Friday 16th August 2019 – SO HERE I AM …

… in about to start the fourth leg of my journey. So if you don’t hear from me for a while don’t worry. It merely means that I can’t find a reliable internet connection.

Last night was a really bad night and I don’t know why. I couldn’t get off to sleep and when I did, I couldn’t stay asleep for long.

but I was still up and about reasonably early, having medication and then going down to breakfast.

it took me a good while to organise myself after that but eventually I was ready for the shuttle bus to the airport. It was pretty busy and one guy spent all of the journey talking into his mobile phone and saying nothing except basically “how clever I am and how stupid my clients are” to someone else on the other end of the phone. Not one of the rest of us could understand a single sentence that he was saying.

The airport was busy but the wait through security wasn’t that long and after a thorough examination of my new laptop I was able to proceed.

The plane was pretty full but my neighbour was rather bizarre. I said “hello” to her but she looked back at me as if I had two heads. Never had that in Canada before.

At Toronto it took a while for our suitcases to appear and then I trotted off to the hotel. I’m on the 7th floor in the “secure” area – can’t think why.

We had our expedition briefing later and I met a couple of old friends. But the vultures at the head of the queue cleaned out the buffet – and how – before those of us farther behind could be served. Looking at the mountain of food on some of the plates, then some people have no shame.

I trotted off to Subway for a sandwich and then came back to watch the football. Newly promoted Penybont were playing Barry Town in the opening match of the Welsh Premier League – now the JC Cymru League.

For the first half Penybont played quite well with some nice football, compared to Barry Town’s idea of “hoof it upfield and hope McLaggon can run fast”. 60%-32% possession told its own story.

But in the second half Barry improved and ended up winning 2-1. A bit unfair on Penybont who deserved something from the game.

I’m off to bed now. It’s an early start in the morning. And I don’t know when I’ll see you all again but I’ll catch up eventually.

Thursday 15th August 2019 – IT”S BEEN ANOTHER …

… very lazy day today.

Yet another decent sleep although I did wake up a couple times but that didn’t bother me too much.

And for a change just recently I leapt out of bed and within an hour or so I’d medicated, breakfasted and showered.

It took a while to organise myself and I left a few things behind that I no longer needed for the benefit of whoever needs them, packed the car and set off.

And then went back for my cap that I had forgotten.

First stop was the car wash. $27:99 for a wash and valet, and then I had to send it back because it wasn’t done well enough. It still wasn’t satisfactory after that but it was an improvement.

And I’m glad that it took so long because I went for a walk round and discovered the rarest of the rare cars – a streamlined Nash Airflyte of the late 1940s – the earliest of the models with the exterior fuel cap. It was sitting in a very sorry condition on a trailer in a compound full of other sorry-looking vehicles, close to the car wash.

From there I nipped to Bulk Barn for some gelatine-free wine gums, and then to the little park on the hill overlooking the railway line and the town centre, where I ate my butties.

The hotel today is under renovation so there were builders everywhere, and my room wasn’t yet ready. But I dumped my stuff anyway and took the car back to the Car Hire place.

I was sorry to see the little Kia go. We’d had a good time and I had enjoyed it very much. They didn’t say a word about the mileage (all 4000-odd miles of it) so I left and caught the shuttle bus back to the hotel.

Back here I had a shower and a clothes-wash, and then crashed out on the bed for an hour, musing on the fact that for the last 7 weeks I’ve been living in no more than 2 tee-shirts, 2 pairs of trousers and 2 sets of undies, washing everything as I’ve been going around.

Rosemary rang up so we had a chat, and then I caught up with some housekeeping chores.

Tea was my final tin of soup with the left-over bread, and then a walk down to whatever Atlantic Superstore is called around here for a look around.

An early night is on the cards. I’m flying back to Toronto tomorrow for part IV of my adventure so I need to be on form..

Wednesday 14th August 2019 – THERE’S SOMETHING QUITE …

… whatever the word is about walking on the same stage where my grandmother performed some 95 years ago.

She was Ivy Cooper, a well-known singer in her day who performed at some of the best theatres with some of the best artistes of the period and a few years ago my cousin Sandra found a press cutting of a performance she gave at the Allen Theatre (now the Winnipeg Met).

And so I came to see the theatre.

In July 1918 at the All Saints Church she had married a musician from Winnipeg, and I finally tracked down the church this afternoon too. But it’s closed for renovation (as you might expect) so I couldn’t get to see the marriage register.

Her marriage was short-lived however. In November 1918 there was the Spanish Influenza epidemic that carried off half of her husband’s family, including him himself.

He is buried in the Elmwood Cemetery in Hespeler Avenue, one of the largest and certainly the most famous of all of the Manitoba cemeteries. All of the rich and famous of Winnipeg’s glorious heyday are buried in there and of the thousands of graves, only a handful don’t have headstones.

And you can guess who is one of those. It took me and two employees of the cemetery over an hour to track down the plot in which he is interred.

My bed last night was surprisingly comfortable – so much so that I lay about in there much longer than I had intended. But once I was up and about, I had the medication and breakfast, and then completely stripped out the Kia.

