After spending the summer fleeing U.S. Army troops, Chief Joseph's band of Nez Perce Indians set up camp in Montana's Big Hole Valley, unaware that their pursuer, General Otis Howard, had telegraphed nearby troops with instructions to intercept them. On August 9, 1877, the quiet dawn was pierced by the sound of U.S. Army gunfire and the screams of women and children, many who died instantly in their tipis. Between 60 and 90 Nez Perce men, women, and children were killed during a 36-hour battle that followed and exacted a heavy toll on both sides.
Today the battlefield is part of Nez Perce National Historical Park, which consists of 38 sites that preserve the culture and the history of Nez Perce in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. The Nez Perce consider the Big Hole National Battlefield a sacred burial ground, and many tribal members travel there to honor those who perished in the conflict.
—Felicia Carr, NPCA
According to an assessment by the Center for the State of the Parks in 2007, the park's museum collection, which includes valuable American Indian and battle-related artifacts, is threatened by limited funds, which prevents much needed exhibit upgrades.
Park staff are also concerned about controlling invasive non-native plants. The long-term health of the forest at Big Hole has been compromised as a result of altered historic fire patterns and the presence of Douglas fir bark beetles.