Hardin, Montana //
That history is written by the victors is another way of saying it is written by those with power. It is often, at least initially, dictated by the world’s oppressors. While history provides irreplaceable context for our present, it’s also at times revered with a degree of nostalgic lubricant that molds into the shapes that best fit our desired narrative.
I became fascinated by reenactments for all these reasons when I was sent to cover several during my first newspaper job. I saw a community of obsessively fervent history enthusiasts enveloped in a culture that carries flavors of traveling theater troupes and of old; one history packaged within another. In 2017, I drove across the state of Montana to scope out a re-enactment of the Battle of Little Bighorn in the southeast corner of the state. It was the first I’d heard of not produced and organized by white men.
Held on tribal land at the same bend in the river where the battle took place, the privately-owned event is hosted by the Crow Nation. Its existence is not without its quarrels. The fact that Crow scouts are known to have helped Custer is a point of contention among tribes. One Lakota participant said there’s a well-known saying in the community: “The Cheyenne did the fighting, the Lakota get the credit, the Crow got the land." Yet attendees, both Native American and non-Natives, spoke of the difference that Native ownership made, with no shortage of the word “authentic.” Camping out for a few days with re-enactors left me eager to seek out other re-enactments that are being told through the lens of those who have long been systematically kept from controlling the narrative of U.S. history.