Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Big Hole National Battlefield Monument

 In the summer of 1877 five bands of Nez Perce Indians consisting of 800 people, including 250 warriors, began a 1,170 mile journey from northeastern Oregon and central Idaho over the Bitterroot Mountains and through the Montana Territory. Though they were herding more than 2,000 horses and carrying whatever possessions they could manage, the Nez Perce made this long and difficult trek in less than four months. United States Army troops under General Oliver O. Howard had orders to place these five bands of Nez Perce on a small reservation in central Idaho. The Nez Perce had hoped to elude the soldiers, but they were forced to stop and face their pursuers several times. The battle with the highest number of casualties during this epic odyssey took place in the Big Hole Valley of southwestern Montana. The Battle of the Big Hole was a tragic turning point of what came to be called the Nez Perce War of 1877. The view above is from the visitor center, looking down on the battlefield. Teepee poles can be seen in the same spot where the original encampment was placed.

 We took the trails leading to several points in the battle. From this viewpoint we could look down on the entire valley.

 The soldiers attacked from the forested hillside, here showing the bushes and trees growing along a winding creek.

 A monument has been erected telling the names and numbers of soldiers lost in the battle. The army, under the control of General Howard, conducted a sneak attack on the sleeping Indians early in the morning. 60 to 90 members of the tribe were killed, mostly women, children and the elderly. The warriors quickly launched a counter attack where 29 soldiers were killed and 40 wounded. In a military sense, the Nez Perce won the battle, but had to continue to flee.

 We were tired from our hike on the hillside, but we absolutely had to take the trail leading out to the Indian encampment on the valley floor. Imagine our shock and surprise when this majestic moose crossed our path right in front of us. I barely got the camera turned on in time! We sneaked around the bush to see where he'd gone and found him looking at us. I snapped another photo before he gracefully leaped away into the bushes. I remembered the sign at the beginning of the trail warning us to stay away from any wild animals we might encounter! We had gotten a little closer than we should have, but it was the moose's doing, not ours!

 These teepee poles were erected in recent years by Native Americans honoring their dead. The entire valley is preserved as a burial ground, undisturbed and treated with the respect due to these tragically wronged peoples. (Click to enlarge.)

We could almost hear the wails and the cries of the women, children and elders who were attacked without warning. Thunder and lightning surrounded us, adding to the spirit memories
of the long ago Nez Perce travelers. Some of the most heart-rending words I've ever read were spoken by Chief Joseph as part of his tribe escaped into Canada while he stayed behind caring for the weak and sick ones.
"I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed...It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death...My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."

No comments: