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The Nez Perce War was a conflict between the United States and the Nez Perce Indian Nation in 1877. The Nez Perce were forced out of their ancestral homeland because gold had been found in it. Those who refused to sign the new treaty were eventually forced off of their land, hunted down, and either killed or exiled to eastern Indian reservations.
(0:00) Hello and welcome to my video on the Nez Perce war, uh, of 1877. I think it was officially the last of the Indian wars, um in fact I know it was. So here's your set up, um. This is Washington, this is Oregon, this is Idaho. Um and the Nez Perce traditional homeland overlapped those 3 states and almost went over into Montana as well.

(0:29) So uh, here we have their sort of original homeland according to history. Uh though of course these are all fuzzy lines because there were, there were no borders in traditional, in in Native America.

(0:44) Um and then when you know there'd sort of be conflicts with the United States government the Nez Perce and the United States signed a treaty together giving them this land, which is a pretty big hunk of their traditional homelands. Um so that's actually not a bad deal, all of the Nez Perce tribes signed this. There was no like, unified Nez Perce government. There was several you know, a bunch of different Nez Perce tribes.

(1:12) Um and this worked for a long time. So 1855 is when that treaty was signed. And then uh during, uh this time, we had a couple of contributing factors that uh, that made this deal seem less good to the United States government. One is that ranchers and cowboys knew that there was a lot of really good range land in here for there cows and they wanted that for their cows. And so there was some um, some strong desire there.

(1:45) There was also sort of a general American outcry against Native Americans. The press was very harsh on the government when the government wasn't harsh on the Native Americans. Um that's not something that we talk about a lot, but it was, there was a, a big push.

(2:03)And then there was a- another fact that may have been the straw that broke the camel's back. There was gold found all in here as well, along Snake River Valley um, and up in the mountains as well.

(2:14) So we've got great range land and we've also got, we've got gold. Actually colored the range land where the mountains are, but that's okay. You don't care.

(2:24) Um,So- and and the, yeah. So uh, because of all this the uh United States government compared the Nez Perce to sign a treaty giving them only this little hunk of land right here. And the Nez Perce Indian reservation as it stands today. This is now the Nez Perce Indian reservation today as well. Um so they would lose 90% of their land.

(2:51) Um some Nez Perce signed this, mostly the Nez Perce who had homelands inside of this area. This is, you know there were several Nez Perce bands that had their homelands overlapped or entirely inside this area, but the Nez Perce that did not have their homelands at all in this area did not sign the treaty. And I'm circling them now.

(3:16) And this is Chief Joseph. You will have heard of Chief Joseph, he's very famous.  Chief, Chief Looking Glass as well. You've probably have heard of.

(3:22) And these, circled in black uh became known as the non-treaty Nez Perce. So to distinguish them from the treaty-signing Nez Perce that were all in here; these are the non-treaty Nez Perce and they were the ones that uh, you know, they they were talked about in the press and they were kinda vilified and they were the ones we eventually ended up going to war with. 

(3:51) But the non-treaty Nez Perce, having not signed the treaty stayed on their homeland um, for like 14 years without incident. Then in 1877, which is when the Nez Perce war happened the United States government went to those chiefs and said that you need to leave your ancestral homeland now, uh actually withing the next 30 days or uh.. else. Or we will be at war. 

(4:19) Uh so that was a tall order. It's summer time, it's just uh, getting into summertime the rivers are very high, the Nez Perce have lots- they're very you know, they're range, they're like cowboys basically. They have horses, they have cattle, they have all kinds of livestock. It's hard to get those things across rivers when you know, there are no bridges and the rivers are very high. Um so it's hard to ford, but they did it.

(4:50) Um, they left a lot of their possessions at home. They left a lot of their wealth behind, but they knew that- the chiefs actually convinced their people to move in. This was not an easy thing for the chiefs to convince their people to do. Um, and so there was a lot of discord within the tribes as well.

(5:07) Um, and they went to Tolo Lake, here. Which, uh became the place where they were going to negotiate with the United States government; figure out and, and with the rest of the Nez Perce tribe and figure out how this lake was going to hold all these people. Um, and maybe figure out some, some different treaty that they could sign that would, that would get them to that.

(5:28) We may, you know they were, they were going to try for something. But the problem was that there was so much discord among the tribe, there was a lot of angry warriors as you might imagine who were like 'We shouldn't be leaving our homeland behind we should be fighting for this.' Um and they started to get in fights with white settlers.

(5:47) At first they started to just get in fights with white settlers and they started to kill white settlers, particularly ones that had offended them in some, in some way. And then they started killing indiscriminately, not all of them of course, just a few angry Nez Perce warriors. And that uh basically touched off the war. That inverted this from um you know, sort of like borderline genocidal resettlement to um, and actual war. 

(6:17) And uh, you could see around here all of these little skirmishes. These weren't battles, uh that we would con- I guess you know, the Battle of White Bird Canyon was a battle, because it's called a battle. But um, they weren't huge battles, there weren't big losses on either side, um but this is just the Nez Perce trying to escape their homeland and get away from the cavalry force that had occupied here. (6:42)

(6:43) And so they did, they- all of these bands all collected up together uh, spiraled their way out of the Nez Perce homeland over Lolo Pass which I drive over all the time and I can't imagine even, like walking over it. Let alone with uh, a murderous cavalry at my back with my grandmother and my daughters and all of my cows and horses.

(7:05) But nonetheless, they did and they ended up in Missoula which is where I live. I'm there right now. Making this livecast from Missoula. Um and then headed down the Bitterroot Valley.

(7:16) We actually in Missoula we say up the Bitterroot Valley because the Bitterroot Valley (laughs). Just a piece of information for you that will not matter, flows this way. So we say that we're going up the valley.

(7:30) Um, and uh so they knew that they had a good lead on the force of the cavalry force that was in the Nez Perce area because they're fast and they knew what they were doing. But what they did not know was that Gibbon had been ordered with his cavalry force to depart Fort Shaw much earlier and so he was surprisingly close on their heals. 

(7:55) So the, the battle general, the battle chief of the Nez Perce had ordered people to take their time be slow- I mean not take their time but not ride until they die or anything; and then when they got to the Big Hole Valley which is a gorgeous valley um, they uh, the chief did not even order lookouts.

(8:17) And so he had no idea that um, as they slept, on the other side of the Big Hole River um, uh Gibbon's cavalry force had lined up ready for battle. They drove across the river, I say drove I don't mean that they drove in cars, they drove across the river and straight into the camp.

(8:35) Within 20 minutes they had routed the camp, killing every one who they encountered and of course since the majority of the people that were fleeing were women and children and elderly, not warriors, the majority of the people that they killed, some I think like 40 non-warriors, so non-soldiers were killed. And only like 12 (what is that Hank) were soldiers. Um that's 12 Nez Perce soldiers. Something like 30 of the  cavalry were killed.

(9:18) So you know it was still with only 200 fighting men,12 is a huge loss. But more was the loss of, because the camp was routed so quickly they had to meet outside of their camp. They lost a lot of their supplies: their teepees, their cattle. And that was all stuff that they were hoping for.

(9:39) So the reason why the Nez Perce were, their plan of action was to get down over the mountains and meet up with the Crow who occupied a large area and they were their allies. Occupied a large area here. It is not entirely - this is not accurate, this circle, at all. And maybe find refuge with the Crow and maybe find allies in this war that they were now in.

(10:05) So after the Battle of the Big Hole they, this was a 2 day battle, they had, after the initial surprise attack they did very well in this battle and basically won. But it held them up long enough that the force, the original force, held them up from the reservation here had several more smaller battles.

(10:36) There were actually some incidents with tourists in Yellowstone National Park which existed at that time. And then they got to the Crow nation where they found in fact were not going to be granted refuge, partially because they didn't have anything to give the Crow because they lost all of their possessions, partially because, you know the Crow did not want to be at war with the United States government.

(10:59) And so they continued; and after finding that the Crow would not take them in they headed straight north to hope to get to Canada where the United States government could not get them. The plan of action after they got to Canada who knows.

(11: 14) But as they worked their way north, the force of Miles, I don't know anything about Miles, but the force of Miles caught them at the Battle of Bear Paw and they fought there for a- quite a long time. So we got September 30th to October 5th there were negotiations, there was- in between the negotiations there was more fighting.

(11:40) Something like 4 of the original chiefs, so there were 5 chiefs. So not 4 of them, maybe 4 of them, but many (I think it was 4 chiefs but I don't think it was the 4 original chiefs) were killed in battle here leaving Chief Joseph, who you've heard of, in charge of the force. So Chief Joseph was in charge of the force after, um the battle had gone poorly. And he was actually the man who, um surrendered to the United States.

(11:19) Some of the force was able to flee to Canada, no one knows what happened to them. Theoretically they were incorporated into tribes in Canada and um, you know they lived out their lives um, outside of the eye of history.

(12:38) Um, but yes. Chief Joseph surrendered here. The people who did not die in the Battle of Bear Paw were exiled east onto Indian reservations in the east and some of them (this shouldn't have been here the whole time, sorry.)

(12:55) Some of them eventually were brought back to the Nez Perce reservation. Chief Joseph never was. Chief Joseph actually died on the Colville reservation um, because he was never allowed to return to Nez Perce because they saw him as a potentially problematic figure.

(13:13) So that is the Nez Perce war in a nutshell. Obviously I'm leaving out a lot of battles here. Um but, basically what you have is people who were robbed of their homeland um, fighting back and having no recourse but to flee eventually because of the United States government. Despite the fact that the Nez Perce were better fighters the United States government had by far the larger force.

(13:38) And so there was a great deal of fighting, a great deal of death, a great deal of loss, um and the Nez Perce now to this day continue to occupy this reservation and um many areas around. Um you know not just in the reservation and they remain a uh Indian nation. Um obviously this was a huge loss for them during the very formative period of their existence.

(14:06) Um and now you know. This is probably a pretty dang long video but I hope that you enjoyed it at least a little bit. Okay. Thank you!