Friends of Bear Paw, Big Hole & Canyon Creek Battlefields

Big Hole National Battlefield Commemorates the 136th Anniversary

The 136th anniversary of the Battle of the Big Hole was commemorated on August 10, 2013 at the battlefield outside Wisdom, Montana under an umbrella of blue and cloudy skies and under an atmosphere of peace and tranquility.

The attendees included Nez Perce tribal leaders and members, some of whom spoke about their long-standing traditions and rituals and of those venerated fellow tribesmen and family members who preceded them in life and who passed on to them their unique language and culture from centuries past.

The ceremony, lasting more two hours, involved a drum and chanting ritual, followed by a peace pipe smoking ritual held to promote harmony and unity among those present, Nez Perce and non-Nez Perce alike. Nez Perce horsemen, including two young girls, circled the gathering three times in homage of their traditions and in honor of those young girls who did not survive the battle and its aftermath.

The Battle of the Big Hole was also addressed, along with the heavy Nez Perce casualties. Those tribal members who spoke included former members of the United States military, including Nez Perce leaders, Horace Axtell, who served in the Army during World War II; Wilford Scott, who served in the Navy during Korea and Vietnam, as well as Army veteran Fermore Craig, Sr. They expressed their patriotic admiration to those who serve in the American military, asking military servicemen present to identify themselves, and two of such, who served in Vietnam and Desert Storm, were called forward to the front where they were honored to hold staffs festooned with eagle feathers during the course of the ceremony.

At least five National Park Service rangers were in attendance at the ceremony, including Big Hole Superintendent Steve Black and former Superintendent Tammy Degrosky and Nez Perce member, Bessie Blackeagle.

Also in attendance was Katherine Miles, a descendant of Colonel Nelson A. Miles, who accepted the surrender of Chief Joseph and his people at the Battle of the Bear Paw in October 1877. She stated that she was honored to be at the ceremony and spoke about the importance of unity and harmony among Nez Perce and non-Nez Perce alike.

Two representatives of our Friends organization were also present—Robert Luppi, the Friends President, and fellow Board member, Jim Thorn. Robert spoke to the gathering for a few short moments mentioning the participation of his two family members in the battle—Patrick Rogan and John McLennon of the 7th Infantry—and recounting that had they had been present at the ceremony today, they probably would have reached out to all the Nez Perce present in fraternity, good will, compassion and brotherhood. They were career soldiers who were called by orders to duty by the U.S. Government and they honored that duty as soldiers under the Indian policy established by the Government at the time. Robert mentioned that Rogan’s military service and the honoring of his military responsibilities spanned thirty years from the Civil War to the mid-1890’s while McLennon was the son of a career soldier who served with the Union army in the Civil War and had followed in his father’s footsteps as a 7th Infantry soldier.

The ceremony served well in the growing understanding of the Nez Perce plight in the Nez Perce War of 1877 and in the appreciation of their suffering and culture while also promoting reconciliation, harmony and unity among the Nez Perce and non-Nez Perce alike.

At the conclusion of the event, lunch was provided to all in attendance where memories and good fellowship were shared by all.

Below we present  a few photos of the events.  We hope you enjoy them.

Photos © Bob Luppi and Jim Thorn

 

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