Park Service to move Little Bighorn records to Arizona

Billings, Montana (AP) April 2011

National Park Service officials said they will move thousands of historic objects and records from Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument to a storage facility in Tucson, Ariz.

Battlefield Superintendent Kate Hammond said the move is temporary until a more secure and permanent repository is established at the battlefield. The collection of more than 149,000 records and artifacts, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer’s uniforms and Sitting Bull’s arrows, are now in the basement of the park’s 52-year-old visitor center – a location park officials say is substandard and puts the records at risk of deterioration, fire or flood.

“This temporary relocation will keep the collection together and available for researchers, in the best possible place for its protection and conservation until it can come home to a new museum facility,” Hammond said.

The move to the NPS’ Western Archaeological and Conservation Center will not include museum pieces and photographs already on display in the battlefield visitor center, and Hammond said in an interview with The Billings Gazette that even after the move, items from the collection will be rotated through the visitor center displays.

But the plan has met some opposition.

Former battlefield Superintendent Jim Court told the newspaper the Custer Battlefield Preservation Commission and the Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association, both of which he belongs to, have offered to pay to have the collection put in the new Big Horn County Museum to keep it close to the battlefield.

“If it goes to Tucson, it will never come back,” he said. “That’s the fear.”

Ground is expected to be broken on the county museum.

Meanwhile, the Crow Tribe has opposed the Park Service’s idea to build a new visitors’ center and expand the boundaries of the national monument. The tribe fears the expansion would erode its own land base.

The national monument is the site of the iconic June 25, 1876, clash between Custer’s 7th Cavalry and a coalition of Indian tribes, most of them Cheyenne and Sioux.