Commemoration and Preservation:
An Administrative History of Big Hole National Battlefield
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Chapter Six:
Administration under the Rocky Mountain Regional Office (1977-1987)

The centennial commemoration culminated a twenty-year effort by park service personnel to rescue the battlefield from oblivion and to create a site that the park service "could be proud of." These years witnessed land acquisition, construction of a modern visitor center, intensive archeological survey, and development of a powerful, if controversial, interpretive program. In recognition of these years of successful effort, a Rocky Mountain Region Operations Evaluation and Consultation Team prefaced its 1978 evaluation with praise for the "unique and rewarding park experience" created despite limited personnel and fiscal resources: "the overall image of the park to the visitor . . . is excellent. . . . [and] the quality of the park staff is outstanding. Their performance and attitude reflect favorably upon the National Park Service and immeasurably add to the enjoyment of the area by the park visitor." [1]

The years that followed Mission 66 and the centennial anniversary were defined less often by new archeological discovery and new interpretive prose and increasingly by the more mundane tasks of infrastructure maintenance, resource protection, visitor control, and site administration. A Statement for Management (SFM), approved in 1979, guided these decisions. The SFM identified a historic zone, where physical development would remain at the minimum necessary to preserve, protect, and interpret cultural values. It defined a development zone where non-historic park development and intensive use might substantially alter the natural environment. Further, it identified a special use zone encompassed four irrigation ditches and a service road; although the park service owned the underlying land, the water claimants had reserved the private use of the ditches and the right of access for ditch maintenance and repair. According to the SFM, "the private water right owners' vehicles wander[ed] this special use zone at will," creating a special zone of land use and management options.

Legislative and administrative constraints identified in the SFM included the battlefield's listing in the National Register of Historic Places. This listing mandated that management and use of the park be completed within the guidelines of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Legislated environmental constraints included the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Executive Order 11988, which guided/restricted development within 100-year floodplains (the extent of the battlefield), and Executive Order 11990, which regulated development in known wetland habitats. [2] The rights of local ditch associations to maintain and access active and abandoned ditches through the battlefield were also identified as a point of administrative concern. By 1981, Schulmeyer had identified "completion of a water rights study and action plan" as the top priority planning requirement. Although conflict over water rights and irrigation ditches "posed no immediate problems," they had long-range implications. This study, action plan, and associated legal action are detailed in Chapter 7. [3]

Official management objectives remained consistent with the master and interpretive plans of previous years. Within legislative and fiscal constraints, the park service promised to restore and maintain the historic and natural resources and to make these resources available and accessible to the public. "Accessibility" was interpreted as an issue of physical access and of intellectual access to the two primary interpretive themes: 1) the Battle of the Big Hole within the context of the Nez Perce War and of westward expansion and 2) the personal experience and motivations of those on both sides of the battle.


Visitation, 1978-1987.

From 1968, when the visitor center was completed and the battlefield first staffed year round, until 1972, visitation increased at a steady rate of 10-12 percent per year, peaking at 45,850. These numbers dropped precipitously in 1973 in response to the international oil crisis and associated high fuel prices and travel restrictions. Visitor numbers did not return to historic levels until 1982, and then fluctuated for the remainder of the decade, from a high of 46,748 in 1983 to a low of 32,694 in 1987. July consistently registered the highest numbers of visitors, with most arriving on Sunday rather than Saturday. Numbers dropped significantly mid-week, suggesting that despite a relative increase in out-of-state and international tourists, Montana and Idaho residents remained the dominant battlefield constituency. Those visitors who did not progress beyond the visitor center generally stayed thirty minutes to an hour, enough time to use the restroom, scan the artifact displays, and listen to the ten-minute audio-visual program. Those who ventured to the interpretive trail network spent an hour and a half to two hours at the site, more if they stayed to fish or to picnic at the tables established near the Siege Area parking lot. In accordance with Big Hole's official designation as a day-use area, Battlefield rangers directed visitors in search of camping facilities to the newly expanded USFS campground seven miles west on May Creek. Those interested in other sites of historic interest were directed to Clearwater and White Bird Canyon battlefields in Idaho, Fort Fizzle near Missoula, Virginia City, Bannack, Chief Joseph Battleground State Monument, and Nez Perce historic sites within Yellowstone National Park. [4]

