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The Flight of the Nez Perce

One-hundred-twenty years ago, some 800 Nez Perce men, women and children journeyed over 1,100 miles across Montana and its neighboring states pursuing freedom from U.S. Indian policy and safety from military action. Today, that journey is commemorated by the Nez Perce National Historic Park, a confederation of 38 sites in five states including three in Montana.

The Big Hole Battlefield near Wisdom in southwestern Montana is the most developed of Montana's three sites. Site Superintendent, Jon James describes it as "the best documented battle site of the (Western) Indian wars…we have an almost minute by minute understanding of what took place here." Nez Perce and U.S. military narratives, journals, oral histories, maps and artifacts collected soon after the August 9, 1877, battle have helped interpret this devastating event, which killed over 100 military and Indian people. A visitor center and battlefield trail system are part of the Big Hole's visitor facilities.

The Canyon Creek Battlefield, near Laurel in southcentral Montana, offers an interpretive shelter and markers provided by the Friends of Canyon Creek and the Laurel Chamber. At the Bear Paw Battleground, south of Chinook, rangers guide tours along the battlefield's trail system. Chinook's Blaine County Museum provides interpretive displays on the battle. It was at this north-central Montana site that the "flight of the Nez Perce" ended October 5, 1877, and Chief Joseph made his famous promise; "From where the sun now stand, I will fight no more, forever."

One of the unique activities at each Montana site is the annual memorial ceremony conducted by the Nez Perce people. On or near the anniversary dates of the various battles, Nez Perce VFW members conduct memorial services at each site, including a traditional pipe ceremony and traditional dancing. The ceremonies are open to the public: Commemoration of the Battle of the Big Hole and Canyon Creek Battlefield Pipe Ceremony.