General George Custer's 7th Cavalry leaves a mark on history at Initial Rock - Belfield, ND

View of the Badlands from Initial Rock.
View of the Badlands from Initial Rock. | Source

Enter the Badlands

On May 17th, 1876, Custer’s 7th Cavalry left Fort Abraham Lincoln on their way to Little Big Horn. Ten days later, they entered the badlands of North Dakota, a distance of approximately 126 miles. Once entering the badlands, they followed the difficult Davis Creek trail, requiring the troops to build bridges and improve the trail to allow the passage of their supply wagons.

W. C. Williams
W. C. Williams | Source

As the engineers made agonizingly slow progress on a nearby bridge, Companies K and M were assigned rear guard duty to protect the bridge builders from potential Indian attacks. The only hostile forces the troops on watch encountered that hot and humid Sunday were fearless rattlesnakes and relentless mosquitoes. Privates Frank Neely and William C. Williams stood watch at the base of a nearby hill. To pass the time and overcome boredom, the two privates carved their names into the soft sandstone.

F. Neely
F. Neely | Source

Both Privates survived the Battle of Little Big Horn. Neely spent approximately 12 years in the Cavalry. His last tour of duty was in Arizona, where it was purported that he accidentally killed a man. It is believed that Neely was so distraught over the accident that he went hunting and never returned. Williams was wounded in the battle and was later discharged in 1878 as a Sergeant. He went on to become a druggist in Norfolk, Virginia. He died at the age of 63 on May 22, 1919.

Today, their carvings can be seen at the Initial Rock Interpretive Site located south of Fryburg, ND.

Fryburg, North Dakota

To visit the site, follow highway I-94 to the Fryburg I-34 exit. Proceed down Main Street through town until it ends at Sully Creek Road. Take a right onto Sully Creek Road. Take the first left onto 136th Avenue. Follow 136th Avenue to Easy Hill. At Easy Hill, turn right onto 762 (look for a small brown and white State Park maker “I-762.”) Proceed down 762 to 740. Turn right onto 740 and follow for approximately 2 ½ miles to the Initial Rock Interpretive Site.

The site is not visible from main roads and the only amenity is a Male/Female shared restroom (beware of spiders). Initial Rock is located in the National Grasslands and visitors are reminded to stay on marked roads and trails. There are remnants of wagon wheel ruts throughout the Grasslands and unauthorized off road travel may potentially destroy these pieces of history.

More by this Author


Comments 28 comments

TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 3 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

Hi, Nellieanna! It is a very introspective place to visit. You can almost hear history whispering in the prairie wind. I wish I could have spent more time there. Glad you enjoyed it.


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 3 years ago from TEXAS

That hiStory fascinates me. I need to read this more carefully.


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

I would tend to agree with you, Mr Archer, it's very difficult to determine if Custer was at fault. I've always wondered how someone of that rank could have made such a horrible mistake. I'm afraid I haven't read anything by Maclean, and have only seen the movie they made out of "A River Runs Through It."

If you make it to this area, there are so many great places of historical significance to explore. I have an ever growing list of battle and skirmish sites I want to check out once the weather cools down a bit. Hopefully I'll get a chance to write about them as well.

Thank you so much for checking out my little hub about a little know spot. :)


Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

I have long found Custer fascinating. I was unsure of whether he was hero or goat, or a combination thereof. Have you read any works of Norman Maclean? A River Runs Through It is his most famous, but he was fascinated by Custer as well, and there are some of his works concerning Custer out there. Another book I read recently bespoke of Custer in depth, and determined he was not at fault in the disaster, that Reno was the failure. Funny how if you keep digging, you find out so much. Great hub, and if we get to visit the area next year, (like I hope!) I will be sure to locate and make the journey there. Thanks for the info.


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

Thank you, Epi. :) I have been to the scene of the Little Big Horn...a very sobering place to be sure. There are two 'trails' that I live on = The Lewis & Clark Expedition Trail (stopped off at Pompey's Pillar last week where they had stopped for a wee bit and one of them carved his name into the pillar), and The Trail to the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Some of it you can still ride on horse back - something hubby and I have been dying to do!


epigramman profile image

epigramman 4 years ago

Alastar Packer would love this hub subject as much as I did - he is a fabulous historian/writer here at the Hub - I have always been fascinated with the history of the Old West, the Indian wars and the battle of Little Big Horn - thank you for your homework and research - I really enjoyed this one - lake erie time 12:40pm


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

Thank you, KDu, I appreciate that! There are a bunch of little places like this that I've run across in ND and MT. I didn't get to all of them over the winter, but it's definitely on my list for this summer: Fort Union, Fort Buford, Pompeii Tower (Lewis & Clark left their marks there), etc. I have a lot to cover. :) Glad you enjoyed it. And thank you for the kind words.