It took me ages to sort through all of the paperwork and the rubbish bin is now like Mount Kilimanjaro, but at least that’s one task out of the way.

That took me all the way up to lunchtime so I sallied forth in search of bread. Nothing whatever in the vicinity but I did find a can opener at a democratic price.

And then I hit the road.

Back here I crashed out for an hour or so and then made tea. Tomato soup with pasta and it was good too, But I’m not hanging about. I’m off to bed for an early night.

Tuesday 13th August 2019 – I’VE HAD A …

… very uneventful day today.

Being under no pressure whatever I had a nice lie-in until about 07:30 and then had a very slow start to the day. Medication, breakfast and a shower, followed by a chat on the phone to Rosemary.

As I was about to leave the motel I realised that I hadn’t downloaded the video files off the dashcam. I had to quickly do that and just about made the check-out time, with seconds to spare.

A steady drive brought me into Winnipeg where I found a Sobey’s to do the rest of my shopping for this spell. Soup and bread and some vegan cheddar cheese.

I’d booked a motel on the internet for the next couple of days and I do have to say that it would have been the kind of motel that I would have driven right past had I not already paid for it. But I locked myself in my room and I’m not going out except with an armed guard.

Actually, in all seriousness it’s nicer inside than it is outside and it’s quite okay. The owner even lent me a tin opener because Brain of Britain bought soups without ring-pull openers didn’t he?

This afternoon I slept. And I put it down to the fact that I wasn’t busy. I always seem to be more tired when I’m doing nothing as events of the last couple of weeks have gone to prove. But I must have needed it and I’ll be having some more any minute now.

So I’ve had tea, washed my undies from this morning and now I’m off to bed. I have to tidy out the car tomorrow, have it valeted and then go to track down the grave of my grandmother’s first husband.

I’ll probably sleep the Sleep Of The Dead tonight, just like I did last night.

Monday 12th August 2019 – IF THERE EVER …

… was a day as uneventful as this I wouldn’t like to see it.

But it started off quite well with me having yet another Sleep Of The Dead in my comfy bed.

It wasn’t so nice when I awoke though. Teeming down with rain. So I pulled up the covers and had a little doze for half an hour.

After the usual matinal performance I packed up and left, only to find that I had forgotten the camera’s SD card, so I had to go back for it. Luckily I’d only gone just across the car park.

I found the Atlantic Superstore or whatever it’s called out here in Saskatchewan and bought a few bits and pieces and then hit the road.

A rather relentless drive with nothing of any interest or excitement at all.

A stop for lunch and also a stop for a kip for half an hour – it’s been a long time since I’ve been obliged to do that.

Due to a time zone change I lost an hour on the road, so with my late start and my kip as well I only managed about 350 miles.

In Portage du Prairie a handy Tim Horton’s came up with a free wi-fi connection and that helped me track down a motel. Rather expensive but it’s more luxurious than my place back home. And probably larger too.

But I’m exhausted so I’m going to eat my soup and then go straight to bed. It might only be 20:50 but who cares?

Sunday 11th August 2019 – THERE’S ONLY ONE …

… possible place to stop for the night when you have a travelling companion like mine.

So here I am in the Dreamland Motel in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in Canada. And I hope that His Nibs appreciates the … gulp … 424 miles (most of which was on normal roads) it took to reach here.

Last night was an excellent night’s sleep right the way up to the alarm. I was really comfortable there. My clothes had dried with the air-conditioning so it didn’t take long after the medication and breakfast before I hit the streets.

Just across the road in fact to the IGA supermarket where I bought probably the most expensive lettuce in the whole world, amongst other things.

Then I hit the road on what should have been a quite uneventful drive.

And it would have been too except for a couple of things – namely who in the whole wide, wide world would expect a gap of 160 miles (260 kms) between petrol stations in the USA, particularly when you drive part of the way through a perishing oilfield?

By the time I got to Phoe … errr … Malta I was running on fumes. The notoriously unreliable “mileage remaining” indicator was showing 48 kms left.

I’d stopped a few times on the way too. Firstly to photograph the mighty Missouri, and secondly to chat to a most interesting guy who was unloading from a trailer a pile of scrap metal that turned out to be a 1926 Ford T that he had just found.

He showed me around his yard and there were piles of interesting stuff too. And I now know the difference between a 1925 Ford T and a 1926 Ford T. Easy when you see them next to each other and compare fuel tanks.

He was telling me about his issues with the local authority and I sympathised. We’ve all been there before.

Crossing the border was fun. I had more difficulty crossing into Canada than I did crossing into the USA two weeks ago, although the guy at the border post was very polite about it. And they have a machine that kills your engine for you so that you can’t make good your escape.

The drive onwards was interesting, but not exciting. I found an abandoned railway and an abandoned homestead. And I stopped along the road to work out what it would take to go to Leask – something that brings back memories from my childhood. But that’s far too far.

In Moose jaw I couldn’t find a motel of my style at first. But a free wi-fi connection ( thanks A & W) enabled me to see an internet booking site and I creamed a couple of addresses off there.

It came up trumps too – the first one that I tried. Reasonable price and reasonable accommodation even if you I did need a degree in electrical engineering to plug in the microwave and make it work.

