THE CAIRNS AT LITTLE BIGHORN BATTLEFIELD
source: Indian student of the Little Bighorn, LBHA message board, 2007
"300 warriors were killed and 200 died from their wounds."
Sioux Warrior Red Hawk
Indians marked the spot of the fallen with a pile of stones, (and this is not a new revelation, but dates at least as far back as Powell's investigations) and that during the excavations river stones were discovered where they could not have been unless placed there by someone
Campers or picnickers would be unlikely to carry stones from the river up to Battle Ridge or Reno Battlefield in order to make a fire ring, when you can dig a safe pit with the heel of your boot. Many of the cairns are outside the monument boundary fences. I saw some of these in 1960, but the men I was with would tell me only that they marked places of significance to the families, not what they actually commemorated.
I do believe that there have been comments over the years, beginning very early on, about piles of stones with what appeared to be "spirit" offerings placed near or upon them. There is nothing new about these cairns, except that the people are finally able to recreate the spots.
I noticed you're talking about the cairns. I was with family that searched and found them. There were 215 found. This is where warriors fell. Some may have lived after they were hit, many probably not. None of these stones had black char on them that I saw. Also they were piles, not circles. In addition, there were laws in place during the time period when the interviews were being conducted that said when a white man killed a Lakota he was merely banished from the rez. When a Lakota killed a white he was to be hung. Thus many Lakota gave pleasing answers and under no circumstances wanted to implicate that they or their loved ones participated in the battle.
A more realistic count could be had by looking at the applications for new ration cards by women in July 1876. These would mostly be the widows. I don't think that's ever been done.
Also the view of the battlefield from the river is much different than from the roads and paths. There are very slight rises in the ground where someone could duck down and not be seen from last stand hill. There are numerous cairns at the top of the rises, at the spots where one becomes visible to last stand hill. Also several along deep ravine. Curiously enough the cairns stop about 75 yards from last stand hill. These cairns tell a story.
According to Doug War Eagle, one of the family that marked the stones, this is the only battle where cairns were used to mark the fallen...a testimony that even the Lakota and Cheyenne regarded this battle as special. He believes that there should be about 35 more cairns undiscovered lying either on private land or gone forever (cemetery, visitor center, administration buildings, etc). I usually post in Northern Plains so I'm not sure when I'll be passing this way again...but I figured it might be nice to weigh in since I was heavily involved.