One of the most famous battles in U.S. history, Custer's Last Stand, was one of the last major fights in the Plains Indian wars. On your next visit to Montana, use this guide to explore Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, where you can learn more about the historic battle and its national significance.
At Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, travelers come from far and wide to pay homage to one of the most iconic battles in American history. This site in a southern Montana field is where a large band of American Indians battled members of the U.S. Army in June 1876, in a last-ditch effort to preserve their way of life. In his last skirmish against the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer lost his life along with 261 additional army soldiers.
As one of the last major battles in the Plains Indian wars, it’s the most studied battle in U.S. military history. Steeped in controversy, it has been viewed as both a symbol of Custer’s heroism in the face of hopeless odds and a symbol of Native American determination against oppressive forces. The battle has inspired more than 5,000 books, movies, and other types of media, and the historical site in Crow Agency, Montana, receives visits from more than 300,000 people every year.
Visitor’s Center and Museum
At the wheelchair-accessible visitors’ center and museum, history buffs can explore exhibits that include some of Custer’s personal effects, ranging from notebooks and uniforms to firearms and weapons. A half-hour talk, narrated by a ranger, provides more details about the battle’s history and the way of life of the Plains Indians, and a documentary film titled “Triumph and Tragedy Along the Little Bighorn” is available on request.
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, visitors can sign up for scheduled ranger programs or short bus tours of the battlefield conducted by native American guides. Every Memorial Day, a special ceremony is held at Custer National Cemetery.
Custer National Cemetery
Located adjacent to the visitors’ center and museum, Custer National Cemetery contains the gravesites of more than 4,000 men and women who died not just at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but also in the Korean, Vietnam, and both World Wars. Both known and unknown veterans rest in graves marked by rows of white tombstones. It may be possible to locate gravesites of known individuals online.
A drivable, 4.5-mile tour road connects two separate battlefields — Last Stand Hill and Reno-Benteen Battlefield — where part of the battle was fought. To experience the narrative story, including a play-by-play of soldier movements and Native American warrior accounts, visitors can purchase an audio guide that features multiple stops along the way. There is also the option to take a self-guided tour.
Last Stand Hill
Custer’s body was found at Last Stand Hill, which is now the site of a granite memorial. At its base, visitors can see white marble markers for the original gravesites where the soldiers and attached personnel of the 7th Cavalry fell and were buried. Custer was also buried onsite before his remains were exhumed and transported to West Point Cemetery in Highlands, New York.
7th U.S. Cavalry Memorial and Peace Through Unity Indian Memorial
The towering stone monolith known as the 7th U.S. Cavalry Memorial was built in 1881 and dedicated to the 263 troops and attached personnel who died in the battle.
The nearby circular Peace Through Unity Indian Memorial, unveiled in 2003, is dedicated to the Native American fighters and tribal women involved in the battle, as well as the Crow and Arikara scouts who served with the U.S. Army and stood against their more powerful enemy tribes. It’s the first tribute honoring the Native Americans who struggled to preserve and defend their sacred land, culture, and traditional way of life.
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