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Big Hole National Battlefield

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Title: Big Hole National Battlefield  
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Subject: Nez Perce tribe, Nez Perce War, Nez Perce National Historical Park, Cooney State Park, Lake Elmo State Park
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Big Hole National Battlefield

Big Hole National Battlefield
IUCN category V (protected landscape/seascape)
Map showing the location of Big Hole National Battlefield
Map showing the location of Big Hole National Battlefield
Location Beaverhead County, Montana, USA
Nearest city Dillon, MT
Area 1,010 acres (409 ha)[1]
Established 1883 (1883)
Visitors 36,290 (in 2011)[2]
Governing body National Park Service

Big Hole National Battlefield preserves a Nez Perce War battlefield located in Montana, United States. The Nez Percé fought a delaying action against the 7th Infantry Regiment (United States) here on August 9 and 10, 1877, during their failed attempt to escape to Canada. This action, the Battle of the Big Hole, was the largest battle fought between the Nez Percé and U.S. Government forces in the five-month conflict known as the Nez Perce War. In 1992 the park was made a part of Nez Perce National Historical Park, which consists of 38 separate locations in five different states, following the flight of the Nez Percé tribe from the U.S. Cavalry.

Big Hole National Battlefield is located on 1,010.61 acres (409 ha)[1] (including 355 acres/144 ha privately held),[1] 10 miles (16 km) west of Wisdom, Montana on Montana state highway 43. A year-round visitor center is located in the park.


Big Hole Battlefield

The Nez Perce homeland territory was in the states now known as Oregon, Washington and Idaho. In 1873, Chief Joseph negotiated with the federal government to ensure his people could stay on their land in the Wallowa Valley as stipulated in 1855 and 1863 land treaties with the U.S. government. But, in a reversal of policy in 1877, General Oliver O. Howard threatened to attack if the Indians did not relocate to an Idaho reservation that was only a small fraction of their original territory. Chief Joseph reluctantly agreed. As they began their journey to Idaho, Chief Joseph learned that three young Nez Percé men, enraged at the loss of their homeland, had massacred a band of white settlers. Fearing U.S. Army retaliation, Chief Joseph decided that the best way to avoid the official U.S. Government policy of forcing Native Americans onto reservations was to escape to Canada, where he believed that his people would be treated differently and they could unite with Sitting Bull, leader of a band of Lakota there.

Six weeks after leaving their homeland, U.S. Army forces performed a predawn attack on the 800 men, women and children encamped at Big Hole. The Nez Perce mounted a fierce resistance and managed to overwhelm the attacking force, cornering them on a hillside. Meanwhile, the women and children fled the battlefield after burying their dead. During the day and a half battle, the Nez Perce lost an estimated 60 to 90 men, women and children, although it is believed that actual losses may have been much higher with a good portion being women and children. U.S. forces lost 28 and an additional 40 serious casualties. The confrontation was the most violent battle between the Nez Perce and the U.S. Government forces. After the battle the Nez Perce fled east through Yellowstone National Park, then headed north. In October 1877, only 40 miles (64 km) from the Canadian border in Montana's Bear Paw Mountains, the starving and exhausted Nez Percé surrendered to the U.S. Forces commanded by General Oliver O. Howard. Approximately 150 Nez Perce had managed to escape to Canada prior to the surrender. Upon the final surrender by Chief Joseph he was quoted as saying, "Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever". The actual speech was much longer.

Administrative history

The site was established as a Military Preserve in 1883, and designated a National Monument on June 23, 1910. It was redesignated a National Battlefield on May 17, 1963. The trail system was designated as a National Recreation Trail in 1977. As with all historic areas administered by the National Park Service, the battlefield was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.[3]


  1. ^ a b c "Listing of acreage as of December 31, 2011". Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-05-14. 
  2. ^ "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-05-14. 
  3. ^ "MONTANA - Beaverhead County". National Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 2007-04-18. 


  • The National Parks: Index 2001–2003. Washington: U.S. Department of the Interior.
  • Theodore Catton; Ann Hubber (1999). "Commemoration and Preservation: An Administrative History of Big Hole National Battlefield". National Park Service. 
  • Aubrey Haines (1968). "Historical Research Management Plan for Big Hole National Battlefield and Bibliography of Nez Perce War, 1877". National Park Service. 
  • Douglas D. Scott (1994). "A Sharp Litte Affair-Archeology of the Big Hole Battlefield". Reprints in Archeology. 

External links

Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

  • National Park Service. "Big Hole National Battlefield". U.S. Department of the Interior. Archived from the original on 16 June 2006. Retrieved 2006-06-29. 
  • Reece, Bob. "Friends of Bear Paw, Big Hole & Canyon Creek Battlefields". Archived from the original on 15 June 2006. Retrieved 2006-06-29. 
  • "Map of Nez Perce Homeland and Trail". Archived from the original on 2006-08-20. Retrieved 2006-06-29. 
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