As the United States moved westward as part of it’s manifest destiny, there was often little regard for the people who were already a part of this land. One group, the nimi-pu, or Nez Perce, stood between the migration from the east and the west coast. In 1855 the U.S. Government proposed a treaty whereby the Nez Perce would give up over half of their homeland, but keep the right to hunt, fish, and gather on those lands. However, the discovery of gold in the area lead to a second treaty in 1863 decreasing the Nez Perce lands by another 90%.
Five bands of Nez Perce rejected the second treaty and resisted. In August, 1877 one group of about 800 Nez Perce were passing peacefully through the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, believing that the U.S. troops would not pursue them. Yet, while they set up camp at what they thought was a safe location on the banks of the Big Hole River, the military had already begun to observe the group.
Early on the morning of August 9, what might have been an errant shot from a volunteer turned into what would be a day-long battle. At first, it appeared as though the infantry was carrying out a massacre as Nez Perce women, children and warriors were shot, and their occupied tepees set ablaze. The Nez Perce regrouped, however, and forced the troops back onto the wooded hillside on the opposite bank of the river. Their the Nez Perce laid siege on the troops, and eventually captured a howitzer cannon and valuable ammunition. When the smoke had cleared 90 Nez Perce laid dead, and 31 soldiers.
For more information visit Big Hole National Battlefield and Nez Perce National Historical Park