An early night now and I’m having a lie-in tomorrow. I deserve it.

Saturday 10th August 2019 – I WAS RIGHT …

… about the latitude and longitude co-ordinates! And, much to my surprise, so was the American Geographic Survey of (1869?). We both came up with the correct answer TO THE FOOT and that was impressive.

Another mystery that I solved this morning too is why there’s a difference of several dozen feet in the altitude for South Pass commonly cited by those who have access to the trail documents and the US Government Survey and those who rely on modern measuring techniques.

And that is that they are measuring the altitude of the Pass at different places. Where the modern highway crosses South Pass (and where the modern figure is given) is about 2 miles away from where the emigrants crossed over the Pass.

Bryant noted “The ascent to the Pass is so gradual that … we should not have been conscious that we had ascended to and were standing upon the summit of the Rocky Mountains” and he was right too, because I walked over the crest (such as it is) without noticing it at first.

So in my expensive Palace last night I had a reasonable night’s sleep with a couple of interruptions, including an attack of cramp in the left calf this time.

Breakfast was provided so I stuffed myself with free food and then collected my frozen water bottles and packed everything away.

Much to my own surprise more than anyone else’s I was on the road by 08:30 and that’s not something that happens every day.

The Lady Who Lives In the Satnav directed me to almost where I had ended up yesterday but about 200 or so metres from the modern summit she directed me off down a track to the left.

After about 2 miles down this track she announced “make your way 300 metres to your right” but I couldn’t see anything at all that would give me a clue so I drove on to a fence about 300 metres further on where I parked.

I walked back to where she had indicated, but couldn’t see anything at first. But closer inspection revealed that the sides of the track had been grubbed out and drainage ditches dug.

And so I crossed the ditches and there we were. Unmistakable signs of wagon tracks in each direction. Right by where I had expected them to be.

I walked several hundred yards along the tracks in each direction and they were certainly heading to and from where they were supposed to be, in the footsteps of emigrants from 170 years ago.

And the provenance of these tracks can be authenticated to a certain degree by the fact that they continue in a straightish line right across where the road and the drainage ditches are, broken only by these more modern constructions.

I was tempted to walk on to Pacific Springs, just a couple of miles further on. Its waters are known to be cool and invigorating, and I could have done with some of that, but I’m not as young as I used to be and I didn’t have much time.

Back on the road and back to Lander where I fuelled up the Kia and bought myself one of those ice-slush drinks. The day wasn’t hot as yet but I had a feeling that it might be.

The road north from Lander has its moments. Some of it is quite sterile but other parts are magnificent and I don’t have the words to describe the Wind River Pass. It’s one of the most phenomenal places that I have ever visited.

This afternoon we had a tremendous thunderstorm – just like the arrival of the Demon King – and it accompanied me for miles well beyond Billings. But round about 40 miles north I started to flag and a motel loomed up in the little town of Roundup.

Much more like my kind of motel this. Old, tired and cheap. But then again so am I. As for “value for money” which is always the most important consideration for me, it’s spot-on and just what I wanted.

The air conditioner blows right past the clothes rail so I had a shower and washed my clothes. They’ll dry pretty quickly now.

Lentil soup with pasta for tea and now I’m off to bed. It’s been a long tiring day and I’ve done 600 kms, all but about 20 of those being done on normal roads.

Tomorrow should see me back in Canada but I still have a long way to go.

Friday 9th August 2019 – REMIND ME NEVER …

… to stop in a motel anywhere near Jellystone Park in August when the kids are off school and there’s a motorcycle rally going on. I only wanted a room for the night, not to buy the motel!

Last night was another good night, to such an extent that I almost missed the third alarm. And the air-conditioning blowing right by the clothes rail had dried the clothes beautifully.

The breakfast wasn’t much to write home about – at least, for me it wasn’t because there was very little that I could eat.

Nevertheless I was soon packed and on the road, where I drove non-stop all the way to Independence Rock. Well, not quite, because I did take a handful of photos on the way of things not to be missed.

Independence Rock was rather a disappointment though. Reading back over the old trails diaries, the rock was covered in names of the emigrants who had passed by.

But the weather has taken its toll of them and most of them have shingled off. Even the most famous inscription of all, carved in 1905 by an early pioneer retracing his steps, has worn down to a shadow of its former self.

It was called Independence Rock by a party that passed by here on the 4th of July (1831?) and it was the aim of every emigrant to be here by that day in order to be sure of hitting the passes through into California before the snows.

Edwin Bryant, whose memoirs I have quoted on a regular basis, arrived here on 8th July. He had complained bitterly about the leisurely way in which the Donner Party (with whom he was travelling) was advancing, and at Fort Laramie had traded in his waggon for a string of pack mules and pushed on with more dynamic company to make up the time.

The Donners and their party continued on their leisurely route, did not arrive until 17th July, far too late, and of course they were marooned in the snow at the end of OCtober at Truckee Lake, where they ate each other over the course of the winter.

Just down the road is the “Devil’s Gate”, a cleft in the rock through which flows the Sweetwater River. I’ve seen plenty of drawings of this and I do have to say that it resembles so much in real life every drawing that I have seen.

