Sunday, December 27, 2009


It is unavoidable that students of rock art try to connect the images that they see with specifics such as who made it, when, and why? As we approach the historic period another goal is to attempt to connect the rock art images with specific historic instances. Historic period rock art has a fascination all of its own as we can often know considerably more about what we see painted or carved into the rock. Inevitably when considering rock art connected to specific identifiable historic events the subject will eventually come around to the battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, one of the most momentous events to the Anglo society of the time of conflict between Native American societies and the new culture of Americans. While there are numerous examples of Native American art about the battle they have been found in ledger books on painted robes for the most part. There has seemed to be little rock art on the subject of the battle of the Little Bighorn.

I know of a couple of rock art panels that can be associated with the Little Bighorn battle. Linea Sundstrom has published a petroglyph panel in her 2004 book Storied Stone: Indian Rock Art of the Black Hills Country, that she speculated can be directly associated with the famous battle.

Petroglyph panel 39FA79, from p.111,
Linea Sundstrom, Storied Stone,
Indian Rock Art of the Black
Hills Country
, 2004.
Panel 39FA79 in South Dakota appears to have a coup counting record at the top showing the deeds of a warrior with “a large plume atop his head and a round-headed war club” (p. 110-11). She suggests that the whole panel might illustrate the events of one individual’s life, and it shows a number of heroic deeds and hand-to-hand combat. In two of the instances illustrated he is shown next to a feathered staff. “This indicates membership in a warrior society, perhaps the Strong Heart Society”.

Sundstrom continues to describe the lower portion of the panel. “At the bottom of the panel are four long rows of sketchy human figures. Their position indicates that they were “taken,” that is, killed. Because part of the panel is missing, it is impossible to make an exact count, but more than 200 must have been in the drawing before weathering erased some figures.” Rows of guns are included in the composition suggesting a large number of captured weapons as part of the same event. “At the left end of the top row of corpses is an eagle like that seen on U.S. Army insignia. Because no single Indian ever killed that many U.S. soldiers, this count must represent a collective event of killing – probably the battle of the Little Bighorn.”

Historic Inscription,
G. Crook, 1876, drawn by
Laurie White, 09-20-09
The second instance that I have of rock art that might be considered to have been connected to the battle of the Little Bighorn was described in a posting I published on this site on October 8, 2009, a historic inscription that appears to be of Brigadier General George Crook. Crook was commanding the column from the south that left Fort Fetterman on May 29th toward what was hoped to be the final solution to the Plains Indian problem. Crook commanded ten companies (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, I, L, and M) of the 3rd Cavalry, five companies (A, B, D, E, and I) of the 2nd Cavalry, two companies (D and F) of the 4th Infantry, and three companies (C, G, and H) of the 9th Infantry, marching toward the Powder River area.

On June 17 Crook’s column had been surprised by Crazy Horse and 500 warriors on the Rosebud River and turned back, forcing them to retreat. Thus, they were not in a position to support Custer and the 7th cavalry on June 25 when they attacked the combined tribes’ large village on the Little Bighorn. Larry Loendorf has recorded an inscription that reads “G. Crook, 1876” and he reports that it is in a location that Crook can be assumed to have had access to on this expedition. Loendorf will be very interested in any information that might be provided about other historic inscriptions of General George Crook, and in addition, we will be eager to see any other rock art that might seriously be considered to be somehow connected to the events of June 25, 1876.