Description of the Battle Monument

A grateful country has erected on the Big Hole battle field a fitting monument, a modest but enduring shaft of solid granite, which marks the scene of the bloody conflict and tells in mute but eloquent words the story of the victory won there. The base of the monument is five feet six inches square; the pedestal is four feet six inches square by three feet seven inches in height, and the height of the entire structure is nine feet ten inches. On the north face of the shaft are carved the words:

Erected By The United States.

On the east face the words:

On this Field
17 Officers and 138 Men
of the 7th U. S. Infantry,
under its Colonel, Bvt. Major-General
John Gibbon, With 8 Other Soldiers and 36 Citizens,
Surprised and Fought all Day
A Superior Force Of Nez Percé Indians,
More Than One-Third of the Command
Being Killed and Wounded.

On the south is inscribed :

To The Officers and Soldiers
of The Army,
and Citizens of Montana, Who Fell at Big Hole,
August 9, 1877, in Battle With Nez Percé Indians.

And on the west side is a list of the soldiers and citizens killed in the action,
which is the same as that already quoted from General Gibbon’s report.

The stone was cut in Concord, N. H., shipped to Dillon, Mont., by rail, and hauled from there to the battle field by ox teams. It was placed in position in September, 1883, by a detachment of soldiers from Fort Missoula, under command of Capt. J. P. Thompson, of the Third Infantry. It cost about $3,000, an appropriation of that amount having been made for the purpose by Congress.

General Howard followed the Nez Percé through the mountains, and learning that they had determined to take refuge in the British Possessions he sent a courier to General Miles, at Fort Keogh, who, taking the field at the head of six hundred men, headed off the fugitives at Bear Paw Mountains in Northern Montana, and captured them after a desultory fight lasting through four days.

Chief Joseph’s reply to General Miles I demand for surrender is a curiosity in the way of Indian rhetoric. It is in these words:

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. Too-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.”

As stated in Joseph’s message, while the negotiations for the surrender were in progress, White Bird, with a few of his followers, escaped through Miles’ lines and fled to the north. They were not pursued, and succeeded in time in reaching Woody Mountain, in the Northwest Territory, where Sitting Bull and his band were encamped at the time. When the Sioux saw the Nez Percé coming, they supposed them to be their enemies, the Black Feet, and prepared to fight them, but White Bird halted when within a mile of the Sioux camp, sent in a runner to announce himself, and when the Sioux learned who their visitors were, they received them with open arms.

Major Walsh, of the Northwest mounted police, happened to be in Sitting Bull’s camp at the time, and describes White Bird and his people as being the toughest looking party of Indians he had ever seen. Their horses were mere skin and bone; some of them scarcely able to walk. The Indians, men, women, and children, were half naked, some of them with hands and feet frozen, and they had not a pound of food of any kind with them.

Too-hul-hul-sote and Looking Glass were both killed in the fight with Miles.

White Bird is still living near Fort MacLeod, in the Northwest Territory, with his family and a few followers.

After the surrender, Joseph and a few of his retainers were sent to Fort Leavenworth, where they were imprisoned until July 21, 1878, at which time they were placed in charge of the Indian Bureau and located in the Indian Territory. In June, 1885, they were removed to the Colville Reservation, in Washington Territory, where they now live unrestrained. Joseph is hale, hearty, and cheerful, and has accumulated considerable wealth in the way of cattle and horses. He says he will never again go on the war path; that he has had enough of fighting pale-face soldiers; that their bravery is more than a match for the cunning and prowess of the red man,

And to Gibbon’s command, more than to any and all others who pursued and fought Joseph and his men, belongs the honor of having broken the proud spirits of these dusky warriors; of having killed their best men; of having defeated them on their chosen field. To Gibbon and his brave men, in short, belong the laurels of the Nez Percé war of 1877.

Shields, G. O. "Coquina" The Battle of the Big Hole. A History of General Gibbon's Engagement with Nez Perce Indians in the Big Hole Valley, Montana, August 1877. Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally & Company, Publishers, 1889.

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