Friends of Bear Paw, Big Hole & Canyon Creek Battlefields
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The Nez Perce Battles
Nez Perce country in the Northwest included the territory where Washington, Oregon, and Idaho join together. When the Treaty of 1863 decreased their lands to one-tenth its original size, some of the Nez Perce bands refused to agree and became known as “non-treaty” Nez Perce. Among them were Joseph and his band, located in the Wallowa Valley in Oregon. In 1877, a number of young warriors from Joseph’s band attacked settlements of people who had earlier killed members of their family. When the U.S. Army was sent to make a show of force, the Nez Perce drove them back, and the Nez Perce War of 1877 began.
Fearing retaliation, the non-treaty Nez Perce fled their homelands. They walked or rode and just kept moving in any way they could in order to reach safety. They initially hoped the Crow Indians, their hunting partners on the Plains, would give them shelter once they crossed the Rocky Mountains. When the Crows instead attacked them and stole horses, the last chance for the Nez Perce was flight into Canada where they might live with Sitting Bull’s Sioux.
Battle of Big Hole. Artistic rendering appeared in Harper's Weekly December 28, 1895
Yellowstone National Park
Traveling over 1,500 miles, through what would become the four states of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and finally Montana, the fugitive Nez Perce kept moving – they were determined to reach safety for themselves and their families. Their long journey took them through the newly established Yellowstone National Park where they encountered several groups of tourists. The journey lasted more than three months, across mountains, rivers, and prairies.
The Army and the Nez Perce
The U.S. Army, commanded by General Oliver O. Howard, pursued them most of the way until Colonel Nelson A. Miles took over the chase. There were many battles -- White Bird Canyon, Clearwater, Big Hole, Camas Meadows, and Canyon Creek. Through it all the Nez Perce pressed on until the journey came to its end in Montana's Bear Paw Mountains, 40 miles from the Canadian border.
Photos courtesy Bear Paw Battlefield