Being rather low on fuel I put some more in at Muddy Gap. And I wish that I had filled up in Casper as fuel is $1:00 per gallon dearer than anywhere else. Admittedly it’s a very isolated and lonely spot but there’s still no excuse for any of that.

Pushing on west I eventually arrive at South Pass and I can see a few traces of what might be waggon tracks in the vicinity.

On the way back I take a little detour. First to the ghost town of South Pass City, a former gold-mining town now long-abandoned, and the rather peculiar town of Atlantic City, well-lost in the mountains and looking wilder than any other town in the Wild West ever did.

Back down to the nearest town, Lander, where I find the last room in the place. And I’m not surprised that it was free either. But needs must when the devil drives.

But I’m going to have to go back to South Pass tomorrow morning. After much binding in the marsh, I have finally enabled my new sat-nav to take the geographical co-ordinates of any location that I need, and I find that I’m about 2 miles out of my calculations as to where the Oregon and California Trail crossed the pass.

There’s a dirt road in the vicinity that seems to be accessible and it’s a shame to be so near and yet so far.

So I had better have an early night. It’s an early start in the morning.

Thursday 8th August 2019 – I’M HAVING …

… a major change of plan. And so I’m turning round and going back the way that I came – about 275 miles in fact.

Despite the rather primitive motel and fittings last night, I had the best night’s sleep that I have had yet. And had it not been for a bad attack of cramp in the right calf at round about 05:20 I would probably be still asleep now, so good was it.

But anyway I made a good start to the day with the medication, a shower, breakfast (there was coffee in the room) and uploading all of yesterday’s files from the 2 cameras, the dashcam and the dictaphone.

With no freezer compartment in the fridge, the landlady had very kindly put into her freezer my bottles of water that I use as coolpacks, and she also gave me a small polystyrene frozen food carrier for my lunch stuff. That was really nice of her and I appreciated it.

Off down the road as far as Safeway where I did another pile of shopping. Mainly lunch stuff but they had some good nourishing soups on sale. I’m living on soup, pasta and bread for tea right now and it’s doing me good.

Back on the road and there were several delays, mainly to do with tracking down the possible route of the Oregon and California Trail and also to identify the livery of a railway locomotive that I did not recognise (it’s an old blue-and-grey Burlington Northern and Santa Fe livery).

A quick perusal of a map identified a possible crossing of the Oregon and California Trail down a dirt track some 10 miles out of Guernsey, so I headed that way. And much to my surprise (and delight) it was withing 5 yards of where I estimated it to be. The old trail was quite visible.

Pushing along the dirt road (now that I knew that I was on the right road) I surprised a sleeping locomotive crew and was able to finally photograph the elusive Kansas City Southern train that I had seen a few days ago.

But that wasn’t why I was here. Crossing the railway line I came to what I guess is Bitter Creek. Known to travellers on the trail for many years as totally unpalatable water.

Yet it was the favourite stop of many of the teams, mentioned in particular by many emigrants but, curiously, not by Edwin Bryant in his “What I Saw In California”, because of the cottonwood trees everywhere, and the dried-up sandy creek (that they called Cottonwood Creek) that they dug into to find pure fresh water.

The cottonwood is still there – tons of it, some growing and the rest lying scattered about, brought down by floodwaters from upstream. No wonder that the travellers loved this place.

In fact, I had my lunch there, sharing with the spirits of the hundreds of thousands of emigrant who passed that way in the 20 years between 1841 and 1861

This afternoon I went to see the grave of Lucindy Rollins and some other unknown people, the trail ruts carved through the sandstone, the remains of the Pony Express station on the North Platte River and Register Cliff, where thousands of emigrants carved their names on the rock as they passed by.

We’ve seen all of this before so I shan’t repeat myself, even though things have changed considerably since 2002.

After this I shot off down the road to see the famous iron bridge over the North Platte River and then to Fort Laramie, but here I decided on a change of plan.

The original plan had been to go on tomorrow down towards Chugwater and look for the ranch of “Portugee Phillips”, but then looking through my notes I had other ideas.

Where I am now is within 2 days driving of Denver. And if I want to do the eastern part I can fly there in the future.

The western part has always been accessible from Seattle or San Francisco if ever I plan to be that way, but the bit that is really difficult to reach is that from Casper (where I was yesterday) to South Pass in the Rockies.

That’s about 460 miles from here to South Pass, and then about 1400 miles to Winnipeg – and I have 7 days before I need to hand back the car. With a day or two for looking around, that works out at about 350 miles per day, much of it on the Interstate.

Consequently I headed back to Guernsey.

The first motel, I and several other people tried to raise the owners but it was like the mary Celeste back there. Place all locked up and gone leaving the guests behind.

Down the road though was a better (and more expensive of course although breakfast is included) place where the delights included having a hoverboard lesson from a 9 year-old girl (not a success).

So in the words of Marechal MacMahon – “j’y suis – j’y reste” or crudely (and if you want anything doing crudely then in the words of the late, great Bob Doney “I’m your man!”) translated into the vernacular by Yours Truly as “here I am and here I’ll stay”. I’vr had a shower and had tea and now I’m off to bed.

