Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Custer's Last Stand: Another Excerpt

Close Encounter: A Personal Story Historians are not supposed to make it personal. But it always is. Something drew the historian to the subject. Often, as in the case of this book, there are several things over a considerable period of time, but one thing triggers the effort to actually begin. Finishing is always another matter. My wife and I moved to Montana in 2011. I saw my first buffalo roaming free a year later, in May 2012, in Yellowstone National Park, about a day's drive from our new home. We had taken my niece and nephew, visiting from Holland, to see America's number one national park, a literal hot bed of thermal activity, and home to the largest free roaming population of bison in the world. We saw them grazing in large meadows close to the road. We saw them crossing the road, huge wooly beasts who did not mind taking their time to cross while we tourists clicked away with our cameras. We also saw a mother grizzly bear and her cubs less than thirty yards away, but that's another story. Heading back to Gardiner, Montana, and our motel, we turned right onto the road to Lamar Valley, where we understood more bison roamed, and in bigger numbers. We had traveled barely ten miles toward the valley when we saw bison to our left in a distant meadow and began to slow down, looking for a turnout. Then, to our right, on the hills, we spied a small group galloping parallel to the road., no more than twenty yards away. I stopped the car just as the entire group turned toward the road. We saw that several of the buffalo were calves barely managing to keep up with the adults as they thundered toward us. In the lead was a huge, powerful-looking male, who stepped onto the highway just in front of our car and stopped dead in his tracks, blocking our way. My understanding is that the buffalo is a herd animal. He is prey. He runs. If he ever realized how powerful he was, if he ever turned to charge... The four of us were seated in our four-door Kia sedan, not a big car. My nephew, an avid photographer, was snapping pictures with his telephoto lens poking through the open window as the cows and calves raced by. The bull, a magnificent creature, eyed the camera carefully, snorting as he deliberately inched his way toward the passenger side of the car. I realized he could flip the whole vehicle over with one well placed thrust. I think he knew it, too. His nose came within an inch of the camera while we told Erik to pull inside and roll up the window. The bull did not move. He managed to guard the side of our car while blocking the front at the same time until the last of the calves crossed the road. Then he snorted one more time, turned, and slowly sauntered across the road, as if to say, “Don't mess with me or mine.” If this animal felt any fear at all, it was for his charges and not for himself. It was one of the most beautiful displays I had ever seen.

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