Big Hole National Battlefield Park
Big Hole National Battlefield is a memorial to the people who fought and died here on August 9 and 10, 1877, combatants in a five-month conflict that came to be called the Nez Perce War of 1877. Like other Indian Wars in the late 1800's, the Nez Perce War involved two very different groups with very different outlooks on land rights, civilian authority, government powers, social organization, and the responsibilities of the individuals to society.
In 1877, about 750 non-treaty Nez Perce fled Idaho in the face of demands from the U.S. Army that all Nez Perce move onto a reservation a fraction from the size of their traditional homeland. The Army was enforcing a national policy of placing all American Indians on reservations to make way for the westward expansion of the young United States.
In early August, the non-treaty Nez Perce camped for several days along the North Fork of the Big Hole River. They knew they had crossed into Montana Territory, and believed they were safe from further pursuit. Just before daybreak on August 9, 1877, military forces attacked them as they rested after six weeks of conflict and flight.
Although the soldiers and civilian volunteers attacked the village while most of the Nez Perce slept, the warriors quickly mounted a resistance and drove the military men to retreat to a wooded hill nearby. The soldiers dug trenches for protection, but the Nez Perce warriors surrounded the fortified hill and held the soldiers there. Meanwhile, the older men, women and children in the camp buried the dead and fled again.
The Battle of the Big Hole lasted less than 36 hours, yet casualties were dreadfully high. Between 60 and 90 Nez Perce men, women, and children were killed, most in the initial attack on the sleeping camp. How many Nez Perce were wounded in the battle is impossible to say, but the number is doubtlessly high. Twenty-two soldiers, a civilian guide, and five civilian volunteers were killed, and 39 more were severely wounded.
From the Big Hole, the Nez Perce continued to flee from the military, traveling east through Yellowstone National Park, then turning northward and moving toward the Canadian border. There were several skirmishes and encounters with federal troops in the weeks that followed the Battle of the Big Hole, but it wasn't until early October that the U.S. Army finally succeeded in forcing most of the non-treaty Nez Perce to surrender. About 150 escaped into Canada.
Most of the military men and civilian volunteers who fought at the Big Hole returned to their posts or homes in Western Montana. General Howard, the officer with primary responsibility for the Nez Perce Campaign, arrived from Idaho with his troops to take up the chase just two days after the miliary defeat here.
Big Hole National Battlefield is located ten miles west of Wisdom, Montana, on state highway 43. From I-15 at Dillon, Montana, take highway 287 northwest to Wisdom, then highway 43, ten miles west. From I-15 at Divide, take route 43 west through Wisdom to Battlefield. From Missoula, Montana, take state route 93 south through the Bitterroot Valley to Lost Trail Pass. Turn east on highway 43 and drive 17 miles to the battlefield.
To Park: Big Hole National Battlefield is approximately 75 miles southwest of Butte, Montana, and about 110 miles southeast of Missoula, Montana. There is no public transportation to the park.
Seasons and Hours:
Daily, summer: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; daily winter: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed November 24, December 25 and January 1.
Fees, Costs, Rates:
Summertime only: two dollars per person or four dollars per family. Golden Age, Golden Access and Golden Eagle Passes will be honored.
Climate, Recommended Clothing:
Summers are generally cool and breezy, with impressive mosquito populations in June and early July. Summer thunderstorms are not uncommon. Winters are frigid with deep snow. Bug repellent is necessary in early summer, and layers of warm clothing required in winter.
Facilities and Opportunities
See the visitor center, exhibits of Nez Perce, military clothing and equipment, introductory films and area information.
The Nez Perce camp trail leads 1.2 miles round-trip, to the site where the Nez Perce were camped and attacked by United States Army soldiers and civilian volunteers on the night of August 9, 1887.
The Siege Trail leads 1 mile round-trip, to the area where the soldiers and volunteers were held under siege by Nez Perce warriors.
Regularly scheduled ranger guided tours are available daily, in the summer. Educational programs for schools are given throughout the school year. Other groups are welcome and will be accommodated as staffing permits. Reservations for school programs and other group tours required.
Lodging and Camping facilities:
None in the park. Camping is available at several United States Forest Service campgrounds within 20 miles; two small motels offer rooms in Wisdom. More accommodations are available in Jackson, at Lost Trail Pass, Dillon, Butte, Hamilton and Missoula.
The visitor center, restrooms and picnic area are accessible. The trails may be accessible to wheelchair users with help. They are packed earth and can be muddy in spring.
Reservations for school groups and other groups should be made three weeks prior to your visit. Filming permits are arranged on an individual basis. For additional information concerning reservations or filming permits, call (406) 689- 3155.
P.O. Box 237
Wisdom, MT 59761
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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