Or I was, but a huge thunderstorm has erupted and it’s pouring with rain outside. So much so that the racket is astonishing. If I can sleep though this I’ll sleep through anything.

Wednesday 7th August 2019 – ANOTHER HECTIC …

… day today.

It started off with yet another Sleep of the Dead and I remember nothing whatever about my night. I must have dictated something at some point because the dictaphone was still on but I remember nothing whatever about it and I’ll be interested to see what I might have said.

The bed was the most comfortable that I have slept in for quite a while (mine at home excepted of course) and the facilities in the room were second to none. The microwave was magnificent.

Only downside was the shower. The hot water was one of those ‘instant heat” arrangements that are either on or off and there’s no midway. With it taking a while to warm up and pass through the heater matrix it was impossible to set it at the right temperature. It was either hot or cold and that was that.

In the end I just washed my hair and rinsed myself off quickly.

On the road and after a photo opportunity for His Nibs I followed the route of the Johnson County War, when the stock growers tried to force the sodbusters off their lands.

One thing that I was planning to do on arrival at kaycee (the site of the famous KC ranch) was to go and visit the “Hole In The Wall”, the legendary hold-out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid but I looked at the route on an aerial photograph and decided against it. Had I been in Strider I would have gone for it, but not a small hire car with street tyres.

Instead I went to find Fort Reno and luckily I tracked that down without too many problems at all. There was a sign to say where it was but that was about all.

However in the immediate vicinity there was a big flat beaten surface (like a parade ground might be) surrounded by heaps that had all the air of crumbled adobe from decayed western buildings, so that is my guess.

My route from Fort Reno brought me through some beautiful countryside and also through the oilfields of east-central Wyoming, famous for its role in the “Teapot Dome” scandal where a US Government Minister sold the navy’s oil reserve to a friend in exchange for a very large and thick brown envelope.

This road took me through Casper and out past the Sinclair Oil Refinery (a descendant of the oil company involved in the Teapot Dome scandal) and past several historical trail markers to Douglas where I ended up at Fort Fetterman.

When the Army was obliged to pull back from native American lands and abandon its forts there, it built a Bozeman Trail fort on the US side of the North Platte River. This was named Fort Fetterman after the recently deceased soldier about whom we talked the other day.

With it being on US soil, it was never disputed and so was not a stockaded fort like those further north.

A couple of buildings still exist today, having been used as a ranch house and barn after the fort was abandoned, but the rest is just disintegrated adobe around the parade ground.

And it’s just as well that a couple of buildings are still standing because another visitor, the Park ranger and I were caught in the most tremendous thunderstorm and had to seek shelter.

While I was waiting I asked the Ranger about motels. He told me of the Holiday Inn. When I mentioned that I was a budget traveller he tried to tell me about the Best Western. I don’t think t hat, like many Americans, they understand the meaning of the word “budget”. They just go out and get a bigger loan or overdraft.

Now I’m in Douglas in a crummy motel, the Four Winds. It’s the only room in town in my budget and it’s only thanks to the guy at the fort that I had it, so I can’t complain.

he also gave me a booklet on the Oregon and California Trail which I shall be picking up tomorrow sometime.

But I’ve run out of Vitamin B12 drink so I nipped to the Dollar Store, where I overheard this delightful conversation –
Customer – “how much are those cigarettes?”
Assistant – “4 dollars and six cents”
Customer – “how much are two packets?”
Assistant – “errr … let me see … errr 8 dollars and 16 cents!”
And they call this lot the “master race”.

But I’m not exempt. I bought a cheap tin of mushrooms to liven up my soup tonight, only to find that I need a tin opener which I don’t have.

So I’ll hope for another good sleep tonight. I’m winding down now ready to return to Winnipeg by next week end.

Tuesday 6th August – GUESS WHO …

… has been a busy boy today.

Started off with a reasonable night’s sleep with just a little tossing and turning here and there, but it was a struggle to leave the bed, I can tell you.

So medicine, another shower and clean-up, followed by breakfast, and then uploading all of the … gulp … 180 photos from yesterday onto the laptop.

And then uploading the dictaphone note and the dashcam stuff too. I was exhausted after that.

There should have been an early start but I ended up chatting to mine host and wife for quite some time in exchange for a coffee.

Up the road, first to Decker where I photographed a lot of the mining installations there. Much of it is open-cast but there is evidence of what is suggestive of a deep mine.

Onwards then to the site of the Battle of the Rosebud where I spent a couple of hours wandering about the part of the battlefield that is on public land (and there’s not so much of that).

But the battle itself is very interesting, if not crucial. General Crook, whose adventures we have followed in the past thanks to John Bourke’s brilliant On The Border With Crook has been discussed in these pages many times, was on his way to join up with Custer and Co when his over-stretched and over-tired column, resting on the Rosebud, was hit by a large party of native Americans.

Although Crooks troops pushed them off, they were so battered that they had to retreat to their camp at Goose Creek (near present-day Sheridan) to regroup and resupply.

And so they never joined up with Custer.