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

I agree, bill, it's weird how quiet the place is. It's like history is holding it's breath there, waiting for the men to come back. Thank you very much!


KDuBarry03 4 years ago

Very interesting. There are many things, in our history, that are still kept in secret, waiting to be discovered. Hubs and history, like this one, will definitely shed some light on unanswered questions! Thanks for sharing this, very educational.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

A history hub and I'm there....I've actually been to this place and I find the area almost haunting as the wind blows through the tall grass....it's almost like the dead are whispering. Great hub my friend!


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

MammaNeedsJava: Thank you, I've been trying to research all kinds of things on North Dakota, but there is so little out there. I usually end up trying to figure out where it's at by driving in the vague area it's been described and going from there. :o) Hubby thinks I'm nutty...but he loves me anyway. lol! I'm glad you enjoyed it.


MamaNeedsJava profile image

MamaNeedsJava 4 years ago from Undisclosed

Fascinating and thanks for the pictures. I'd be happy to read more about North Dakota.


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

DNCalkins: It actually looks like it's slowly disappearing. A shame too. Makes me wonder how many other places like that we'll never know about.


DNCalkins profile image

DNCalkins 4 years ago from The Cold-Blasted North

An interesting little addendum to the history of the Seventh Cavalry. I'd never heard of Initial Rock before!


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

Thank you, Derdriu, I appreciate that and glad you found my little hub interesting. :)


Derdriu 4 years ago

TToombs08: How mind-boggling to think that two privates had all the time in the world to leave "autographs" for posterity while their colleagues were in a fight which ended in the death of all but one horse!

Thank you for such an evocative, succinct, tight hub on a little known historical incident and place of interest to visitors.

Voted up, etc.,

Derdriu


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

acc12: It is really off the beaten track, no signs pointing you to it, my husband thought I was making it up. LOL! It's well worth the trip though, it's in a beautiful valley in the badlands. I wanted to spend a lot more time there, but evening was fast approaching and we had a ways to travel yet. I hope you get to visit it!


acc12 profile image

acc12 4 years ago

Nice job documenting this interesting and original destination! We enjoyed visiting North Dakota a few years ago (see my website www.RoadTraveler.com for my writeup on ND) but didn't get to this attraction. We'll have to come back!


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

Thank you, ThoughtSandwiches! I like the ordinary events that become part of historical events. :) It reminds me that you just never know what might happen.


ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada

TToombs08...

Invariably any discussion of the Michigan 7th Cavalry puts the lens onto the 25th day of June.

I like this hub...it's like an unexpected slice of everyday army life that happened on the way to that battle.

Thanks for the hub, the follow, and the delightful information!

Thomas


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

Thank you, stessily! I wasn't going to add it, but we saw places where someone had taken 4 wheelers out in an area that had signs up all over stated "No Motorized Vehicles." Very disheartening. I'm glad you liked the pictures. I had just gotten a new camera and was trying it out. I'm in love with that camera. lol!


stessily 4 years ago

TToombs08: It's amazing where you find historical graffiti! I loved your last sentence, about the remnants of wagon wheel ruts in the Grasslands. It's so easy to leave a historical mark on the land, and it's so easy for that mark to be destroyed.

Very nice, clear photos which drew me in. Thank you.


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

Thank you, Danette! I think it's the desolation that I find most intriguing. :) And I have room to breath and think...or over-think. lol


Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 4 years ago from Illinois

My husband and I drove through South Dakota many many years ago when we traveled from Michigan to Seattle for him to report to his duty station aboard a ship in dry dock up there. I thought it was very beautiful country, rather desolate though! Nice hub.


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

Thanks, Joe! If you do make it out to North Dakota, there are a ton of places just like this. Some of them take a little digging to find out where they are at, like Initial Rock. Most references say it's in Belfield, ND. I'm hoping to cover a number of them within 100 miles of me, or so. :)


Joe Friedman profile image

Joe Friedman 4 years ago from Chicago, Il

Great article. This is a part of history I never would have known to look for.I'm a bit of a history buff...and if (when) I do get out that way, I will look it up, thanks.


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. Author

Thank you, Dim Flaxenwick! It is my pleasure. I was a little nervous getting my feet wet with starting my freelance career, but your positive feedback is very encouraging! I greatly appreciate that! :)


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 4 years ago from Great Britain

Very interesting. l was attracted to the title as l am with most things concerning the Indian wars.

l was pleasanlty surprised to read something quite different. ! Well done for choosing this. The photos were great too, since l am never likely to be able to travel to that place. Thank you.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working