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American Roads: Site Map > Auto Trails > Auto Trail Articles > Popular Mechanics article June 1921 p844


By White Eagle

― from Popular Mechanics, June 1921, page 844-845.


[White Eagle is a full-blood Indian and a deaf-mute who made a pony ride of over 900 miles over the Custer Battlefield Hiway. After the completion of his long ride, the Custer Battlefield Hiway Association purchased “Red Bird,” the pony, from its owner and presented it to White Eagle.— PM Editor.]


THE Custer Battlefield Hiway, extending from Omaha, Neb., through Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, and to Glacier Park, Mont., a distance of 1,475 miles, is creating much public interest.

Chief White Eagle and His Faithful Mount, Red Bird

Chief White Eagle and his faithful mount, “Red Bird”: It is quite likely that they know nearly as much about the Custer Battlefield Hiway as the engineers in charge of its construction, having traveled 900 miles of its length!


The marking of this highway was finished late last fall. Posts painted white are firmly set into the ground; large wooden arrows bearing names of towns and distances are bolted to the tops of the posts; the colors are red and white, and the number of the route is 12. Besides the guideposts, the colors arc also painted on telephone poles, bridges, fence posts, etc., so that there is a sign on an average of every eight miles of the entire distance of the route.
Sept. 29, 1920, mounted on “Red Bird,” a six-year-old Montana cow pony, the writer, escorted down the main street of the town by the entire population and the school children of the town, and a brass band, set out from Hardin, Mont., for Omaha, Neb., over 900 miles distant.

Map of the Custer Battlefield Hiway

Map of the Custer Battlefield Hiway: Connecting with the Lincoln Highway at Council Bluffs, Iowa, the new memorial road winds through picturesque portions of four states. The city of Hardin is about one-third of the way between Billings and the Custer Battlefield National Cemetery.


So there are only a few people who have had a better opportunity of observing the work that has been done and is being done, on the highway, than I have, and, besides, the Custer Battlefield Hiway goes right through my field—almost within a stone's throw of my front door, at Gillette, Wyo. There wasn't a section of this highway in any of the counties in the four states through which I rode that work was not in active progress, and, in some cases, had been completed; stretches of the roadbed, often extending for 10 miles in as straight a line as is possible for the surveyor's instruments to lay it out, had been graded and smoothed; “kinks” had been taken out and, consequently, distances lessened wherever possible, and it never seemed to be impossible, for the engineers had no respect for fields, fences, or front yards. Between the towns of Sun Dance, in Wyoming, Spearfish, in South Dakota, and on to Whitewood, S. D., I saw something of the difficulties road builders encounter and of how they combat them. There were camps along the entire 900 miles that I rode over, just like soldier camps, but it was near the above South Dakota towns that it was most interesting. The camps had a permanent air about them; houses to shelter the men,and blacksmith shops were up and were in operation. The gangs were cutting right through big rocky hills. The familiar steam shovel that takes up a big bunch of earth, swings it round, and dumps it in a truck or cart, was there and being worked for all it was worth. The rock and earth removed by making these cuts were hauled by the trucks to depressions and valleys where roadbeds were being built up; great trees were being taken up by the roots, where in the way, and removed; bridges were being built, and culverts put in. The latest and best makes of road-building machinery were in use at these and other camps along the highway. Grading was being done by big endless-tread tractors, which pulled from two to three giant grading machines. The tractor, in turn, was followed by gangs of men with teams, and the smaller graders and scrapers who finished off the work that the big tractor could not do, and put in the bridges and culverts.

Custer's Last Stand Monument

This monument on the Custer Battlefield Hiway marks the spot where General George Custer made his last stand.


Good bridges are hand in hand with good roads, especially in the western mountainous country where a cloudburst sometimes changes, within a few minutes, a crawling, ankle-deep stream into one of swirling, raging waters, bank-full, and sweeping all before it. I saw at several points of my ride over the highway some fine examples of later-day bridges in course of construction, and a few finished, but the greatest was the bridge being built across Spotted Horse Creek on the highway between Arvada and Gillette. The state engineers and crews were at work on the bridge when I passed. This bridge has wide, guarded approaches, is being constructed of steel and concrete throughout, and when finished will have cost $40,000. Although not yet having been fully in work two years, the Custer Battlefield Hiway may now be traveled from end to end, nearly 1,500 miles, without asking directions or having to open a gate. May is not too early for a trip over this highway, but the best months are June and on up to October at the present time. As soon as the new roadbed has had time to pack properly, and all surfacing and graveling is finished, it will be a 365-day road.
I reached Omaha, Neb., “the end of the trail,” and more than 900 miles from my starting point, Dec. 12, 1920, and, dividing hours into days, found that I had been in the saddle just 24 days 5 hours.


Copyright © S. Varner 2006