So imagine how different the battle of the Little Big Horn would have been had Custer had an extra 1100 troops at his disposal (although whether he would have welcomed them was another matter – he had turned down two regiments of infantry and a Gatling gun brigade on the grounds that they would slow him down).

From there I passed by Little Big Horn again (still wondering why the cavalry dismounted. On foot they were useless. At least mounted, they could have gone for an “arrowhead” charge to try to break out, rather than be butchered on the ground) and through to the Crow Agency where I stopped for fuel.

And that wasn’t a good idea. I ended up being stuck for about 20 minutes in a roadworks queue and then another 20 minutes at a level crossing as a mile-long coal train inched its way by.

A good run into the Big Horn mountains brought ;e to the head of the Bozeman Trail. Here after much binding in the marsh I found where the “Hayfield Fight” had been, but finding Fort CF Smith was rather different. I knew the GPS location which I knew was a private field, so from the field’s edge on both sides I tried to find anything at all.

There were some vague outlines in the field but really they could be anything. Trying to find the remains of adobe buildings that had been abandoned and burnt in 1868 was expecting too much.

There was no sign or anything acknowledging its existence so I had to go by where I would have put the fort had I been in charge.

On the way back I found a car upside-down in a ditch, and then a very long drive all the way back to the outskirts of Sheridan.

At Ranchester I found the site of the “Battle of Tongue River” where General Connor’s troops attacked a sleeping Arapaho village and killed mainly non-combatant women, children and the elderly.

Incidentally, have you always noticed that it’s a “battle” whenever the white men attacked native civilians, yet it’s a “massacre” whenever the natives returned the compliment?

I carried on then down the Bozeman Trail looking for the sites relating to Fort Phil Kearny. I found the wagon-hill fight site and the “6th December” fight, but not the site of the death of French Pete which rather annoyed me.

Buffalo is on the limit of the Sturgis Festival travel zone so finding a motel was difficult. A friendly motel owner rang a few friends and now I’m in a cabin on the edge of town.

I was rather dubious at first, as the smell of wet dog in the reception put me off and the scrap car and general air of neglect didn’t help, but it’s very deceptive as the cabins are beautiful inside.

I’ve had my soup, and I’m not going out. I shall enjoy my little cabin while I can.

Monday 5th August 2019 – I’M BACK …

… in Sheridan again tonight.

Not at the same motel as last time though. At probably the cheapest in the town and certainly the cheapest in which I’ve stayed.

“So what’s it like?” I hear you ask.
“The cheapest motel in which I’ve stayed so far” reply I

But seriously, it might be old and dated and worn but it’s clean and everything works. The shower is good too, and what more can any man desire?

The air conditioning is much quieter than last night’s motel (although that’s not saying a lot). Last night it was a case of “turn off the aircon and lie awake sweltering” or “turn on the aircon and lie awake because of the noise”.

But I did manage to drop off a few times.

Much to my surprise I dropped straight back into exactly the same place where I had left a nocturnal voyage the previous evening. And even more interestingly, after I went back to sleep after an awakening, I stepped right back into where I had left it a couple of minutes earlier.

And I did get the girl too. Not ‘arf I did!

It was a struggle to awaken as you might expect and I vegetated for quite a while. I made it into breakfast (a couple of rounds of toast with jam but included in the price) then came back for a shower.

By now it was time to phone the bank and I’ve no idea how much it’s going to cost me but my card is now unblocked and I can use it.

Heading into town I went to look at the “exhibition” locomotive where the railway station used to be. It’s a 4-8-4 “Northern” steam locomotive and, rather like “Big Boy”, who we met in Southern Wyoming in 2002 it’s in pretty miserable condition, slowly rotting away – a stain on the character of the town.

And it might not be there long because they have now “discovered” that it’s full of asbestos.

From there I went shopping in Walmart (my card does now work) where I found some vegan cheese and broke the weighing scales at the check-out.

From there I headed north, stopping every 10 minutes or so to photograph a locomotive. I’m in the deep open-cast coal mining area and they run merry-go-round trains to move the coal. Most of the locomotives are Burlington Northern and Santa Fe outfits although I was taken by surprise when a Kansas City Southern locomotive went rattling past, miles out of its territory.

Eventually I reached the Little Big Horn battlefield where the miserable bar stewards refused to give me the senior citizens’ discount. “That only applies to US citizens” – the first that I’ve ever heard of that in a National Park. I had to pay the full $25:00.

But I was there for hours. I had a good walk down to the deep ravine where the final deaths took place as the native Americans mopped up the surviving troopers, a good walk around Last Stand Hill, the cemetery and the Native American monument, and another good walk around Benteen’s final hold-out position where the survivors hung on (and there were survivors, despite what people think. It was only the troops with Custer, about half of the 7th Cavalry complement) who were lost.

The drive between the various points was interesting, and the trail of bodies along the route and down in the Deep Ravine only goes to confirm that apart from a couple of isolated actions, it was basically a panic-stricken rout. Why else would 41 troopers be running down the hill TOWARDS the native village if they weren’t running away from the fighting up on the ridge?

That took all afternoon so I set out to find a motel. None in Busby, which really is a miserable one-horse town so I headed for the mining town of Decker.

