Indian Battlefields Ride

Several members of the Front Range Riders participated in a ride to visit various Indian battlegrounds in Northern Wyoming and Southern Montana on August 22, 2012.  Doug Wilcox planned the ride.  Accompanied by his wife, Gwen, they met Tom Carlsen and Jim Daniels in Colorado and proceeded north on US Hwy 287 to Laramie, Wyoming, where they met up with John Rivera.  Travelling north on US Hwy 30, the full complement of riders continued on toward Medicine Bow, Wyoming.

Along the way, we stopped to explore the Dinosaur Graveyard near Como Bluff and snapped some photos of the Fossil House located near the highway.  After the brief stop, we turned on to Hwy 487 through Shirley Basin, arriving in Casper for a quick lunch and gas stop.  Thereafter, we switched to I-25 reaching Kaycee, Wyoming.  Bored enough with the interstate travel by then, we turned onto Hwy 196, a 2-lane highway that was much more scenic and fun, at least until our bikes’ tires started to dance the jitterbug with the hot tar snakes along the route.  Not a comfortable feeling for the riders, but the bikes handled their jitters pretty well.

Later in the afternoon, we arrived at the Indian Campground in Buffalo, which would become our base for the next two days and three nights.  All spoke of the neatness of the grounds and the cleanliness of the shower rooms.  And finding an empty shower stall was never a problem, unlike the situations at most rallies.  The only complaint was the traffic noise at night as a result of the campground being situated next to I-25.  Earplugs made it much easier to sleep at night.  Being tired helped too.

That evening, the group convened at the Bozeman Restaurant, across the street, for dinner.  For a Thursday evening, the Restaurant was pretty busy (and noisy), a testament to the quality of the experience.  The food was plentiful and the staff were very accommodating.

The next morning, we traveled to Sheridan where we gassed the bikes and had a quick snack before departing for Montana and the site of the Little Bighorn Battlefield.  After 100 miles of battling the wind through beautiful country along I-90, we were slightly disappointed by the hazy smoke that obscured the Big Horn Mountains to the south.  Arriving at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, we charmed our way past the entrance booth without paying the entrance fee.  Having a National Park Service Senior Pass might have helped each of us gain free admission to the sight also.  Who says growing old has no benefits?

We all agreed the Park Service has done a great job in developing the site that gives a very real sense of what happened in the Summer of 1876.  A video presentation and a lecture by NPS staff gave an excellent understanding of the circumstances, both nationally and locally, that gave rise to the ill-fated decisions made by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the well-warranted fears of the Lakota and Cheyenne Indian Tribes.

After touring the Little Bighorn Battlefield, we had lunch at a local fast food establishment, then returned to Wyoming aided by a good tailwind.  Arriving in Sheridan, we took Hwy 87 south to Story where we visited the sites of the Wagon Box Fight of 1867, Fort Phil Kearny, and Massacre Hill of the Fetterman Fight of 1866, respectively.  At the base of the Big Horn Mountains, these sites were both historic and thought provoking. Not to mention beautiful! But the hour was late, so we decided to return to our base camp where we enjoyed a meal, some refreshments and shared stories with ride leader Doug and Gwen.  Both Doug and Jim are very knowledgeable about western history and shared some interesting facts about the frontier history of Wyoming.

While Friday had been hot and somewhat uncomfortable, we awoke Saturday to a chilly morning.  The temperature on the bike’s thermometer read 390F at 6:00 a.m.  The day remained rather cool for this time of year, so riders had to layer clothing for a ride that would be taken later in the day in the high country.

We were advised the best breakfast in Buffalo could be had at the Main Street Diner downtown, which proved to be true.  The food was excellent and plentiful.  While eating and planning the day’s activities, Paula Becker and Jeff Deeney walked in the Diner and spoke with us for awhile .  For those who may not know, they were very active volunteers for the Moose Run Dual Sport Rally, sponsored by the Front Range Riders.

After breakfast, we toured the historic Occidental Hotel, including the Occidental Saloon and Virginian Restaurant, and the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum, which contains numerous varied frontier artifacts and firearms.  Both tours would be highly recommended for anyone visiting Buffalo.  With time on our hands, we decided to ride via US Hwy 16 over Powder River Pass, the highest pass over the Big Horn Mountains, elevation 9,666 feet, and into the small community of Ten Sleep.  We all marveled at the rock formations while descending into the Ten Sleep Canyon. In Ten Sleep, we ate lunch at a local restaurant, then returned on the same road to view more wildlife along the highway.  The ride, which some may have been reluctant to take earlier, appeared to be enjoyed by all despite about two miles of road construction that required riding on a gravel surface. Another beautiful ride over the Big Horn Mountains, not taken by the group this time because of time constraints, would be on US Hwy 14 out of Sheridan, which would allow a visit to the Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark off Alt Hwy 14 toward Lovell.

That evening we returned to the Virginian Restaurant for a sumptuous meal and lively conversation, engaging our waiter in an extended conversation that hopefully did not cost him his job!

With our adventure coming to an end we began to discuss individual plans for the following day, Sunday, when we would be returning home.  Because of personal obligations and interests, some members of the group would take the road most traveled and others would return on more interesting and meandering routes.  At the campground we said our farewells since some would be breaking camp early, before others who wanted to see more along their chosen route home. We also discussed future rides that may interest other Front Range Riders members, including a potentially one-day ride to Ft. Laramie which figures prominently in many historical treaties between the United States and the Native Tribes, and other rides to tour frontier sites close to home.

For anyone interested in early frontier history, Northern Wyoming and Southern Montana would be excellent areas to learn more about the development of the Western United States and relations, good and bad, that developed between the Native peoples and the United States government as it expanded westward under the doctrine of manifest destiny.

Ride Leaders Doug and Gwen Wilcox