

You will conclude the evening with a group dinner and presentation in the barracks of this frontier army post. Then you will overnight in the restored and renovated Buffalo Soldier Barracks inside the park.

DAY 3 Fort Robinson, Museum of the Fur Trade, Pine Ridge, and Rapid City, South Dakota

Your first stop this morning will be to explore Crazy Horse’s final days and the compelling story of the “Cheyenne Breakout,” followed by a tour of the Fort Robinson Museum.

After that visit, you will head to the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron, Nebraska. Established for the American Fur Company in 1837, this western gem stands on the site of James Bordeaux’s trading post. The collection of exhibits here includes some 6,000 primary pieces. Providing a true glimpse into the early exchange between Native Americans and French fur trader-trappers, this stop will return you to the days of the eighteenth century before the Lewis and Clark Expedition first mapped the far West for the USA.

As Ambrose wrote in Crazy Horse and Custer, the Black Hills “rise up in the middle of the northern Great Plains,” and like all those who travelled this way before, you will view the stupendous vista as you head east to Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Here, the “Ghost Dance” movement of 1890-1891 inspired the Native peoples and struck fear into the Army and western pioneers. Against that tension, the tragic killing of Sitting Bull transpired, followed by the Massacre at Wounded Knee where hundreds of Native people lay dead and injured at the hands of the United States Seventh Calvary, in the snow right before Christmas in 1890.

Having studied this tragedy, you will move on to Rapid City, Iowa. At this juncture, you will begin to recognize the full sweep of four decades of history when Crazy Horse, Custer, and Sitting Bull each played their own prominent parts in the struggle for the Northern Plains. As a piece of that theme, Rapid City sprang up in 1876, the year the lives of our three principal historic figures crossed at Little Bighorn in the eastern Black Hills.

Called Mni Lúzahaŋ Otȟúŋwahe by the Lakota, the “Swift Water” city was founded by a group of expectant miners who intended to supply the flood of expectant gold-seekers and pioneers who came into Lakota lands during the late 1870s in the quest for the yellow metal. Also hawked as the “Gateway to the Black Hills” by its founders, Rapid City evolved from those origins into another iconic setting of the old West.

Day 4 Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota

While the military served as the vanguard of western expansion, the railroad represented an even more powerful force in changing the face of the frontier. To view the region from that perspective, you will board a steam train at Hill City, South Dakota. In riding the rails, you will appreciate that perspective to trace the changes that came during the era when buffalo hunting by the Natives on their hardy mustangs gave way to the iron horse.

Along the way, you will proceed through inspiring forests to reach Mount Rushmore for lunch. Following your tour of this sculptured masterpiece, you will continue to the location of the partially-completed Crazy Horse Memorial. While construction began in 1948 and opened to visitors as well, the project so far features just an 87-foot-tall head. Finished, it will depict the great warrior riding his war pony and pointing into the distance.

Later in the afternoon, you will arrive at Deadwood, South Dakota, a town that remains steeped in the heritage of the Wild West, the gold rush, and the Indian Wars. Immersed in that setting, you will walk along the charming streets where characters such as Calamity Jane and “Wild Bill” Hickok once played a part in the tale of this colorful town.

DAY 5 Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming to Sheridan

Departing Deadwood, your morning will begin at the Buffalo Jump site known as the Vore, a prehistoric sinkhole where Native Americans would corral great bison herds from across the Plains. Here, the Indian tribes gathered and camped in the fall, before they engineered the dramatic annual stampede to force thousands of wild beasts to jump to their deaths. Leaving behind the archeological remains of more than 20,000 Bison, this kill site functioned regularly from 1500 to 1800 AD, before the horse became widely available to the Plains peoples, and between the Era of Columbus to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Continuing on your way, your next stop is to see the majestic Devils Tower. Also known by many Native names such as Mato Tipila, or “Bear Lodge,” this volcanic curve soars a spectacular 1,267 feet into the air, a stunning landmark and sacred place for the Native people. While you will find the Tower humbling in its stature, it also remains a significant ceremonial site for rituals, sun dances, and offerings today.

Your next stop along the Bozeman Trail is in Wyoming at Fort Phil Kearny where you will study the Fetterman Fight that occurred nearly four miles beyond the fort. During the siege and related skirmishes that lasted for more than a year in what became known as Red Cloud’s War, the great Sioux Chief ambushed Captain William J. Fetterman to the north of the fort in the summer of 1867. At the same location, you will also learn about the Wagon Box Fight, another nearby clash named after the protective beds of wagons that formed into a makeshift defense works. This was yet another of the violent and poignant episodes that once disturbed the now tranquil forests and meadows.

On the drive in between sites, you will watch a screening of a film on the Powder River War that led to the 1876 campaign. Featuring such characters as Brigadier General George Crook and George Armstrong Custer, this film provides a backdrop to the historic scenes you studied on this day. In the evening, you will enjoy dinner on your own in Sheridan, Wyoming.

DAY 6 Battles of Rosebud and Little Bighorn, Montana

You will begin your day at the site of the historic Battle of Rosebud where on June 17, 1876, the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne faced off against U.S. Army forces along with their Shoshone allies. This battle served as the prelude to the more famous, and ill-fated for the U.S. Army, Battle of the Little Bighorn. Fought on June 25, 1876 between the 7th Cavalry and Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors, this battle proved a stupendous success for the Natives that also marked the beginning of the end of their historic sway over the Plains.

Set among truly magnificent rolling fields and an extensive plain where the Indian village nestled near the meandering Greasy Grass River (aka Little Bighorn), the battlefield has taken on a pastoral splendor today. The area remains a moving testament to what happened here, and your tour of the grounds will introduce a compelling counterpoint to standard military interpretations because your local Native American guide will provide a view of the fight from the side of his/her own peoples.

En route to lunch, you will watch a screening of the silent film Custer’s Last Fight before you dine at the traditional Garryowen pub. Named after the famous Irish tune, the Garryowen Ballad was beloved by Custer and it remains the song most associated with his regiment today. There will be time after that to wander through the National Park Service visitor center before departing for your hotel in Billings, where you will share a fine meal.

DAY 7 Return to Little Bighorn

You will return to the Little Bighorn for a pageant staged by the Crow people charting the generations of change on the Great Plains. You will watch how that hot day in June of 1876 unfolded, culminating in a rousing re-enactment of the battle. Afterwards, your motor coach will return you to Billings for dinner on your own.

DAY 8 Cody, Wyoming, and the World-Class Buffalo Bill Center of the West

The end of time travel approaches as you depart Montana. Heading to Cody, Wyoming, you will pass-through areas where bison herds previously grazed by the hundreds of thousands, where Native Americans followed the herds, and newcomers from the East started to come in a trickle that gathered into a torrent. In Cody, you will visit the impressive Buffalo Bill Center of the West—five museums under one roof. Following your exclusive tour of the museum, you will enjoy a trolley excursion through the community founded by Buffalo Bill at the height of his popularity as one of the best-known characters of his time.

At the end of the day, we’ll gather for a farewell meal, share our experiences, and prepare for departure the next day. 

Day 9 Home

The tour officially ends with one morning transfer to the Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody, Wyoming (COD).

 

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Tour Dates

  • June 16 - 24, 2024 - Waitlist Only!
  • June 15 - 23, 2025
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TRIP COST $4,690

Price is per person based on double occupancy. For a single room add $1,100.

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