Nothing there either so calling at the site of the “battle” of the Rosebud (which I’ll be visiting tomorrow) to say “hello’, I came back here.

In my room I noticed a “do not place anything on the heater”. I don’t recall having been here before, have I?

But the room is cheap, old and worn out. But then again so am I so what’s the difference? It’ll do me until tomorrow and then I can think again.

Sunday 4th August 2019 – TOTALLY USELESS …

… waste of time miserable pathetic excuse of a coach driver.

First rule when turning round is “drive past, back up, turn round”. But not this guy!

Swings into a country lane forwards (how he hopes that he can see what’s passing behind the bus 40-odd feet back totally beats me) and promptly grounds out the rear end of the bus on the high camber.

90 perishing minutes we were sitting there waiting for a breakdown crew to come and tow him back out and put the exhaust and rear bumper back on.

As a result we lost the light, found a rainstorm, did only half of the visits that we were supposed to visit (and those in record time too) and only got off the bus once – and at the place that I had visited the other day too.

One very unhappy bunny here.

And it all started so well too. Another Sleep Of The Dead and awake sprightly (well, almost) just before the third alarm. Breakfast, tidy up, a quick shower and hit the road to arrive at the Kearney Village Hall in time for the talk to begin.

Three eminent local historians each gave us a talk of life on the Bozeman Trail and some of the characters who used to frequent it. Very interesting too and I learnt a great deal, which is the whole point of these things.

After lunch we set off on the bus to visit th sites of many of the skirmishes that took place between travellers on the Bozeman Trail and the Native Americans through whose land they passed, but as I mentioned before, that fell rather flat with no time to go and visit anything.

I was so disappointed.

But then I hit the road and I’m now in the Rodeway Inn in Sheridan. Just up the road from here is the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn and that’s tomorrow’s destination.

Saturday 3rd August 2019 – HERE I AM …

… again, back in the Story Pines Motel or whatever it’s called.

The reason is that there’s a charabanc outing from the town tomorrow and there was a spare seat on it. And as it’s going to places that I would have wanted to visit had I known about them and there’s a guide going too, then include me in!

After all of the messing about last night, it was rather a late night and as a result, something of a struggle for me to rouse myself. I wasn’t in much of a shape to do much for a while so I sat and vegetated.

My breakfast porridge was nice though.

By the time that I had gathered my wits (which doesn’t take long these days what with one thing and another) and had a coffee kindly provided for me by the landlady, I hit the streets.

First on the cards today was a delightful drive down the road a couple of miles to a field at the foot of an escarpment in the Rocky Mountains.

This field is forever immortalised as the site of what became famous as “the Wagon Box Fight”. A group of US soldiers was protecting a gang of woodcutters, who had taken all of the boxes off their conestoga wagons so that they could carry more timber down to the sawmill.

Luckily the officer in charge had had the foresight to arrange the boxes into a kind of defensive corral, because suddenly they were set upon by a band of Native Americans.

The tactics that the natives applied was to incite the soldiers to fire, and then charge before they had time to reload their single-shot muzzle-loaders.

But what they hadn’t realised was that just before the event, the weapons of the soldiers had been replaced with breech-loading repeating rifles. So when they charged, they were met with several other volleys.

A sentry post on a hill a few miles away saw the fight and sent a signal to a relief column which was armed with a mountain howitzer, and they put the native Americans to flight.

Interestingly, the report at the time puts the number of natives killed by the 26 defenders of the wagon boxes as “over 1500”. A later investigation put the number as “no more than 60”.

There was a report that after this incident a more substantial stockade was built a few hundred yards away. And looking carefully, I could make out a trace of what would correspond with an earthen mound in the area where this was said to be.

Next stop was several miles down a dirt track to Fort Phil Kearny, and while I was there we had 5 minutes of rain. The fort was built in 1866 to protect emigrants on the Bozeman Trail north, in defiance of a treaty with the Native Americans. Those latter were not at all happy and in the two years that the fort was operational there were countless conflicts, the most famous of which I’ll talk about later.

The fort was eventually abandoned after just two years and the jubilant natives burnt it to the ground. It was first excavated in the 1960s but a full-scale programme was launched in the 1990s and the entire site has been mapped. Pickets placed in the ground show the outlines of the walls and the buildings and an entrance has been reconstructed.

On that note I headed off to the nearest big town, Buffalo, for fuel and groceries. I found both (or at least, I thought that I had) at the same place but while I was fuelling up, they closed the shop.

So much for that. I ended up at a local Dollar Store and from there the local IGA supermarket.

And more bad news – my Canadian bank card has now ceased to function. I shall have to get onto that.

A beautiful drive through the countryside (as much as I could because Interstate 90 has simply wiped out much of the traditional route) saw me back near Story and heading into the hills on the other side. I found the only shade in Wyoming where I could eat my lunch, and then headed further up to where the old Highway 87 (which replaced the Bozeman Trail) was washed out.

Here on the peak of a hill is a monument to a Lieutenant Fetterman, 78 soldiers and 2 civilian volunteers.

in December of 1866 native Americans had been intimidating a wood supply train and Colonel Carrington, in charge of Fort Phil Kearny, ordered Fetterman to take a detachment to push the natives away, but under no circumstances go beyond a certain ridge, which was the last line of sight from the fort.

