Protecting the museum collection and archives of Little Bighorn Battlefield
A temporary move now will preserve the threatened legacy of an iconic event in America's story
In the public's imagination, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and the event it memorializes are icons of American history. But 135 years after the clash between the U.S. Army and Northern Plains Indian tribes, the ravages of time have caught up with the historical objects and documents in the park's collection. Decades of delay and inattention have jeopardized the collections of one of the most famous battlefields of the American West.
Cramped space, inappropriate storage conditions and seriously underfunded collection management endanger the battlefield museum collection and historical archives, which are among the most valuable and significant in the national park system. Precious treasures of Little Bighorn's heritage – Lt. Col. George A. Custer's uniforms, Sitting Bull's arrows, a tattered cavalry flag, ledger drawings of the battle – are only a fire, an unexpected flood or a burst water pipe away from ruin.
The monument and the National Park Service (NPS) have decided to protect the collections immediately by temporarily relocating them to a more secure NPS location for storage and preservation until the battlefield's pressing need for a new storage facility is addressed.
This temporary move to the NPS's Western Archeological and Conservation Center in Tucson, AZ will be completed by the end of the summer of 2011. The center, a state-of-the-art storage and conservation facility, will store the collections' combined 149,000 items in museum-standard conditions. Its staff of full-time conservators, archivists and curators will give these materials the professional attention necessary for preservation, cataloging and, where required, conservation treatment.
The monument and the NPS will renew efforts to build new facilities for the collection and archives – an approach called for since the park adopted its General Management Plan in 1986. This will require refocused discussion with park partners and the public, and will take a number of years to accomplish.
This page includes links to more information and background about the decision to relocate the Little Bighorn Battlefield collections:
♦ For a list of frequently asked questions about the collections and their temporary relocation, link to the FAQ Page.
♦ For a brochure explaining the need for the collection's protection and the search for a solution, click here--"Protecting the Precious Legacy."
♦ For the news release announcing the move, click here; News Release March 29, 2011
♦ For a brochure about key monument management issues, including collection storage, that were examined in Little Bighorn Battlefield's recent "public engagement" process, click here; Key Management Issues. We understand how important the Little Bighorn museum collection and archives are to the people of Montana, historians and the tribes associated with the battlefield. Every step we take in this process, including the necessary decision to move the collections temporarily, is for the sake of preserving these invaluable records and objects for their return home to the battlefield. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument remains a living memorial. Its museum, archives and library collections are at the heart of telling and explaining the story of the battlefield, the events of June 25, 1876, and the historic conflict between diverse American cultures on the 19th-century western frontier. This relocation, and a renewed and visible push to give these priceless collections the battlefield home they deserve, carry the promise that the story will be told more effectively for generations to come.
To read a "guest opinion" essay in the Billings (MT) Gazette by the monument superintendent about how the collections will be protected and returned to Little Bighorn, click here Superintendent "op-ed"
♦ To read a Billings Gazette editorial in support of a renewed effort to build a new visitor center and home for the collections, click here – Little Bighorn editorial