Battle of Bear Paw
The Battle of Bear Paw (also written as Battle of the Bears Paw or Battle of the Bears Paw Mountains) was the final engagement of the Nez Perce War
Nez Perce War
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...

. Some of the Nez Perce were able to escape to Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, but Chief Joseph
Chief Joseph
Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, popularly known as Chief Joseph, or Young Joseph was the leader of the Wal-lam-wat-kain band of Nez Perce during General Oliver O. Howard's attempt to forcibly remove his band and the other "non-treaty" Nez Perce to a reservation in Idaho...

 was forced to surrender the majority of his tribe to Oliver O. Howard
Oliver O. Howard
Oliver Otis Howard was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War...

. The Chief Joseph Battleground of Bear's Paw was designated a National Historic Landmark
National Historic Landmark
A National Historic Landmark is a building, site, structure, object, or district, that is officially recognized by the United States government for its historical significance...

 in 1988.


Chief Joseph had led the Nez Perce out of the Wallowa Valley
Wallowa River
The Wallowa River is a tributary of the Grande Ronde River, approximately long, in northeastern Oregon in the United States. It drains a valley on the Columbia Plateau in the northeast corner of the state north of Wallowa Mountains. It rises in southern Wallowa County, in the Wallowa Mountains in...

 in Oregon
Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern...

 along a winding trek across Idaho
Idaho is a state in the Rocky Mountain area of the United States. The state's largest city and capital is Boise. Residents are called "Idahoans". Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890, as the 43rd state....

, Wyoming
Wyoming is a state in the mountain region of the Western United States. The western two thirds of the state is covered mostly with the mountain ranges and rangelands in the foothills of the Eastern Rocky Mountains, while the eastern third of the state is high elevation prairie known as the High...

, and Montana
Montana is a state in the Western United States. The western third of Montana contains numerous mountain ranges. Smaller, "island ranges" are found in the central third of the state, for a total of 77 named ranges of the Rocky Mountains. This geographical fact is reflected in the state's name,...

. Oliver O. Howard
Oliver O. Howard
Oliver Otis Howard was a career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War...

 had been trailing Joseph since the Battle of the Clearwater
Battle of the Clearwater
The Battle of the Clearwater was a battle between the Nez Perce and the United States army. Retreating from the battlefield, the Nez Percé began the long trek across Idaho and Montana before surrendering to Oliver Otis Howard near the Canadian border.-Background:After the defeat of United States...

. Joseph had soundly defeated a United States force under Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis
Samuel D. Sturgis
Samuel Davis Sturgis was an American military officer who served in the Mexican-American War, as a Union general in the American Civil War, and later in the Indian Wars.-Early life:...

 at the Battle of Canyon Creek
Battle of Canyon Creek
The Battle of Canyon Creek was an 1877 military conflict between the Nez Perce Indians and the United States 7th Cavalry. The battle was part of the larger Indian Wars of the latter 19th century and the immediate Nez Perce War...

 and headed north to Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

. Receiving word of Sturgis's defeat, Colonel Nelson A. Miles
Nelson A. Miles
Nelson Appleton Miles was a United States soldier who served in the American Civil War, Indian Wars, and the Spanish-American War.-Early life:Miles was born in Westminster, Massachusetts, on his family's farm...

 moved diagonally north to intercept the Nez Perce. Unaware of Miles' column, the Nez Perce paused to rest at Snake Creek on the plains north of the Bears Paw Mountains and only 40 miles from Canada. Using Cheyenne
Cheyenne are a Native American people of the Great Plains, who are of the Algonquian language family. The Cheyenne Nation is composed of two united tribes, the Só'taeo'o and the Tsétsêhéstâhese .The Cheyenne are thought to have branched off other tribes of Algonquian stock inhabiting lands...

 and Lakota scouts, Miles found the camp and prepared to move against the Nez Perce so as not to allow them to escape across into Canada.

The battle

On September 30, 1877 Nez Perce scouts spotted Miles' force moving up. They did not have enough time to escape but they did have time to fortify their position. Miles attacked early in the morning with the 7th Cavalry
U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment
The 7th Cavalry Regiment is a United States Army Cavalry Regiment, whose lineage traces back to the mid-19th century. Its official nickname is "Garryowen," in honor of the Irish air Garryowen that was adopted as its march tune....

