Nez Perce War

Nez Perce War
Nez Perce War
Part of the American Indian Wars
Chiefs Joseph, Looking Glass and White Bird in the spring of 1877.
Date June - October 1877
Location Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana
Result United States victory
 United States Nez Percé
Commanders and leaders
United States Oliver O. Howard
United States John Gibbon
United States Nelson A. Miles
Chief Joseph
Chief Looking Glass
Chief White Bird
1,000-1,500 200-300
Casualties and losses
125 killed
152 wounded
~150 killed or wounded
~500 captured

The Nez Perce War was an armed conflict between the Nez Perce and the United States government fought in 1877 as part of the American Indian Wars. After a series of battles in which both the U.S. Army and native people sustained significant casualties, the Nez Perce surrendered and were relocated to an Indian reservation. The Nez Perce were led by several individuals, including Hienmot Tooyalakekt (better known as Chief Joseph), Ollicot, White Bird, Toohoolhoolzote and Looking Glass. The American Army was represented mainly by General Oliver Otis Howard though Colonel John Gibbon, General Nelson A. Miles and Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis were involved as well.



The conflict began when white ranchers realized that Wallowa Valley, as well as the Snake and Clearwater valleys, where the Nez Perce lived, would make great open range for their cattle. In addition, gold had been discovered on Nez Perce lands, and the American government was unable to keep previous agreements to keep settlers out of Indian lands. The Nez Perce were incensed at the failure of the US government to uphold the treaties, and at settlers who plowed up their camas prairies, which they depended on for subsistence.[1][2]

As a result, the government pressured the Nez Perce to move to a reservation established in an 1863 treaty.[3][4][5] Initially, a large number of "nontreaty" bands refused to move, considering the 1863 treaty to be invalid and themselves not parties to the agreement.[6] Although the nontreaty Nez Perce managed to avoid conflict and stay on their lands for fourteen years, tensions rose in 1876 and 1877 until General Oliver Howard called a council in May 1877 and ordered the nontreaty bands move to the reservation, setting an impossible deadline of 30 days.[7][8] At first, the Nez Perce agreed to the move in order to forestall violence. Chief Joseph considered military resistance futile,[9] and by June 14, 1877 had gathered about 600 people at a site near present-day Grangeville, Idaho.[10] However, on June 14, 1877, three warriors staged an attack on nearby white settlers,[8] killing four men, including Jurdin Elfers and Henry Beckridge, and in a subsequent raid the next day, a larger group killed between twelve and fourteen additional settlers, including women and children.[10]


Bear Paw battlefield, where the Nez Perce War ended.

After several small battles in Idaho during the next month,[10] over 800 Nez Perce, mostly non-warriors, along with 2000 head of various livestock, began a remarkable journey. They traveled from Idaho over Lolo Pass into Montana, traveling southeast, dipping into Yellowstone National Park and then back north into eastern Montana,[8][11] roughly 1,400 miles (2,300 km).[9] They attempted to seek refuge with the Crow Nation, then, rebuffed by the Crow, ultimately decided to try to reach safety in Canada.[8]

A small number of Nez Perce fighters, probably fewer than 200,[9] successfully held off larger forces of the U.S. Army in several skirmishes. The most notable was the two-day Battle of the Big Hole in southwestern Montana, a battle with relatively little loss of life, but costly nonetheless as the swiftness of the U.S. Army's attack cost them their tipis and many supplies.[8]

However, the war came to an end when the Nez Perce stopped to rest near the Bears Paw Mountains in Montana, 40 miles (64 km) from the Canadian border, thinking that they had shaken off their pursuers. But Nelson A. Miles, then a colonel, had quickly brought an infantry-cavalry column up from Fort Keogh to catch the Nez Perce. After a five-day conflict, on October 5, 1877 the battle—and the war—was over.[12] Chief Joseph declared in his famous speech that he would "fight no more forever."[12]

Depictions in media

The 1975 David Wolper historical teledrama I Will Fight No More Forever starring Ned Romero as Joseph and James Whitmore as General Howard was well received at a time when Native American issues were receiving exposure in the news, and notable in that it attempted to present a balanced view of the events: the leadership pressures on Joseph were juxtaposed with the Army having to do an unpleasant task while an action-hungry press establishment looked on.

See also


  1. ^ Clute, Willard Nelson (1907). The American botanist, devoted to economic and ecological botany, Volumes 11-15. W.N. Clute & co.. p. 98. 
  2. ^ Mathews (1999). Cascade-Olympic Natural History: a trailside reference. p. 168. ISBN 9780962078217. 
  3. ^ Hoggatt, Stan (1997). "Political Elements of Nez Perce history during mid-1800s & War of 1877". Western Treasures. Retrieved 10 June 2010. 
  4. ^ Wilkinson, Charles F. (2005). Blood struggle: the rise of modern Indian nations. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 40–41. ISBN 0393051498. 
  5. ^ Josephy, Alvin M., Jr. The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest. Boston: Mariner, 1997, p 428-429.
  6. ^ West, Elliott, p. 9
  7. ^ West, Elliott, pp. 14-15
  8. ^ a b c d e Malone, p. 135
  9. ^ a b c "Chief Joseph". New Perspectives on the West. The West Film Project/WETA/PBS/. 2001. Retrieved 2010-12-12. 
  10. ^ a b c West, Elliott, p. 5-6
  11. ^ West, p. 4
  12. ^ a b Malone, Montana, p. 138

Further reading

  • Hampton, Bruce (1994). Children of Grace-The Nez Perce War of 1877. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 080501991X. 
  • Greene, Jerome A. (2000). Nez Perce Summer-The U.S. Army and the Nee-Me-Poo Crisis. Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Press. ISBN 0917298683. 
  • Janetski, Joel C. (1987). Indians in Yellowstone National Park. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press. ISBN 0-87480-724-7. 
  • West, Elliott (2009). The last Indian war : the Nez Perce story. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195136753. 
  • Josephy, Alvin (2007). Nez Perce Country. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803276239. 


  • Malone, Michael P., Richard B. Roeder and William L. Lang (1991). Montana: A History of Two Centuries. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press. ISBN 0295971290. 
  • West, Elliott (Autumn, 2010). "The Nez Perce and Their Trials: Rethinking America's Indian Wars". Montana: The Magazine of Western History (Helena, Montana: Montana Historical Society): 3–18. 

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