03 June 2010
Memorial Day Weekend: Big Hole Battlefield, Hot Springs, Wildflowers
There are a half-dozen or so hot springs within a few hours drive of Butte, Montana. Given the rainy cool weather, we decided on day trips to hot springs and other local sites instead of the usual Memorial Weekend camping trip.
Big Hole National Battlefield
The upper Big Hole River basin of southwest Montana was the site of a battle between Nez Perce Indians and the U.S. Army. The Nex Perce didn't want to be forced onto a smaller treaty, and had escaped across the Beaverhead Mountains of the Continental Divide from their home several hundred miles to the west near present-day Lewiston, Idaho (view from camp toward the Divide):
The Nez Perce thought they had outdistanced the soldiers and were safe in the embrace of Iskumtselalik Pah, "the place of ground squirrels," with their herd of more than 2,000 horses grazing on the hillside above the camp:
It wasn't supposed to be a battle, at least not from Colonel John Gibbon's perspective. As Gibbon told a Lieutenant who asked what would be done with prisoners, "We don't want any prisoners." At dawn on the morning of 09 August 1877, a force of 149 soldiers and 34 citizen volunteers snuck up on the encampment of sleeping Nez Perce--more than 700, the vast majority were women and children. Gibbon instructed the soldiers to get into position and shoot volleys low into the tipis, hoping to kill the Nez Perce as they slept. But an old man, up to "check on the horses" (or pee?), walked into the assembling soldiers and was shot. In the ensuing melee, Nez Perce who weren't killed or wounded scattered into the thick willows:
Nez Perce rifleman quickly occupied the high ground, captured the howitzer and ammunition wagon. The soldiers retreated to the woods where the Nez Perce kept them pinned down for the next 24 hours while the main group of Nez Perce rode off toward Yellowstone National Park. About 90 Nez Perce were killed, while Gibbon lost 31 dead and 40 wounded--many were European immigrants attracted to America for a better life. In 1883, a granite monument was shipped from New Hampshire to Dillon by rail and hauled to the battelfield by oxen:
No monument for the dead Indians, though the Nez Perce commemorate the anniversary of the battle each year with a ceremony. After fleeing 1,500 miles and for 4 months, about 400 remaining war-weary Nez Perce surrendered at the Battle of Bear Paw--just 40 miles from Canada where they were seeking refuge.
We started off with Pony's "duck race" which we've heard so much about. During the frontier days, Pony was so small it wasn't even a one-horse town. The event turned out to be a rip-off: buy a $20 ticket that included a duck number, a free can of light beer, and a BBQ meal (served some undetermined number of hours after the race--we left WAY before that). Supposed to be music, too, but that must come along about the same time as the BBQ. Mostly, it was about teenagers(?) drinking:
The holiday wasn't all driving, soaking, and a battlefield visit. We fit in a walk behind our home in Walkeville, where the Low Larkspur (Delphinium bicolor) are blooming: