(Three panels are located at this kiosk overlooking the White Bird Battlefield.)
We were marched into a deep canyon and to a country strange to us, and familiar to the enemy. If there was any plan of attack, I never heard of it.
— Sgt. Michael McCarthy "Five Warriors, led by
Wettiwetti Houlis ... had been sent out ... as a peace party to meet the soldiers. Of course they carried a white flag. Peace might be made without fighting. — himi-n maqsmáqs
The rolling hills below were the scene of the first battle of the Nez Perce War. If you had been standing here at dawn on June 17, 1877, you would have seen columns of U.S. Army cavalry and local volunteers riding down the slopes on your left. Nez Perce tipis stood along the stream valley. The troopers' intent was to bring a few warriors to justice and to persuade the Indians to move onto the reservation. Just out of sight beyond the middle ridge, a small delegation of Nez Perce approached, carrying a white flag. You would have heard several gunshots, fired for unknown reasons. Then intense firing erupted all along the ridge. Within 10 minutes, the cavalry and volunteers began retreating up these slopes — not orderly as they arrived but running for their lives.
Two or three Nez Perce were wounded, but 34
soldiers were killed. After this one-sided rout, war became inevitable.
To walk the battleground and learn details of the confrontation, drive 3.4 miles south to the town of White Bird and continue two miles to the battlefield trailhead.
Roots of Conflict
To both sides the conflict was about land, but their perceptions of land were very different. These hills, with their streams and rich grasses, are a small part of a once 17-million-acre homeland where the Nez Perce lived for thousands of years. Seeing other uses for the land, waves of miners, farmers, and loggers swept into Nez Perce country. The Treaty of 1855 designated a portion of the original Nez Perce homeland as a reservation. After gold was discovered on Nez Perce land, the Treaty of 1863 reduced the size of the reservation by 90 percent. Many Nez Perce did not recognize the terms of what they considered the "Steal Treaty" and refused to leave their home valleys. Injustice and violence arising from the treaty led ultimately to conflict at this site.
The Price of Victory
The last soldier had barely escaped over this ridge when the Nez Perce began to break camp and prepare for a perilous journey. Although they had just achieved a one-sided victory, the Nez Perce knew that the army's
Caption: (top right) U.S. soldiers, one month after the battle at White Bird. This is the only known photo of troops actively involved in the Nez Perce War.:
Nez Perce National Historical Park