About

It is a Good Day to (Re)Live Little Big Man:
The Movie and 50 Years of Changing Perspectives
about Indian Wars in the American West

Brief Project Summary Description

Background of the Project:

Little Big Horn College (LBHC) requested (and received) grant funding from the National Park Service (NPS) American Battlefield Protection Program Preservation Planning Grants to hold a symposium about the film in relation to both the Little Bighorn Battlefield and the indigenous people who participated in the filming of the movie. LBHC is a tribally chartered two-year college on the Crow reservation located three miles from the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

The year 2020 marked 50 years since the movie Little Big Man (directed by Arthur Penn and starring Dustin Hoffman) was released on December 23, 1970. It was a movie much of which was made in Montana. It had an impact both locally and nationally. It was the second highest grossing film of 1971. In 2014, Little Big Man was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Originally, LBHC planned to hold the symposium in 2020 in the 50th anniversary year of the film’s release. However, COVID 19 made this impossible.

Local Making of the Movie:

The movie was an event in which many Native people took part. Members of the Crow community played a prominent role in the filming of battle scenes at Medicine Tail Coulee on the reservation. There are living participants who can give first-hand accounts and perspectives. It is popular and four generations of Crow still view it, vividly recall the participation of themselves or their relatives, joke and tease at recognition of the actors, scenes, dialogue and talk about the many dimensions of the movie.

Significance of the Book and the Film in Its Times:

Little Big Man was based on the 1964 novel of the same name by Thomas Berger. It is a satire, a parody of the western genre, especially of the American myth of the frontier. It had an impact on the public's view of American history, especially of Plains Indian culture, the Little Big Horn battle and Custer (including the historical roles of the Crow, Cheyenne, and Lakota).

The movie is a reflection of the times -- the 60s and 70s -- and was a product of that ferment and revisionist history. Many reviewers considered it a Vietnam protest film and it was viewed as a counter to the trope of the traditional western film. Based upon the 1964 novel of the same name, of extreme importance is the primary role indigenous people played in the film particularly in relation to the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Little Big Man was a groundbreaking film upon its release in 1970. The movie is deserving of recall, analysis and discussion of the symbolism of the movie; the historical accuracy or lack thereof; the historic, mythical, and symbolic person of George Armstrong Custer as portrayed in the film; the impact locally and nationally; stories from participation of Native Americans in the filming, and field trips to filming sites.

Research, Oral Histories and Exhibit:

Beyond the symposium itself, LBHC staff will conduct original off-site research regarding the film in Hollywood and conduct oral history interviews with the Crow community about their participation in the filming of the movie. These oral histories and off-site research would go beyond what would be presented during the symposium. The symposium will also include an exhibit that brings in the archival research and community based materials.

Symposium:

A major purpose of the symposium is discussion to exchange interpretations and to enlarge understanding of the Little Bighorn Battlefield and other events which occurred on and near it from “contemporary” and Native American tribal perspectives.

The three-day symposium will provide a variety of scholarly research, remembrances of those who participated in the filming of the movie, and the perceptions of younger viewers of the film. Meaning and memory if you will. Some of the proposed topics for the Symposium include the following:

There will be an on-site field trip to a site where filming took place on the reservation and which is part of the historic battlefield itself, Medicine Tail Coulee. The symposium itself will take place in Hardin, Montana at the middle school auditorium and movie theatre. Hardin is located fifteen miles from the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Amenities will be provided for those attending.

To this day, the filming of Little Big Man is an important moment to the Crow community and the symposium will provide scholarly perspectives and local remembrances of the movie’s filming and its continued significance to the western film genre and sites including the Little Bighorn Battlefield.