Beaverhead County


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Big Hole Battlefield

Big Hole Battlefield is located in Beaverhead County and is a National Battlefield Park

On August 9, 1877 the soldiers attacked a sleeping camp of Nez Perce.


The Nez Perce were led by Chief Joseph as he tried to lead them into Canada after the Battle of the Clearwater.  The Nez Perce traveled from Idaho into Montana through the Lolo Pass. 


They had a brief confrontation with the cavalry at Fort Fizzle on July 28 and then entered the Bitterroot Valley. 



Chief Joseph


Looking Glass

Looking Glass (a Nez Perce leader) promised the white settlers that they would pass through the valley without violence and did so. The Nez Perce had about 200 warriors and 550 women and children.



Meanwhile, Col John Gibbon left Fort Shaw with 161 officers and a howitzer gun and followed the trail of the Nez Perce.  He collected 45 civilian volunteers in the Bitterroot Valley.  His orders were no prisoners and no negotiations. 


They fired into the tipis as the Nez Perce were sleeping, killing many men, women and children.  The Native Americans fled, most leaving their weapons behind.  The howitzer was used for a very brief time with the warriors picking off the soldiers of the howitzer crew.



By this time some of the warriors picked up more rifles and ammunition that was abandoned. 


About 60 warriors under Ollokot (Chief Joseph's brother) held off the Cavalry with a sniper kind of situation.  Gibbon's troops held back thinking they were outnumbered. 


Meanwhile the women and children packed what they could, picked up the horses and moved south about 18 miles to Lake Creek with several warriors where they made some defensive works. 


They left behind about 20-30 Nez Perce sharpshooters to hold Gibbon's troops at bay until night on the 10th when they left to join the others at Lake Creek.




Col John Gibbons

Gibbons' men had no food or water and several men that were seriously wounded.  Several of the volunteers from Bitterroot Valley left that night. 


General Howard with an advance party of 29 cavalry men and 17 scouts from the Bannock tribe found Gibbons and his men. 


23 of Gibbons' soldiers and 6 of the civilian volunteers died, and 40 wounded (two of whom died later).  No exact estimate of the Nez Perce causalities exist but it was probably between 70 and 90 women, children and warriors.


The Nez Perce continued to flee, but the Army caught up with them again at Camas Meadow, Canyon Creek and Bear Paw.  Eventually the Nez Perce surrendered just 40 miles from the Canadian border.

During the night, Chief White Bird along with between 150 to 200 Nez Perce fled the Bears Paw Battlefield en route to Canada.

In-who-lise was included in this group. In-who-lise was very ill and had to be held in her saddle by another woman.

Together, they arrived at an Assiniboine camp where they were taken in. Many settled in the Pincher Creek area of the Alberta area.

Chief White Bird

Chief Joseph:  "Hear me, my Chiefs! My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."

Sources:  Friends of Bear Paw, Big Hole & Canyon Creek Battlefields; Big Hole National Battlefield, Montana;

In-Who-Lise, Attack at the Big Hole; Nez Pierce National Historic Trail

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This page was last updated on -08/10/2019


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