Big Hole National Battlefield in the Big Hole Valley in Montana is a memorial to the people who fought and died there on August 9 & 10, 1877.
The Nez Perce tribe of Native Americans had lived in a vast area in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming for many generations. In the mid-1800’s the government made the decision to set aside tracts of land for the Native Americans, and they allocated a large reservation for the Nez Perce in their traditional homeland.
The Indians set up their homes in the reservation (according to the treaty of 1855) and fully expected to remain there for the rest of their lives.
However, everything changed when gold was discovered. White miners and other settlers poured onto reservation lands demanding the right to live there. The government decided to allow them to do so.
In 1863, a mere eight years after giving the Indians the large reservation, the lines were redrawn and the reservation was reduced to only one-tenth of the original plan. Understandably, many Indians were upset.
Some tribes decided to avoid conflict and accepted the new treaty, but five bands opposed it and fled when the army tried to capture them.
For four months the five bands of Nez Perce Indians traveled 1,170 miles around Oregon, Idaho, and over the Bitterroot Mountains into Montana. The 800 people, including 250 warriors, herded more than 2000 horses and carried whatever belongings they could carry.
By the time the group reached Big Hole Valley in Montana, they were tired. They set up their teepees and decided to stay a few days as they thought the army was quite far away.
What the Indians didn’t know when they crawled into their teepees that night was that a second military force was hiding in the trees overlooking their camp.
The army’s plan was to surprise the Indians in the middle of the night. They figured the Indians would be so surprised they would give in and agree to live on the reservation. But things didn’t go as planned.
The Nez Perce were sound asleep when the army barged into their camp and started shooting. Many people were killed, others ran away in terror, and still others grabbed their weapons and fought back.
When the battle finally ended, about 90 Nez Perce members and 29 soldiers were dead. Many more were wounded.
The battle of Big Hole is commemorated every year by the Nez Perce tribe and many others. They have erected teepees in the exact location where the original teepees were.
The battlefield at Big Hole is now considered sacred ground to the Nez Perce. It symbolizes the strength and spirit of the Nez Perce, and serves as a reminder of their losses in their struggle for freedom.