Big Hole National Battlefield
Big Hole National Battlefield located in Wisdom Montana is the site of the Battle of Big Hole where the Nez Perce Indians fought against U.S. Cavalry forces on August 9, 1877. This particular battle was the largest fought between the Nez Perce and the United States Government during the Nez Perce War. The park became part of the Nez Perce Historical National Park in 1992. The park sits on 1,010 acres just outside of Wisdom, Montana. The visitor’s center is open year-round.
Backstory and Context
After a reversal in policy that took away the guarantee that Chief Joseph and his people (the Nez Perce Indians) could remain on their reservation in the Wallowa Valley, General Oliver O. Howard prepared to attack the Nez Perce Indians if they did not relocate from the Wallowa Valley to a reservation in Idaho that was a great deal smaller than the territory in the Wallowa Valley. Reluctantly, Chief Joseph began his peoples’ relocation; however, during the journey to Idaho, three Nez Perce Indians killed a group of white settlers due to being upset about being uprooted from their home territory. One Chief Joseph learned of the killings, he made the decision to escape to Canada instead of meeting retaliation from the U.S. Army. Chief Joseph believed his people would be better treated in Canada and also hoped he could join Sitting Bull there.
Six weeks later, U.S. forces planned their attack on the Nez Perce. The attack took place before dawn on August 9, 1877 on an estimated 800 men, women, and children of the Nez Perce as they camped at Big Hole. The Nez Perce were able to resist, allowing many to escape the violence. However, lives were still lost. 89 Indians were killed (mostly women and children), while U.S. forces suffered casualties as well, around 28 deaths and around 40 injured. The Nez Perce were defeated two months later during the Battle of the Bear Paw Mountains, bringing an end to their flee to Canada.