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The Story of the Indian Memorial
By Bob Reece
Donlin Many Bad Horses at future site of the Memorial
Photo © Rodney Bridgers
Seventy-Six years ago a letter was sent to the U.S. Department of the Army from Mrs. Thomas Beaverheart. She requested that markers be dedicated to the fallen warriors on the Little Bighorn Battlefield so that, “the place might be remembered on the next anniversary.” She never received a reply.
Over the decades, similar requests followed but all fell silent. They were either ignored or false promises were given.
Frustrated by this seeming lack of concern, Russell Means led a contingent from the American Indian Movement to the battlefield on June 25, 1988. On Last Stand Hill, they dug into the soldier's mass grave and placed a makeshift plaque which was their representation of a memorial to the Indian warriors. At that moment, both Neil and I were acting as guides on two buses loaded with folks following Custer’s trail up the Rosebud. We arrived at the battlefield about an hour after the demonstration was finished and Russell Means long gone. We looked upon the plaque and wondered if this day would drive the necessary forces to finally make a change.
It did. Within three years President George H. Bush signed into law the bill that would change the name of the battlefield from the Custer Battlefield National Monument to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. The bill stated, “The public interest will best be served by establishing a memorial…to honor and recognize the Indians who fought to preserve their land and culture.”
The estimated cost to build the Memorial was $2.3M. Where would this money come from? The 7th Cavalry Monument that stands on Last Stand Hill cost $500 in 1881. That was a lot of money back then, too.
Attempts were made in good faith to raise the funds for the Indian Memorial, but time dragged on with no success.
In March of 1998, Neil Mangum came on board as the battlefield superintendent. He and I sat on a committee with the National Park Foundation whose purpose was to design a plan to raise the funds. Even though a plan was soon in place, the money barely trickled in.
With determination and resolve, Neil met with U.S. Senator Burns of Montana while in Washington D.C. on business in February 2001. Neil basically reminded Senator Burns that 10 years after President Bush signed the bill, there was still NO memorial. Something needed to be done.
Following this meeting, Senator Burns ensured $2.3 million was included in the Department of Interior’s appropriation bill for construction and maintenance of the Indian Memorial. The bill passed through committee and approved on the floors of the House and Senate in September 2001. Ironically, it would be President Bush’s son, George W. Bush, who would now sign the bill that approved the funds to build the Memorial.
We all can give Mr. Mangum credit and thanks for his resolve in seeing this through after a long 125 years.
View photos of the construction of the Memorial.
"The time has come to give equal honor to the Indian people who've been denied that for so long" U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Northern Cheyenne)
"We want a place where the Native descendants can feel welcome and believe one's people had done a courageous and good thing..." Arthur Amiotte (Oglala Lakota), Memorial Advisory Committee
Copyright 1999-2013 Bob Reece
Friends Little Bighorn Battlefield, P.O. Box 636, Crow Agency, MT 59022