Yesterday, on a cloudy Saturday afternoon, Beau and I took the kids and their besties for a hike in a pasture not far from home. Beau and my dad had both long wondered over rumors that General George Armstrong Custer’s name was carved into a sand rock in said pasture, but neither of them had personally seen Custer’s name. Beau thought it would be fun to get us all out for a little fresh air yesterday — and, because he’s a closet archaeologist, he figured we might as well do a little looking for evidence of Custer’s historical visit. When we parked in the pasture, unloaded with a backpack full of granola bars, and struck out for a cluster of sandrocks covering maybe 100 acres, I thought, Sheesh, this’ll be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
In case you don’t know what sandrocks look like:
They just sprout up out of the ground around these parts. They’re easy to carve with knives or sticks or other rocks. For generations folks have been leaving their marks on the sand rocks in this area… probably laughing to themselves as they did it, wondering if anybody else would ever see their names and know who they were.
Back to yesterday. I was feeling like we were on an impossible mission (obviously we were just here to exercise the kids) when, maybe half an hour after we’d walked away from the pickup, Asher and his buddy Colt hollered that they’d found it.
We assume the G.A. stands for George Armstrong. And you will recall that 1873 came three years before his untimely death in 1876 — before he was famous.
Is it legit? We’ve no way of knowing. There are only a couple other people who know this particular carving exists, and where, and there are no true old-timers left to ask about when they first knew of it. The reality is that a poser could’ve carved Custer’s name into the rock more recently than 1873.
We do know that records show Custer was in this area about that time. And why wouldn’t he have carved his signature? I can imagine him riding along this ridge, looking down into the valley, watching for signs of Indians, stopping to rest against the cool and ancient rocks.
The sand rocks around here are littered with signatures both old and new and have forgotten more history than we will ever know. Think of the size of our pastures out here, ridden through often but archaeologically speaking unexplored. Certainly there are rocks that haven’t been examined and carvings that haven’t been seen for a hundred years. Think of the carvings that time and weather have already erased. (We do know that Calamity Jane’s signature still shows on a sand rock on the north end of this ranch.) Think of the artifacts lost that will never be found — my dad knows a specific hill where a man reportedly lost a pistol while chasing one of the last wolves in the area, and though Dad has looked for that pistol for decades, he’s never found it.
I had to sit the kids down for a minute to remind them of the awesomeness of the discovery — how old the carving, how famous the man, the unlikelihood of actually finding it. Aged 1 to 9, the kids were mildly impressed and then off to explore more of the giant playground.
And I got to test out the camera on my new phone! It’s such a pleasure to have a camera again; my old one gave it up a few months back and I’ve come to realize since that photography is something I truly enjoy.
Look at the waves in this sand rock! The amateur archeologist I live with tells me those little waves are indication the rock was once at the edge of an inland sea.
One of the kids took this photo of me ‘n’ Beau and our two littles.
No playdate at the sandrocks would be complete without some or all leaving their own mark on these ancient rocks.
It’s art class! It’s history class! And it’s science… all rolled into one.
Today I’m thankful that we get to live here on this land. Thankful for a husband who’s committed to making a stable home with me. And thankful for a new camera!
© Tam Blake