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Changing Faces Last Stand Hill

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By Neil Mangum

Webmaster's Note:  Mr. Mangum is a former superintendent of the Little Bighorn Battlefield and a current board member of Friends. "Changing Faces of Last Stand Hill" was a slide presentation given by Mr. Mangum at the Friends' second symposium -- "Little Bighorn: The Aftermath and Development of an American Icon" -- held on June 23, 2002. Mr. Mangum's presentation consisted of many great photos which document the changes on Last Stand Hill over the years. We present the photos here, many never before published until now. All photos courtesy of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument unless otherwise noted. A special thank you to John Doerner for gathering the photos.

Last Stand Hill and Battle Ridge


Last Stand Hill is remembered for some of the final moments in a battle between Custer’s 7th Cavalry and the Lakota and Cheyenne.  With an elevation of just over 3,000 feet, it can appear as tall as Mt Everest.

Unlike Everest, which seems to stand unchanged to time, Last Stand Hill is always changing. From its summit, monuments have come and gone along with various styles of fences and soldier markers.

This small hilltop has been photographed countless times over the years. What follows are some of the best photos that document the changes upon Last Stand Hill.


Photo by John H. Fouch, courtesy of Dr. James Brust


In 1877-1878, John Fouch photographed the earliest photos during his stint as post photographer at Ft. Keogh. His photo of the sun-bleached horse bones on Last Stand Hill still mesmerizes and shocks us today. If you look closely, you can see wooden stakes protruding from the earth; the first markers for unknown soldiers of the Custer Battalion.




Stanley Morrow captured one of the most recognized early photos of the battlefield during the spring of 1879. The scene revealed a battlefield of horror complete with human and horse remains still scattered over the area. A lone marker can be seen here that reads, “Unknown.” Most soldier markers remain that way today, but one. Marker 33, along today's Deep Ravine Trail, replaced "Unknown" with the name Mitch Bouyer. You can read more about this marker at Mitch Bouyer.





The late 1870s witnessed great changes to Last Stand Hill.  In 1879, Captain George Sanderson and soldiers from Ft. Custer (near present day Hardin, Montana) erected the first monument made of cordwood. The soldiers gathered the horse bones and placed them inside the monument. Afterwards, the battle site was a bit more presentable.


1879 -- Construction of the cordwood monument. Note: Horse bones are visible inside the monument.



Completed Cordwood Monument 1879


In July 1881, Lt. Charles F. Roe and Company C, 2nd Cavalry placed the 7th Cavalry Monument on top of Last Stand Hill. This is the same monument that still stands today. Transportation of this monument was, needless to say, monumental! Weighing about 18 tons, its three sections traveled by boat up the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes and then by land via railroad to Bismarck. A river steamer transported it up the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers to the mouth of the Big Horn River from where it traveled overland to Ft. Custer.

As the granite monument was erected, Roe's soldiers gathered as many of the remains of Custer's soldiers they could find and placed them inside a mass grave that still sits today below the 7th Cavalry monument.



2nd Lt. Charles F.  Roe



ca 1882 -– one of the earliest photos of the monument.


ca 1882 photo by D. F. Barry -– wooden stakes are easily seen



1882 photo by F. Jay Haynes-- Haynes is man standing left and man on right is Custer’s scout, Curley



 ca 1896 photo by Christian Barthelmess –-  A fence has been installed around the Monument. Visitors chipped away at the monument's surface for a keepsake. Notice the dog at lower left.


ca 1896 photo by Christian Barthelmess-- Similar shot to the one above. That dog sure liked posing for photos!



Date Unknown


In 1888, Last Stand Hill would undergo its most dramatic change even through today. Capt John French and soldiers of the 25th infantry from Ft. Custer transferred the remains of Fetterman’s soldiers from Ft. Phil Kearny to Last Stand Hill. French’s soldiers also replaced stakes to mark where Custer's unknown soldiers lay. They found four exposed remains and reburied them where they fell.


ca 1891 -– 7th Cavalry Monument and the Fetterman soldiers


In April 1890, Capt. Owen Sweet and soldiers of the 25th Infantry took 10 days to replace the wooden stakes with white marble markers that mark the locations where officers and soldiers of Custer’s command fell during the battle.


 ca 1894 photo by H.R. Locke -– notice the damage to the monument


 ca 1894 by H.R. Locke -– photo taken from the wagon road on Battle Ridge looking toward Last Stand Hill top center. Wooden Leg Hill can be seen at the far top right.



ca 1900 -– white marble markers. The wooden cross is for Custer. To its right is the marker for his brother, Tom Custer.



ca 1898 photo by Fred Miller -– Custer’s cross.


The 20th century brought many changes to Last Stand Hill and the battlefield. The Fetterman soldiers were reinterred in the National Cemetery. The U.S. Army graded the wagon road along Battle Ridge in 1938. 

The National Park Service (NPS) took over management from the U.S. Army in 1940. The NPS graveled the road in 1941 but gave it a modern surface in 1954 allowing the road to remain open the entire year. The first warrior markers made of red granite were placed along Battle Ridge on Memorial Day 1999 for the warriors Lame White Man and Noisy Walking.


ca 1920 -- Notice there is a fence around the Monument and the Fetterman soldiers



ca 1940 photo by Ken Roahen recent completion of the road -- photo shot from Calhoun Hill loop looking toward Last Stand Hill.


ca 1940 photo by Ken Roahen -- the Fetterman soldiers were buried in this section of the Custer National Cemetery



 ca 1940 photo by Ken Roahen or ca 1931 by Col. Moore



Just prior to W.W. II., horses killed during the battle and later buried were discovered on Last Stand Hill. This discovery came while in the process of laying pipe for the above-ground water tank. You can read more about this discovery on our website.


ca 1950s -– the water tank with planted trees in attempts to obscure it.



Water tank and Monument


1941 photo by Charles Belden -- pictured are Last Stand Hill, the water tank with the trees planted around it, the recently paved battlefield road, and the Custer National Cemetery with recently planted trees. The first row of headstones on the left in the cemetery are the Fetterman soldiers and Fort C.F. Smith Marker with path leading to it. The clump of trees at the top are next to the Stone House. Outside the frame of the photo above the Stone House is the original entrance to the battlefield. Please note the broad open basin in the center left of the photo and to the left of the road – this is the location of the current visitor center.


1951-52 construction of the visitor center and its parking lot. Part of the same project included the construction of the underground water tank adjacent to Last Stand Hill -- seen at top right.


The new museum and visitor center was dedicated on June 25, 1952.


June 25, 1952 -- The new visitor center is opened. Note trees around the water tank on Last Stand Hill



ca early 1950s -- Last Stand Hill is seen top left. The visitor center is top-left-center. The two-story building at bottom center is the Stone House. It was built in 1894 as the Superintendent’s home. It was recently converted to the White Swan Memorial Library which houses the Park Historian’s and Fees Collections offices.


During the 1950s the above ground water tank was replaced with a large 100K capacity underground water tank that is still operational today.



ca early 1960s -- construction of the underground water tank. Monument inside fence and makers of Last Stand Hill in the background.



ca early 1950s -- site of completed underground water tank


Eventually, the fence around the 7th Cavalry Monument was removed. On April 23, 2002 construction began for the first Indian Memorial placed on the battlefield. It stands 75 yards northeast of Last Stand Hill. Its dedication was held on June 25, 2003.



Construction of the Indian Memorial


We’ll make sure to cover future changes to Last Stand Hill here at the Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield’s website.

If you enjoyed this presentation, we hope that you would consider joining our organization.

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