The soldiers did as they bid, but here the issue becomes confused. As the soldiers stopped, a group of natives taunted them for their timidity. One of the officers – some say Fetterman but other say Lieutenant Grummond in charge of the cavalry detachment – rose to the bait and pursued the band. So as one shot off, the others followed.

The natives ran away, leading the soldiers into an ambush which was carefully sprung. Evidence from a party that visited the site the next day found evidence of panic and indiscipline as the soldiers fled in chaos, but no-one answered for this because not one of Fetterman’s party remained alive.

it was that heaviest defeat suffered by the US Army at the hands of the natives until Little Big Horn 10 years later

All but one of the bodies had been horribly mutilated. That one, of bugler Metzler, had been covered with a buffalo robe as a mark of respect. His bugle was battered and shapeless, leading to the conclusion that after running out of ammunition, he fought the natives in hand-to-hand combat using his bugle as a weapon, and his bravery earned him the right to respect.

Drenched in sweat and with a thirst that you could photograph after my long walk in the heat of the sun, I headed back through the herd of cows to the car and drove back to my motel.

First thing that I did was to sit on the porch and drink a can of flavoured water. Second thing that I did was to crash out for half an hour.

I managed tea tonight – some vegetable soup with bread. The appetite isn’t quite back but I’m still coping all the same.

And now an early night as I’m off of my outing tomorrow.

Friday 2nd August 2019 – JUST FOR A CHANGE …

… I can’t sleep tonight and I don’t know why.

So effectively I’ve given up and I’m back working again. But for how long I don’t really know.

Just for another change, I slept the Sleep Of The Dead last night with just the odd tossing and turning until the alarm went off. After the medication I had yet another shower and then pressed on with a pile of work, including doing some tidying up.

The soup bowl that the landlady lent me came in useful yet again because I made my porridge in it, and at last I had some decent breakfast.

Eventually I hit the road and headed off northwards along the Powder River. I managed to identify on the map by virtue of the text in the old histories the sites of two of the engagements between the US Cavalry and the Native Americans (the others are impossible to locate) in the earlier Powder River Wars but accessing them is something else completely. We know about the Americans’ mania for private property and guns.

One site I could pick out (just about) with the telephoto lens but you’ll have to take my word for the other.

And damn and blast if I didn’t have a puncture. Another tyre on a hire car ruined on a dirt road. Luckily everything was much more accessible on this car than the old Dodge and it didn’t take too long, even though the jack and wheelbrace were the usual cheap rubbish.

Space saver tyre too, and how I hate those with a vengeance.

So in the wilderness miles from anywhere on a dusty dirt road. And to the three motorists who stopped and asked if I needed help (after I had almost finished), many thanks again.

And to the three people who drove on by without stopping, you aren’t Christians at all. Just the worst kind of hypocrites. I would never leave anyone standing by the side of the road in those conditions.

But that’s just USA Christians, isn’t it? Total hypocrites. Pro-life when it comes to someone else’s body and personal issues, yet carry guns to blow away intruders and clamour for the death penalty when it’s their own affairs. They aren’t pro-life then.

Hell is full of hypocrites like them

So back into town where I have just come from, and 1 hour later and $115 lighter (no second-hand tyres to be had) I can set off again.

Down another dirt road, all 70 miles of it this time, and I find quite easily the site of the Powder River Battle of the 1876 campaign. Although the US Army inflicted some damage on the Cheyenne, it simply drove them into the arms of the Hunkpapa and Ogallala Sioux and when the US Cavalry caught up with them again, the combined numbers of Native Americans was sufficient to inflict Little Big Horn upon them.

But the drive along the Powder River is one of the most beautiful in the whole of the USA and I would gladly come here again. I enjoyed the drive considerably.

Back on Highway 14 in the sweltering heat (I have a lovely photo of a couple of diesel locomotive shimmering in the heat haze like in a spaghetti western) I found a nice shady nook under a few trees behind an abandoned corn silo to eat my sandwiches. And they were very welcome.

But I was disturbed as two railway locomotives travelling light rattled within about 20 yards of where I was parked.

Onwards pressed I and after a couple of hours driving I ended up at Fort Phil Kearny about which I shall talk tomorrow. 5000 feet up in the Rockies and it’s beautiful here. And the Ranger there put me in touch with the local motel in Story – the only one in the neighbourhood.

They had a sot-of room left, the emergency room. And if they keep this room aside for emergencies the main rooms must be wonderful. It’s the most expensive place yet, but once more it’s right where I need to be (right in the battle zone with one of the conflicts just down the road a few hundred yards) and it really would be worth the money.

For some reason she couldn’t make my Canadian debit card work so to end all issues I paid cash. Now I need more funds.

So having sorted out loads of things, charged everything up, dealt with the dashcam and programmed it properly, and showered (again!) and washed the dust off the clothes from the tyre incident, I called it an early night,

But now I’m still up. I’m hungry but I can’t go out to the car as there’s a bear outside in the yard at night and he doesn’t recognise my smell yet (s if he would want to). So I’ll just carry on.