• Park Cultural Landscapes

Stories: Social Injustice on the Landscape

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Crow Agency, Montana


Social Justice at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Jill Cowley, NPS Intermountain Regional Office

Figure 1:  White marble 7th cavalry markers
NPS Photo (J. Cowley)
Figure 1: White marble 7th cavalry
markers NPS Photo (J. Cowley)

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, located in southeast Montana, memorializes and commemorates the defeat of the U.S. 7th Cavalry by Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors on June 25-26, 1876. Social Justice calls for equal recognition of all parties involved – not just the Euro-Americans, and not just the victors. Park staff, tribal representatives, and other stakeholders have long supported equal recognition of both cavalry and warrior combatants. In addition, the park’s 2011 Long Range Interpretive Plan adds the need for recognition of Indian noncombatants, especially women and children, and their role in the conflict.

Throughout the Little Bighorn National Monument landscape, there are a variety of markers and memorials that indicate where combatants fell and that commemorate the battle: white marble markers for 7th Cavalry soldiers (fig. 1) and warrior memorial stone cairns were added to the landscape shortly after the battle; a program to add red granite markers for tribal warriors started in 1999 (fig 2); the 7th Cavalry monument was erected in 1881 (fig 3); and the Indian Memorial was dedicated in 2003 (fig 4). All these markers and memorials are critical to telling the full story and to keeping memories and associations alive.

Figure 2:  Installation of a red granite warrior marker. 
NPS Photo (courtesy of J. Doerner)
Figure 2: Installation of a red granite warrior marker. NPS Photo
(courtesy of J. Doerner)
However, the application of National Register of Historic Places principles and criteria can result in some of these features being identified as “contributing” and others as “non-contributing”. The National Register of Historic Places, the nationwide list of properties significant to American history at a national, state, or local level, was established as part of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act.

The historic period of significance for Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is from 1876, the year of the battle, to 1946, when the National Park Service took over management from the War Department. Landscape elements that relate directly to historic significance and that were established or developed during this period are identified as “contributing.” Those that do not directly relate to significance, that were established or developed outside of the period of significance, and/or are less than 50 years old, are identified as “non-contributing”, with management and preservation focus on contributing elements. Using this process, the 7th Cavalry markers, 7th Cavalry monument, and the warrior cairns, are contributing.

Figure 3:  7th Cavalry monument.  NPS Photo (J. Cowley)
Figure 3: 7th Cavalry monument. NPS Photo (J. Cowley)

Since the warrior markers and Indian Memorial were developed more recently than the end of the period of significance and within the past 50 years, application of special National Register criteria is needed to establish their importance to the battlefield. One such special criterion states that a property achieving significance within the past 50 years can be considered contributing if it of exceptional importance. This is the case for the Indian Memorial, which was the result of a national effort. The red granite warrior markers, however, are currently being considered as non-contributing in National Register terms; they could be considered contributing if they meet the test of exceptional importance.

This kind of clarity on how National Register standards and criteria are being applied can help us understand the relationship between park resources and specific management actions. And, however the elements present within the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument landscape are defined in National Register terms, interpretation and educational programs at the park will continue to stress a balanced and inclusive view of the battle and all those involved.

Figure 4: North side of Indian Memorial.  NPS Photo (J. Cowley)
Figure 4: North side of Indian Memorial. NPS Photo (J. Cowley)