‘National Treasure’ brings battlefield to life
LITTLE BIGHORN BATTLEFIELD NATIONAL MONUMENT (AP) — On a hot, nearly windless day in early August, Edwin C. Bearss is looking across the Little Bighorn River as he describes an early scene in the battle that would come to be known as Custer’s Last Stand.
He is dressed in a ball cap, two T-shirts and a pair of stained khaki pants held up by an ancient leather belt. His hiking boots, by contrast, are sturdy and relatively new. He looks like a man who can’t be bothered by superfluities.
A busload of tourists, who have come from around the country to follow Bearss (pronounced “Bars”) on a five-day tour that takes in several of the battles leading up to the climactic fight on the Little Bighorn, are listening carefully to his monologue, some of them taking notes.
Bearss recounts details of the Battle of the Little Bighorn with a vivid immediacy, sometimes squeezing his eyes shut, as if imagining himself there on that fateful day of June 25, 1876.
He is lean and not much more than average height, but the 88-year-old historian has a gruff, authoritative voice that commands attention. His face is deeply tanned and he is holding a swagger stick that is engraved with the names of Civil War battles and capped with a brass cartridge. He often gestures with it.
And there, perhaps, is the key to what makes Bearss, a Billings-born, Montana-raised former chief historian for the National Park Service, one of the most revered battlefield guides in the United States.
His encyclopedic knowledge of dozens of battlefields, here and abroad, is probably unrivaled, but he has the additional advantage of belonging to what he has called “a kind of fraternity” of people who have come under fire in battle....
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