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Montana Attractions
Big Hole National Battlefield
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
Big Hole Battle Field (photo provided by NPS)

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 1992, legislation incorporated Big Hole National Battlefield with Nez Perce National Historical Park, making it part of a unique park consisting of 38 different sites located in five states; Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Two Visitor Centers service the park, one at Spalding, Idaho, 11 miles east of Lewiston, and the other at Big Hole National Battlefield, 10 miles west of Wisdom, Montana. Both facilities are staffed year around by uniformed personnel who can answer your questions about the local area, the Nez Perce People and the War of 1877. Movies, museum exhibits, and guided tours are available at both facilities covering a variety of topics on the Nez Perce Culture and History. Although there is no Visitor Center at Bear Paw Battlefield located in Chinook, Montana, there is a nice display and video on the battle at the Blaine County Museum in Chinook.

In 1877, about 750 non-treaty Nez Perce fled Idaho in the face of demands from the US 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 US 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 military defeat here.

Information provided by National Park Service  We greatly appreciate their information.


Wisdom Montana Weather

Area Attractions

Big Hole National Battlefield

Bannock State Park

Area Map


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.



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