. The cavalry charged and was cut down by the warrior's fire and forced to retreat. The Nez Perce dug trenches in the side of the coulee. The next day Joseph asked for a truce and met with Colonel Miles. While the two leaders met both sides recovered their dead from the field. After the meeting was over Miles held Joseph prisoner. His reasons for doing this were unclear. When the Nez Perce found out that Joseph was being held prisoner, they seized a United States lieutenant and held him prisoner. Miles agreed to hand over Joseph in exchange for the lieutenant. On the evening of October 2 the United States' 12-pound Napoleon artillery piece arrived at the battlefield. The cannon fired exploding shots and caused great damage to the Nez Perce's trenches but did not drive them from their positions. Even though they did not retreat, the Nez Perce began to realize the end was near. Joseph refused to attempt a breakout because he would have to leave behind the wounded. Continuing the fight seemed futile. General Howard arrived at the field on October 4 but allowed Miles to retain tactical command of the troops. Howard sent out two scouts to encourage Joseph to surrender. Chief Looking Glass
Chief Looking Glass
Looking Glass was a principal Nez Perce architect of many of the military strategies employed by the Nez Perce during the Nez Perce War of 1877...

 refused to give up and when Joseph met with Howard's scout, he escaped and attempted to reach Sitting Bull
Sitting Bull
Sitting Bull Sitting Bull Sitting Bull (Lakota: Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake (in Standard Lakota Orthography), also nicknamed Slon-he or "Slow"; (c. 1831 – December 15, 1890) was a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux holy man who led his people as a tribal chief during years of resistance to United States government policies...

's Lakota in Canada. The same day a Cheyenne scout spotted Looking Glass and killed him. Howard's scouts met with Joseph on October 5 and returned to the United States lines with a message from Joseph saying he wished to surrender, and made the following speech:

Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Tu-hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are – perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.

The Nez Percé Surrender

Joseph met with General Howard and Colonel Miles using Nez Perce translators. He presented Howard with his Winchester rifle
Winchester rifle
In common usage, Winchester rifle usually means any of the lever-action rifles manufactured by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, though the company has also manufactured many rifles of other action types...

, and Howard directed him to hand it to Miles. Joseph then turned and shook Howard's hand. Joseph had been the most respected Nez Percé leader but he was not the only chief. Looking Glass and White Bird
Chief White Bird
White Bird , also referred to as White Pelican , was a leader and war chief of the Lamátta band of the Nez Perce tribe.- History :...

 disagreed with his decision to surrender. Looking Glass was dead but White Bird managed to escape with 50 of his followers. Joseph promised that he and his own followers would surrender.


The Nez Percé had fought a fighting retreat for 1,500 miles across parts of 4 states only to be halted 40 miles from safety in Canada. Joseph had impressed the entire nation with his campaign. Howard and Miles praised the fighting ability of the Nez Percé and even General William T. Sherman praised them for their fighting ability but above all for their humanity. Colonel Miles had once promised Joseph that his people would return to reservations in their homeland, but this promise was overruled by Sherman. The Nez Percé were sent to Kansas
Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

 and Indian Territory
Oklahoma is a state located in the South Central region of the United States of America. With an estimated 3,751,351 residents as of the 2010 census and a land area of 68,667 square miles , Oklahoma is the 28th most populous and 20th-largest state...

, despite the protests of Howard and Miles. In 1885 the Nez Percé were allowed to return to Washington but Joseph was refused to return to the Wallowa River Valley. He died on a reservation in Washington.

Today, the Bear Paw Battlefield is managed by the National Park Service
National Park Service
The National Park Service is the U.S. federal agency that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations...

 as part of the Nez Perce National Historical Park
Nez Perce National Historical Park
The Nez Perce National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park comprising 38 sites located throughout the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington which are the traditional aboriginal lands of the Nez Perce. The sites commemorate the history, culture, and stories of the...

. The site is located 16 miles south of Chinook, Montana
Chinook, Montana
Chinook is a city in and the county seat of Blaine County, Montana, United States. The population was 1,386 at the 2000 census. Points of interest are the Bear Paw Battlefield Museum located in the small town's center and the Bear Paw Battlefield, located just twenty miles south of...

on County Route 240.
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