Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument Officials Examining Future Direction

A series of meetings has been scheduled to see if some agreement can be reached on the future direction of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. NPS photo.

How can Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument better interpret the history it seeks to preserve? That's a relatively simple question, but one not so easily answered.

The monument that seeks to interpret Custer's Last Stand in June 1876 against the Sioux Nation is undersized, needs a larger visitor center with room for artifacts in a more appropriate location, and currently leads visitors in a backward direction tracing the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry defeat at the hands of the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors who overwhelmed General George Armstrong Custer's troops.

Back in August 2008 National Park Service officials admitted they erred in pushing an expansion of the monument's visitor center and agreed to start over. The Park Service had planned to erect an enclosed theater seating 200 people at the base of Last Stand Hill, site of the climax of the 1876 battle in which five companies of the 7th Cavalry were wiped out.

But Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility went to court to block the plan, arguing that the project would occupy the middle of the battlefield and block views of how the battle evolved as well as where it ended.

Now monument officials have scheduled a series of meetings to see if some agreement can be reached on how best to proceed with enhancing visitors' experiences at the battlefield, possibly enlarging its boundaries, and deciding where to situate an improved visitor center.

The public meetings are scheduled for:

December 7

Billings, Montana, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at the Parmly Billings Library, located at 510 N 28th St., Suite 2.

December 8

Hardin, Montana, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., at the Super 8 Motel, located at 201 14th St. W.

December 9

Golden, Colorado, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at The American Mountaineering Center, located at 710 10th St., Suite 100.

There also will be Internet Webinars and Teleconference conducted on December 6 at 6 p.m. MDT and December 8 at 2 p.m. MDT.

* To participate in a webinar meeting go to http://doilearn.webex.com, then click on the “meeting center” tab. From there type in “LIBI” for the meeting name.

* To participate via telephone as part of a moderated teleconference on December 6, at 6 p.m. MST, dial 1-800-779-1424 and use passcode 6215319 when prompted. To participate via telephone as part of a moderated teleconference on December 8, at 2 p.m., MST, dial 1-800-790-3288 and use passcode 6215319 when prompted

“The National Park Service invites everyone to be a part of this important discussion,” Little Bighorn Superintendent Kate Hammond said. “The battle at Little Bighorn is one of the most important events in the development of our nation and we all share in the responsibility to maintain this historic site.”

Comments

Wow, government officials listening, learning from, and acting on feedback from outside groups? There's a rarity. :-)

At the base of Last Stand Hill? I was there recently - and that would be an incredibly stupid move. Part of the power of the battlefield is experiencing what terrain meant as the battle unfolded. If I am correctly understanding the proposed location, it would interrupt the flow.

That being said, when I was there in on a weekday late September, I was completely amazed at just how many people were there. The parking lot was full, and people were standing for the interpretative ranger's lecture on what happened, why it happened and why it was important. (BTW, his lecture was incredibly good - probably the best I have ever heard in a park.)

This battle meant so much over the years, and there is so much information and misinformation out there. Of the battlefield parks that I have visited, I'd say this is the most difficult one to comprehend.

I was there a couple of summers ago and agree it was one of the most terribly crowded NPS areas I've visited in a long time. The visitor center is plopped between the National Cemetery and Last Stand Hill. There is a long drive out to some overlooks with a very narrow two-way road and limited parking. Much of this, I'm sure, is the close proximity of the site to a major Interstate highway.

I won't pretend to have any answers to the quandaries faced by park managers there, but I would like to add that the interpretive talk I heard was absolutely excellent. Seasonal interpreter Frances Takes Enemy was, I believe, a local high school teacher who managed to keep her audience enthralled despite some fierce competition from wind and other noises that sometimes made it very hard to hear what she was saying. And when she finished with the group that included me, she agreed to stay on (I think she had been ready to either leave work for the day or head off to eat lunch) so she could repeat the talk for a group of hearing-impaired visitors. When I left to go explore the rest of the park, she was providing her excellent presentation with a sign-language interpreter passing it along to a group of young people who couldn't have heard her voice even if the wind had not been blowing.

On top of all that, I must admit that I kind of expected some sort of unbalanced presentation, given that our interpreter was certainly a descendant of some of those who fought on the "wrong" side. Although she didn't mince words or try to tow some kind of politically correct policy, her presentation seemed very well balanced.

It's people like Frances Takes Enemy who make the NPS the wonderful organization it is.