Battle of Bear Paw Montana

Battle of Bear Paw

Chronology of Events - 1877

September 23: Nez Perce cross Missouri River at Cow Island

September 24/25: General Miles’ forces cross Missouri River near the mouth of Squaw Ck about 70 miles east of Cow Island

September 29: Nez Perce arrive at Bear Paw, while Miles camps 12 miles southeast

September 30: Miles: Breaks camp in pre-dawn; Discovers NP trail about 8 a.m.; Attacks about 10 a.m.

Nez Perce discovers approaching the military about 9 a.m.

Nez Perce repel four direct assaults

2nd Cavalry and Cheyenne/Sioux scouts take Nez Perce horse herd

Miles decides to lay siege to the camp

Approx. 200 Nez Perce escape to Canada early in the battle, and 430 remain in camp

October 1: Joseph was taken prisoner under the flag of truce

Lt. Jerome was taken prisoner by Nez Perce

October 2: Prisoner exchange. Looking Glass killed by a sniper

October 4: Woman and child killed by cannon fired into shelter area (Yellow Wolf’s date)

Howard arrives with an escort,, and two “treaty Nez Perce” (about 30 total)

October 5: Nez Perce meet in council with “treaty Nez Perce”; Joseph’s speech delivered there

White Bird refuses to surrender; Joseph “quits the fight” at 2 p.m. with a short speech

Undercover of darkness White Bird and about 30 others escape to Canada

October 6/7: Prepare and then leave for Fort Keogh on the Yellowstone River

Why Did The Nez Perce Stop?

They were exhausted and short on supplies. The area provided time to gather food and rest. They were unaware of Miles. They expected to rest a couple of days before continuing on to Fort Walsh, Canada.

Who were the principal participants & leaders?

Nez Perce's “leadership” was through a council of equals. The weight of character and strength of argument determined leadership which was fluid. Primary leaders included Husis Kut (Wawawai Band), Heinmot Tooyalakeket (or Joseph of Wallowa Band), Alalymya Takaniin (or Looking Glass of Alpolwai Band), Peopeo Kiskiok Hihih (or White Bird of Lamtama Band), Tuhuulhuuthulsuit (Pikunan Band), and Lean Elk. Col. Nelson A Miles was in command of the military including elements of the 2nd (Co G, H, F) & 7th (Co A, D, K) Cavalry and 5th Infantry (Co B, C, D, F, G, 1, K) and Cheyenne and Sioux Scouts. Upon General Oliver 0. Howard’s arrival command remained with Miles.

How do we know what happened here?

Nez Perce oral and written traditions, much of it recorded by L.V. McWhorter. Also, numerous military and civilian records provide information.

What are the “survey markers” on the battlefield?

In the 1920s & 30s, L.V. McWhorter recorded much of the Nez Perce story. He walked the battlefield with Nez Perce survivors including Chief Many Wounds & White Hawk. As the story was told, markers identified the location of events. In 1936, McWhorter requested county surveyor C.R. Noyes to record the story on a survey map. This was done with some stakes replaced and added. In 1963, Noyes, his sons, and the Chinook Lions Club replaced all wooden markers with the metal markers now seen using the survey map as a reference.

What is the caged area on the hill above the camp?

The Nez Perce Monument was placed in the 1920s by L.V. McWhorter and others to honor those who suffered at this site. Locally it is referred to as the Looking Glass Monument because of its proximity to the rifle pit in which Looking Glass was killed. The concrete bust of an “Indian in headdress” capped the concrete post. Because of potential damage, the headpiece is in the NPS office in Chinook. This and one at Big Hole are two of the five original placed along the Nez Perce Trail.

What happened at Death’s Point of Rocks?

During the battle on Sept 30, Chief Tuhhuulhuulhutsuit and seven other warriors were attempting to re-enter the main camp area and the main battle. They were caught in the rocky outcrop. To the west were the 2nd Cavalry, and Cheyenne and Sioux scouts. Unable to find a defensible position, the seven warriors were caught in the open. Six died in battle while the wounded Eagle Necklace Jr and Tamyahnin entered the main camp.

What was the location and role of Cannons?

Miles had a large twelve-pound Napoleon Cannon and a smaller Hotchkiss Rifle. The Napoleon was located on the prairie west of the highway (now private property). The Hotchkiss was placed on the high point above Snake Creek, south of the picnic shelter. It is reported that both weapons were used to fire on the Nez Perce camp to keep morale down and force an early surrender.

Reprinted from National Park Service brochure.

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