Fort Fizzle

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Fort Fizzle

Lolo ,Southwest Montana

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To block the Nez Perce from entering Montana, Captain Rawn, 7th Infantry, with thirty enlisted men and four officers from nearby Fort Missoula, entrenched themselves behind log breastworks in a small opening along the Lolo Creek drainage adjacent to the Lolo Trail. About 150 settlers joined the soldiers. The 750 Nez Perce, with their 1000+ horses, were camped about five miles to the west.

At a meeting of the Nez Perce chiefs and Army officers, the Nez Perce made four things very clear: they had no intention of molesting settlers or property; they wanted to travel in peace; they would not surrender their horses, arms and ammunition; and they were not ready to return to the hostile environment in Idaho.

“I had a talk with Chief’s Joseph, White Bird, and Looking Glass, who proposed if allowed to pass unmolested, to march peaceably through the Bitter Root Valley.” Captain Rawn.

Soon after the meeting, many settler volunteers returned home. Some reports say they were convinced that the Nez Perce wanted a peaceful trip through the valley.

“Others, at the sight of so many Indians…deserted,” said Corporal Loynes, 7th Infantry.

“Now could we see the Indians passing within sight of us. Of course they did not want us to see them, and we did not.” reported Corporal Loynes, 7th Infantry.

Captain Rawn had clear orders. He said the Nez Perce could not pass; however, the barricade failed when the Nez Perce, with their horses and possessions, climbed a steep ravine behind the ridge to the north and bypassed the soldiers. This maneuver earned White Bird the nickname of the “Indian Hannibal” and the previously unnamed barricade became a ridiculed “Fort Fizzle.”

“How easy any Indian force, whether seeking pillage or only escape, could pass around, through and by our untrained troops. So far as infantry goes, except to defend the larger towns or some fortified position, thereby are as useless as boys with popguns.” The Helena Daily Herald, July 30, 1877.

“The Indians were fagged out, their cayuses scarcely able to walk, and their cartridge belts almost empty. To let them go by was equivalent to giving them new horses, plenty of ammunition and ample provisions. It was in a word, breathing new life into a corpse.” Sergeant T. A. Sutherland, Volunteer aide-de-camp to General Howard.

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