Friends of Bear Paw, Big Hole & Canyon Creek Battlefields

Battle of Canyon Creek Photo Tour, by Bob Reece

Benteen Makes His Charge

A very special thanks to Friends member James Thorn for providing all photos.

To the left of Merrill Ridge was better ground for a cavalry to make its charge. Benteen approached Sturgis with the idea of moving his troops over that ground toward the mouth of the canyon to intercept and capture the pony herd. He was willing to gamble that his troops could reach the canyon before the main body of Nez Perce. Sturgis liked the plan and so ordered, while Merrill’s troops should mount up and move to the north/northwest in support of Benteen from the Nez Perce sharpshooters quickly establishing themselves on buttes overlooking the Canyon Creek area. So began the second phase of the Battle of Canyon Creek.

Area 5, View SE/S: Benteen held in reserve along this area of Merrill Ridge while Merrill’s troops engaged the warriors.



Area 4, View SE/S: Benteen leading Companies G and M descended Merrill Ridge in this general area and then charged north, following close or along the current Buffalo Trail Road, where James Thorn snapped these photos.



Area 5, View SE/S: Plowed farmland now covers the area where Benteen’s battalion made its charge from Merrill Ridge, which is seen in the distance.


Area B, View S: The wayside exhibit was behind Mr. Thorn when he snapped this photo. Calamity Jane Horse Cache is the butte at right. Open plain is area of Benteen’s charge. On horizon is west side of Merrill Ridge. Lipp Road seen at bottom.

That error we noted earlier of Sturgis dismounting and forming the skirmish line now glaringly rises. In its move forward down the northeast face of the ridge and about three miles of flushing out the Nez Perce warriors, the skirmish line became widely separated from the horse holders. Not only spatial, but moving about three miles over rough terrain while fighting took a physical toll on the soldiers, so it took longer than hoped for the cavalrymen to remount and make their move in support of Benteen. That delay gave the warriors all the time they needed to reestablish new positions on the bluffs north and southwest of Canyon Creek.

Meanwhile, Benteen crossed to the north side of Canyon Creek, but snipers from higher ground put a stop to his plan. The fast skirmish that followed, with another effective Nez Perce rearguard, resolved Benteen to pull his troops back to the south side of the creek. He had little choice, as there was still no sign of Sturgis and the support as planned. One can only wonder if Benteen experienced fleeting memoires of Reno’s experience in the valley of the Little Bighorn, just a year before, as he waited for Custer to come to his aid while under constant attack from the Lakota and Cheyenne.

There was one brief moment of optimism when the Crow scouts managed to capture a large number of the Nez Perce horses. It quickly faded, however, into more frustration as Benteen’s battalion observed most of the Nez Perce pony herd enter the mouth of the canyon. All signs were in favor of the Nez Perce making a great escape.

Area 7, View E: This wide open plain east of the mouth of Canyon Creek is the area the Nez Perce people and their pony herd passed through to escape into the canyon’s mouth.


Area 6, View E: Bluffs north of Canyon Creek.


Area B, View N: Bluffs north of Canyon Creek. Warriors positioned themselves for sniper fire upon Benteen’s troops.


Area 7, View NW: Another view of the bluffs north of Canyon Creek. The wayside exhibit is seen at center.


One of the wayside exhibits depicts Nez Perce warriors positioned on the northern bluffs with Benteen’s Battalion approaching as the horse herd just makes it inside the mouth of the canyon.


Area B, View SW: The rather daunting Calamity Jane Horse Cache butte provided plenty of sniper nests for Nez Perce sharpshooters to buy time for their people making for the protective canyon walls.


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