Indian Memorial

An outline of 3 warriors and a woman riding 3 horses in a line
The Indian Memorial at the Little Bighorn Battlefield

NPS Photo.  Sculpture, photographs and all derivatives: © Cathleen Cutschall. All Rights Reserved.

"If this memorial is to serve its total purpose, it must not only be a tribute to the dead; it must contain a message for the living...power through unity..."

Enos Poor Bear, Sr., Oglala Lakota Elder

 
The Indian Memorial commemorates the sacrifice of the Arikara, Apsaalooke, Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Oyate tribes in the Battle of the Little Bighorn as they fought to protect their diverse values and traditional way of life. The theme of the memorial, "Peace Through Unity", carries the commemoration further by acknowledging the need for cooperation both among Indian tribes and between tribal governments and the federal government. The relevancy and significance is further highlighted when one considers it is the only memorial to the Native American experience mandated by Congress and constructed with federal funds.

In 1879, the Little Bighorn Battlefield was designated a national cemetery administered by the War Department. In 1881, a memorial was erected on Last Stand Hill, over the mass grave of the Seventh Cavalry soldiers, U.S. Indian Scouts, and other personnel killed in battle. In 1940, jurisdiction of the battlefield was transferred to the National Park Service. These early interpretations were largely mono-cultural, honoring only the U.S. Army's perspective, with headstones marking where each fell.

Unlike Custer's command, the fallen Lakota and Cheyenne warriors were removed by their families, and "buried" in the Native American tradition, in teepees or tree-scaffolds nearby in the Little Bighorn Valley. The story of the battle from the Native American perspective was largely told through the oral tradition.
 
Sculpture of Indians on horses at night with start trails
Spirit Warrior Sculpture at the Indian Memorial

Sculpture, photographs and all derivatives © Cathleen Cutschall. All Rights Reserved.

Until recently, no memorial had honored the Native Americans who struggled to preserve and defend their homeland and traditional way of life. Their heroic sacrifice was never formally recognized - until now.

In 1991 the U. S. Congress changed the name of the battlefield and ordered the construction of an Indian Memorial. In 1996, the National Park Service - guided by the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument Advisory Committee, made up of members from the Indian nations involved in the battle, historians, artists and landscape architects - conducted a national design competition. In 1997, a winning design was selected.

"Forty Years ago I fought Custer till all were dead. I was then the enemy of the Whitemen. Now I am the friend and brother, living in peace together under the flag of our country." -Two Moons, Northern Cheyenne
 
Ground was broke in 1999 for the chosen design and it was dedicated four years later in 2003. Temporary panels were installed at first until wording on the granite was decided. This was done in 2013 where what you see now on the granite panels was permanently engraved.

The design is meant to blend in with the surrounding landscape as well as respect traditional spiritual beiefs. This is shown in the material of the floor being made of multiple surfaces honoring the belief that spirits need to move through that space. Another significant design element is the openings in each cardinal direction which honors many Plain's tribes' spiritual beliefs. The opening in the circular wall towards the 7th Cavalry Memorial is called the Spirit Gate and it is a passageway for the dead soldiers spirits to proceed through the gate and into the afterlife. It is significant as it represents the desire for mutual respect between the US Government and Tribal entities advocating for the "Peace Through Unity" philosophy intented from this Memorial.

The bronze sculpture you see sillouetted againt the sky is of three warriors riding to battle and a woman handing off a shield to one as she watches them ride off seemingly into the sky, where the spirit world dwells according to traditional tribal beliefs. The artist wanted to show a woman't perspective of this battle and its turning point in history.
 

Last updated: September 15, 2022

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Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
P.O. Box 39

Crow Agency , MT 59022-0039

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(406) 638-3217

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