Clark in Park County, Wyoming — The American West (Mountains)
The Nez Perce Conflict of 1877
For thousands of years the fertile Wallowa Valley was home to many Nimiipuu, or Nez Perce people. A treaty in 1855 affirmed Nez Perce ownership of this homeland. Competition for land, grazing and hunting opportunities, and the discovery of gold in 1860 resulted in a renegotiation of the 1855 treaty. The new treaty of 1863 reduced the reservation to 10% of the original homeland. Ultimately, General O. Howard ordered the peaceful Nez Perce bands, no longer protected by treaty rights, to move to the reservation near Lapwai, Idaho, in May of 1877.
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The Wallowa band sadly gathered their belongings, livestock and horses, and headed for the reservation. They crossed the Snake River, swollen with spring runoff, and gathered at Camas Prairie near Grangeville, Idaho. Agitated by past events, a few young Nez Perce men attacked several white settlers. In the aftermath of their attacks, there was no option but to flee.
In June 1877, nearly 800 men, women, and children with over 2000 horses began the flight that took them over the Bitterroots,
For five days, the Nez Perce endured cannon fire, freezing temperatures and starvation. When it became obvious the people could survive no longer, Joseph negotiated a settlement that would allow the people to return to Idaho. Unwilling to trust Colonel Miles, Chief Whitebird led his people on a nighttime escape to Canada. Chief Joseph stayed with the remaining people. On October 5, 1877, Chief Joseph walked across the wintry plain and surrendered to Colonel Nelson A. Miles.
"From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever." -- Chief Joseph (Hein-mot Too-ya-la-kekt)
The war against the Nez Perce could have ended right here. After months of chasing the Nez Perce from behind, General Howard finally got some help from troops approaching from the east.
Howard was sure that his troops in Yellowstone - and the men of the Seventh Cavalry, led by Colonel Strugis on the east side of the Absaroka Mountains --
But with ingenuity and determination and luck (and an embarrassingly bad decision by Sturgis), the tribe slipped the cavalry's trip in an escape that has become legendary.
As the Nez Perce left Yellowstone and crossed over the Absarokas, Sturgis and his six companies camped between the mouth of Clark Fork Canyon and Heart Mountain. With a perfect view of the ridges and foothills, Sturgis and his men were in an ideal spot to intercept the Nez Perce as they emerged from the Abarokas. And they were spoiling for a fight. After all, Custer's command, annihilated at the Little Bighorn just one year earlier, also were Seventh Cavalry.
Howard excited at the prospect of the Nez Perce's capture, sent scouts to give Sturgis an agent message to stay put as the tribe moved over the mountains. But the scouts never made it, the Nez Perce killed them. "Every white man in those mountains could be counted our enemy," Yellow Wolf said later.
On September 7, as the Nez Perce came down the upper Clark Fork, Yellow Wolf and several warriors came upon two of Sturgis' scouts southwest of Heart Mountain. One scout was killed and another escaped wounded. Yellow Wolf moved quickly back to the Nez Perce camp the next day to warn that troops were up ahead. Later that day,
The Nez Perce did indeed move south toward the Shoshone River, but not very far. Instead, they found an open spot and cleverly concealed their trail. They milled their horses around in every directions, creating confusing tracks that seemed to show the Nez Perce scattering. Then, instead of traveling in the direction they had been headed - out of the basin and across an open plain - the Nez Perce turned to the north traveling along a steep timbered mountainside for several miles.
They then took a steep drainage to the mouth of Clark Fork Canyon, not far from where Sturgis' troops had camped the day before. The trek through the narrow canyon was no doubt difficult, especially with 700 people and their possessions. Howard later marveled at the tribe's passage through what he called "a strange canyon, where rocks on each side came so near together that two horses abreast could hardly pass."
Farther south, a cavalry scout eventually discovered the Nez Perce trail where the horses had milled. When Howard arrived at the pass, his men waved their flags furiously toward Heart Mountain, hoping to signal the Sturgis troops that the Nez Perce were on their way. The desperate signals, though, were in vain. Sturgis wasn't there, and the Nez Perce were well on their way toward the open plains.
CREDIT: This piece was written by Mike Stark (© 2002) with the Billings Gazette and is used with permission. Stark's piece is part of a special series called Long Road to Surrender created by the Gazette for the 125th anniversary of the flight of the Nez Perce.
Chief Joseph accompanied his people into exile, first in the unhealthy lowlands of Kansas and later in the windswept prairies of the Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. The exiled group included 79 men, 178 women, and 174 children.
The group was initially transported to Fort Keogh in the Montana Territory, then on to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where they spent a miserable winter in squalid conditions. In the spring they were moved to Baxter Springs, the Quapaw Agency and finally the Ponca Agency in Oklahoma. During this time of continued death and deprivation, Joseph took every opportunity to publicize their plight to advance their return to the beloved homeland.
Finally in 1885 Joseph's persistence, coupled with a sympathetic press, strong public support and pressure from the Presbyterian Church, convinced the government to allow the remaining 268 survivors to return to the Northwest. Of that group 118 Nez Perce went to the reservation at Lapwai. Chief Joseph and others who would not renounce their traditional religious beliefs were sent to the Colville reservation near Nespelum, Washington. The tribe was never allowed to reclaim its Wallowa Homeland. Chief Joseph, the most famous of the Nez Perce leaders, died and was buried in Nespelem in 1904.
The Nez Perce removal and exile remains one of the darkest chapters in American History. The 1800 mile journey of 800 brave men, women and children wanting to live and believe as they chose stands as one of the most courageous stories in our nation's past.
Erected by Nez Perce Trail Foundation.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Native Americans • Wars, US Indian.
Location. 44° 53.626′ N, 109° 6.714′ W. Marker is in Clark, Wyoming, in Park County. Marker is on State Highway 120 near State Highway 292, on the left when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Powell WY 82435, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 3 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Nez Perce Trail (here, next to this marker); Bennet Buttes and the Bannock War of 1878 (approx. 1˝ miles away); Red Lodge Freight Road (approx. 1˝ miles away).
Credits. This page was last revised on February 19, 2021. It was originally submitted on February 19, 2021, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California. This page has been viewed 49 times since then. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on February 19, 2021, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California.