Monday, July 16, 2001 MISSOULIAN EDITORIAL
SUMMARY: Gettysburg wouldn't be meaningful without proper recognition of both sides in the conflict there; the same is true at Little Bighorn.
We can picture it in our minds: From a distance, it "appears to be an elemental landform, recalling the ancient earthworks found throughout the continent … a weeping wound or cut exists to signify the conflict of the two worlds. Two large adorned wooden posts straddle this gap and form a 'spirit gate' … to welcome the Cavalry dead and to symbolize the mutual understanding of the infinite all the dead possess."
That's the official design of the Indian Memorial at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. We can only picture it in our minds because it hasn't yet been built - a full decade after Congress authorized its construction.
But there's progress. A line item in the appropriations bill working its way through the U.S. Senate would provide $2.3 million to create the monument. This is something Montana's congressional delegation has worked doggedly to accomplish. But the monument isn't just for Montana. And it isn't just for Indians. The Indian Memorial will complete one of the most important historic sites in the West, a site of great cultural importance to all Americans.
The battlefield is, of course, where members of the 7th Cavalry, led by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer rode into a disastrous fight with warriors of the Cheyenne, Sioux and Arapaho nations June 25, 1876. Long called the Custer Battlefield, the national monument was renamed the Little Bighorn Battlefield in 1991 to better reflect the conflict and history.
Across the country, at another hallowed American battlefield called Gettysburg, there are ample reminders of both the Blue and Gray who fought and died there. One is a marker at the terminus of the South's last, desperate attempt to overrun the North's lines. It's known as the "high-water mark of the Confederacy," and it's a hugely important milestone in American history.
The battle near the Little Bighorn River might well be described as the high-water mark for the Plains Indians attempting to defend their homeland and way of life threatened by America's westward expansion. It, too, is a hugely important milestone in our nation's history, and it deserves a proper memorial.