I really should make a new category just for mistakes of geography.

Today's target of journalistic foot-in-mouth is an article in the internet version of the magazine The Nation. The article in question is dated 22 September, 2016, by one Brian Ward and titled "Native Americans Are Fighting a New but Familiar Battle at Standing Rock." (ref: https://www.thenation.com/article/native-americans-are-fighting-a-new-but-familiar-battle-at-standing-rock/)

I confess that today I might be suffering from a little bias...though not in respect to today's target mistake on the internet.

Before I anger half my friends, let me just disclaim at the start that I have a great deal of sympathy and understanding for Native American rights, and I say that as someone whose family has owned property surrounded by the Standing Rock Reservation with some knowledge of what the Sioux tribes have endured. My real complaints here are about the ignorance and laziness of many journalists and environmental activists - though I admit that the latter is an opinion, though one that I have formed as a professional environmental scientist.

Now I'm being quite restrained, actually, with respect to this article because I acknowledge that the author has his own opinions about what constitutes Native American property rights and the status of treaty lands in the American West, and also has his own opinions about what constitutes a danger to a water supply. I'm not going to digress that the history between the Sioux and the government of the USA is not as simple or black-and-white as this author paints, nor am I going to discuss the fact that he leaves out several of the precipitating events in the war between the Sioux and allied tribes and the US Army in latter half of the 1870s. I may decide at some point to write a separate blog post about why the pipeline construction discussed in this article is not a danger to the water supply of the Standing Rock Reservation, but that's for another day. After all, it's so much fun trying to convince the scientifically illiterate that there are these things called facts...

The funny odor you detect right now is the sweet smell of sarcasm.

No, today's target is the following statement from the above-mentioned article:

"in 1876, the Great Plains was home to the Battle of the Little Big Horn"

Let's skip over the incorrect verb tense as an act of charity and notch up the mispelling of "Little Bighorn" to an honest and easily-made mistake. The problem I have with this statement is that the Battle of the Little Bighorn was not on the Great Plains. The battle was in the intermountain valley of the Little Bighorn River. The Little Bighorn River flows out of the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains called the Rosebud Range and down its own little floodplain valley between the Little Wolf Mountains and the much larger Bighorn Mountains. Here's a picture of the geography of the region looking west-southwest, snatched from and annotated in Google Earth:


The Little Wolf Mountains are in the foreground. The Bighorn Mountains are in the background. The Valley of the Little Bighorn River is between the two. The field of view is from the approximate location of Miles City.

Sadly, I expect that most environmentalist activists make a mess of history and are usually uneducated about real environmental science, but is it too much to ask to at least get the geography right?