With the exception of Gettysburg, no other US battle has gripped the American imagination like the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876, the biggest defeat of US forces by Native Americans in the West and the scene of the much mythologized “Custer’s Last Stand”. Once seen as a tragic hero, Custer is better known today for a series of blunders leading up to the battle, and the decisive Indian victory – of combined Arapaho, Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors – helped shape the legends of leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse (see Custer’s Last Stand).
The monument is located on the current Crow Indian Reservation in the Little Bighorn Valley, and you can trace the course of the battle on a self-guided driving tour through the grasslands, between the visitor centre and Last Stand Hill itself, and the Reno-Benteen Battlefield five miles away – there are also several hiking trails. What makes Little Bighorn so unique is that the landscape has remained virtually unchanged since 1876; equally unusual, white headstone markers show where each cavalryman was killed (Custer himself was re-buried in 1877 at the West Point Military Academy in New York state), while red granite markers do the same for Native American warriors, making for an extremely evocative experience. The visitor centre only contains a small exhibit on the battle, so to get the most out of the site listen to a ranger talk or take a free ranger tour; there are also fascinating hour-long bus tours with Crow-operated Apsaalooke Tours, and you can also use your phone to access audio tour commentary.