For years, the National Park Battle of the Little Big Horn has utilized the same small Visitor’s center; the space so cramped that many artifacts and historical items related to the Battle have been stored in Arizona, exhibit space severely limited in the current facility. Anniversary observations attended and conducted by the Tribes are currently held outdoors, as the current Visitor’s Center, constructed in 1952 is simply too small. In 2019, 241,000 visitors flocked to the popular historical site, the third most visited in Montana.
All that is set to change by 2024 when the National Park Service (NPS) plans to finish construction of a new Visitor’s Center and a related curation center. The 150th anniversary of the Battle is June 26, 2026, marking the date when a large contingent of warriors, principally Northern Cheyenne, Sioux and Arapaho decisively defeated the 7th Calvary during white western expansion and the accompanying Indian Wars, as the Tribes sought to preserve their homelands and traditional way of life.
October 1st, 2020, the National Park Foundation, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, NPS and Friends of the Little Big Horn Battlefield jointly announced that the Helmsley Trust has awarded a $4.5 million dollar grant to construct a new Visitor’s Center at the Battlefield. This will allow expanded educational and interpretive activities for all visitors said NPS sources in a press release. Specifically, “the New Visitor Center is a significant step forward to make tribal artifacts and their interpretation more accessible to Tribes and the public and to expand stories and perspectives about that multi-faceted history and legacy of the Battle of the Little Big Horn.”
Plans call for better protection of artifacts through improved temperature controls, a contemporary design blending with the landscape and new areas for interpretive and education programs.
Walter Panzezir, a trustee for the Helmsley commented “This is a significant site in American history with an amazing story to tell. The Center will preserve, protect and memorialize the …… world class artifact and documentation for future generations to come.”
“NPS is grateful to the Helmsley Charitable Trust for their transformative investment in the visitor experience at the Battlefield,” said National Park Foundation President and CEO Will Shalfroth. “We look forward to continued work with National, State, local and Tribal partners on this important project.”
Battlefield superintendent Wayne Challenar also noted that “tribal input was a critical component in the ongoing planning process which started nearly a decade ago and will continue throughout the process and will continue to play an important role as we construct the Visitor’s Center, focus on the curation facility and all the artifacts are returned.”
Former US Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne was instrumental in gaining the passage of federal legislation to change the name of the site from the Custer Battlefield to the Battle of the Little Big Horn in concert with the Tribes in the 1990s. “This is very good news,” he said. “I’m glad they can bring back the artifacts and historical material related to the Battle. It is important for America, but most important to our people.”
Dr. Richard Littlebear, President of the Northern Cheyenne Chief Dull Knife College concurred. “This is great news, especially for the educational community.”
(Clara Caufield can be reached at email@example.com)