Battle of the Big Hole

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The following is from the book, Encyclopedia of American Indian Wars, by Jerry Keenan.

During their epic flight from army troops the Nez Perce reached the Big Hole River in southwestern Montana on 6 August 1877. Believing they were temporarily safe from the pursuing soldiers, who were still far behind them, the Nez Perce decided to spend time there, resting up from the rigors of their flight. Unknown to the Indians, however, a second army column under Col. John Gibbon, commanding the District of Montana, was rapidly closing in. With a force of 150 troops from the Seventh Infantry, reinforced by 45 civilian volunteers, Gibbon reached the Big Hole Valley on 8 August, his approach unobserved.

Picture of Col. John Gibbon
Col. John Gibbon
From the book, Encyclopedia of Indian Wars, by Gregory F. Michno.

At dawn on 9 August Gibbon attacked, catching the Indians completely by surprise, and in a short time he had taken control of the village. The Nez Perce, having at first fled in disorder at the surprise attack, rallied and began to fight back, forcing Gibbon's troops to retire from the village and take up a defensive position. Pinned down for several hours, the soldiers suffered heavy casualties from the accurate Indian fire. Gibbon himself was badly wounded. On the afternoon of 10 August the Nez Perce, having derailed the army's pursuit, resumed their flight, leaving a few warriors behind to worry Gibbon's soldiers.

By the following day, the advance troops of Gen. O.O. Howard, whose command had been pursuing the Nez Perce across Idaho, arrived to relieve the besieged Gibbon, thereby bringing an official end to the fight. Army casualties amounted to 30 killed and 39 wounded. Estimates of Indian losses range from 40 to 80.

Big Hole National Battlefield

Picture at Big Hole National Battlefield

The Battle of the Big Hole on August 9 and 10, 1877, was a turning point of the Nez Perce War, a five-month war in which U.S. Army forces tried to place one third of the Nez Perce tribe on a reservation. The fighting began in White Bird Canyon in Idaho and had a dramatic ending in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana.

Self-guiding tours take you to many points on the Battlefield. A short drive to the lower parking area connects with foot trails to the Nez Perce Camp, the Siege Area, and the Howitzer Capture site. The walks each take about an hour. Ranger conducted programs are offered in summer; introductory presentations and exhibits are available year-round.

Fishing is allowed within the National Battlefield and the National Forest as provided by Montana law. Hunting is prohibited. There are several picnic tables in the Battle Area near the lower parking lot. No camping or overnight facilities are provided, but several campgrounds are located nearby. Ask at the Visitor Center for details.

The Visitor Center offers basic orientation through an audiovisual program and exhibits, including the original mountain Howitzer from the battle.

Picture at Big Hole National Battlefield

The Battlefield is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from June 1 through Labor Day and from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during the remainder of the year.

Facilities such as a gasoline station, a grocery store, restaurants and lodging (although limited) can be found in Wisdom, Montana. There are more complete services in Butte, Montana, to the northeast, or Salmon, Idaho, to the west.

Contact Information

P.O. Box 237
Wisdom, MT 59761

Phone: 406-689-3155
Fax: 406-689-3151
http://www.nps.gov/biho/

Directions

The Battlefield is located 10 miles west of Wisdom, Montana, on Montana Highway 43.

The nearest airport is at Butte, Montana, 75 miles east, or Missoula, Montana, 110 miles north.

Season of Operation

All Year

Hours of Operation

Winter: Daily 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Summer: Daily 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Appointments required for groups.

Payment Methods

Personal Check (In State)
Personal Check (Out of State)
Travelers Checks

Reservations

Walk-Ins Welcome

Services and Amenities

Books
Interpreter
Pay Telephone
Public Restroom
Senior Discount
Trail
Unescorted Tour
Tour

Activities

Historic
Exhibit
Education
Fly Fishing
Hiking
Museum
Native Art
Picnicking
Sightseeing


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