Nez Perce fight Battle of Big Hole - HISTORY
Year
1877

Nez Perce fight Battle of Big Hole

Having refused government demands that they move to a reservation, a small band of Nez Perce Indians clash with the U.S. Army near the Big Hole River in Montana.

The conflict between the U.S. government and the Nez Perce was one of the most tragic of the many Indian wars of the 19th century. Beginning with the tribe’s first contact with the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the peaceful Nez Perce had befriended and cooperated with the Americans. Even when hordes of white settlers began to flood into their homelands along the Snake River (around the present-day intersection of the Oregon, Washington, and Idaho state borders), most of the Nez Perce peacefully moved to a reservation.

However, about a quarter of the Nez Perce, most of them stockmen and buffalo hunters, refused to accept internment on a reservation. Government pressure to force these last resisters to comply finally led to the outbreak of the Nez Perce War of 1877. A small band of warriors—never more than 145 men, though burdened with about 500 noncombatants—fought U.S. soldiers at four major battles.

The third battle of the Nez Perce War occurred on this day in 1877. Fleeing eastward with hopes of escaping to Canada, the Nez Perce made camp in the Big Hole Basin in present-day western Montana. At 3:30 a.m., Colonel John Gibbon attacked the sleeping Indians with a force of 183 men. Raking the Indian lodges with withering rifle fire, the soldiers initially seemed to be victorious. The Nez Perce, however, soon counterattacked from concealed positions in the surrounding hills. After four days of sporadic fighting, the Nez Perce withdrew.

Both sides suffered serious casualties. The soldiers lost 29 men with 40 wounded. The army body count found 89 Nez Perce dead, mostly women and children. The battle dealt the Nez Perce a grave, though not fatal, blow. The remaining Indians were able to escape, and they headed northeast towards Canada. Two months later, on October 5, Colonel Nelson Miles decisively defeated the Nez Perce at the Battle of the Bear Paw Mountains. Those who were not killed surrendered and reluctantly agreed to return to the reservation. The Nez Perce were only 40 miles short of the Canadian border.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Owens wins 4th gold medal

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, African American track star Jesse Owens wins his fourth gold medal of the Games in the 4×100-meter relay. His relay team set a new world record of 39.8 seconds, which held for 20 years. In their strong showing in track-and-field events at the XIth ...read more

Romans routed at Adrianople

In one of the most decisive battles in history, a large Roman army under Valens, the Roman emperor of the East, is defeated by the Visigoths at the Battle of Adrianople in present-day Turkey. Two-thirds of the Roman army, including Emperor Valens himself, were overrun and ...read more

Manson cult kills five people

On this day in 1969, members of Charles Manson’s cult kill five people in movie director Roman Polanski’s Beverly Hills, California, home, including Polanski’s pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate. Less than two days later, the group killed again, murdering supermarket executive ...read more

Unusual succession makes Ford president

In accordance with his statement of resignation the previous evening, Richard M. Nixon officially ends his term as the 37th president of the United States at noon. Before departing with his family in a helicopter from the White House lawn, he smiled farewell and enigmatically ...read more

Nixon leaves office

Having announced his resignation the day before, Richard M. Nixon steps down from the the presidency of the United States and is succeeded by Vice President Gerald R. Ford. Nixon had resigned rather than face almost certain impeachment because of the Watergate scandal, in which ...read more

Marines launch Operation Cochise

First Marine Division launches Operation Cochise in the Que Son valley. Meanwhile, the First Cavalry Division continued with Operation Pershing, a major clearing operation in the Binh Dinh province designed to improve the security situation in support of the ongoing pacification ...read more

The Great One gets traded

On this day in 1988, Edmonton Oilers center Wayne Gretzky is traded to the Los Angeles Kings along with Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley in return for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas and first-round draft picks in the 1989, 1991 and 1993 drafts. At age 27, Gretzky was already ...read more

Ford is inaugurated

On this day in 1974, one day after the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford is sworn in as president, making him the first man to assume the presidency upon his predecessor’s resignation. He was also the first non-elected vice president and non-elected ...read more

Jerry Garcia dies

Like his band the Grateful Dead, which was still going strong three decades after its formation, Jerry Garcia defied his life-expectancy not merely by surviving, but by thriving creatively and commercially into the 1990s–far longer than most of his peers. His long, strange trip ...read more

Mystery writer Jonathan Kellerman born

Jonathan Kellerman, author of a series of mysteries featuring child psychologist Alex Delaware, is born on the Lower East Side of New York City on this day in 1949.His family moved to Los Angeles when Jonathan was nine, the same year he began writing stories. He wrote fiction ...read more

Actress Sharon Tate found murdered

On this day in 1969, the 26-year-old actress Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of acclaimed movie director Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown), is found murdered along with four other people at her Los Angeles home. The gruesome crime, in which the killers scrawled messages ...read more

Hurricane Belle strikes Eastern Seaboard

Hurricane Belle turns toward the United States from the Bahamas on this day in 1976. By the time Belle had run its course, the storm had killed 12 people and caused $24 million in damages from North Carolina to Vermont.Hurricane Belle was a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson ...read more