As described in the Statement for Management, battlefield visitation remained "supplemental to other regional recreational activities." Battlefield officials cooperated with the Beaverhead National Forest on publication of forest recreational activities. While cross-country skiing, hiking, camping, and other recreational opportunities were developed outside the boundaries, the park service maintained a bulletin board at the visitor center, and actively advertised and directed visitors to forest service resources. This cooperation was mutually beneficial, meeting USFS goals to increase the recreational component of their "multiple use" mission and NPS goals to increase battlefield visitation. [5]

Tepee frames
Tepee frames, Encampment Area, with the visitor center in the background. Photo by Jock Whitworth. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, n.d.


Al Schulmeyer's 14-year tenure at Big Hole National Battlefield, from 1973 to 1987, is remarkable in the history of a site (and an agency) where one- to three-year turns proved to be the norm. This continuity in battlefield administration eased but did not solve the battlefield's staffing difficulties. Through 1987, when Big Hole was placed under the administration of Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, in northwest Montana, "authorized and funded" staffing remained at a full-time historian/interpreter, two seasonal interpretive rangers, a full-time Superintendent, and a full-time maintenance man. Staffing to these levels, however, was often "impossible," with positions left vacant or filled by untrained career-conditional employees without prior NPS experience. As during previous years, the 1978 operations evaluation team recommended funding of a seasonal clerical position during the summer months to allow Schulmeyer and the maintenance man to devote more time to their official tasks. This position was never funded. Of particular note, the Rocky Mountain Regional Office also recommended "obtaining an Indian on the staff," but attributed the recommendation only to the demands of federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws and regulations. Employment of women, although also encouraged by EEO regulations, was more problematic. Through the 1980s interpretive rangers shared a communal "bunkhouse" within the apartment complex. This housing arrangement "pos[ed] some problems in the event female employees should successfully compete for a job." Presumably, the female ranger hired in 1981 – the first in the history of the site – was assigned to separate housing or commuted to the site. [6]

foundations for new staff housiing
Foundations for new staff housing.
Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, n.d.

Significant administrative changes included the 1982 transfer of authority over Big Hole National Battlefield from Yellowstone National Park to the Rocky Mountain Regional Office. Theoretically, the "upward organizational and reporting relationship" with Yellowstone had been to the battlefield's advantage, incorporating the battlefield within Yellowstone's substantial annual budget, and making available equipment, expertise, and facilities. "These advantages," the operations evaluation team noted, "have been negligible in actuality. . . . Little routine assistance of an onsite nature has been offered Big Hole Battlefield from Yellowstone National Park in recent years." Former Yellowstone National Park Historian and former Big Hole National Battlefield Management Assistant Aubrey Haines disagrees only with the assessment that the problem was of recent origin, stating that historically the Yellowstone Chief Rangers Office saw the battlefield as an unvisited backwater, an unwelcome challenge, and an unfortunate drain on a strained budget and rarely accorded the degree of support, resources, or technical assistance requested by battlefield staff. In 1978, the operations evaluation team recommended that the site be recognized as an independent park, with access to the various specialists and program managers of the Rocky Mountain Region. The region could offer "a level of management assistance and guidance and resources" that the battlefield "needs and deserves." [7]

Schulmeyer recognized "INDEPENDENCE DAY" as June 13, 1982, when "formally and officially Big Hole National Battlefield was separated from the administration and organizational ties to Yellowstone National Park." The transfer did provide the battlefield superintendent with a welcome degree of independence. It removed a level of management in the chain of command and report review, sped the exchange of information between offices, and obviated the requirement that the battlefield superintendent travel to Yellowstone every two weeks. In an era of increased data evaluation and policy review, however, the transfer did little to ease the work load of battlefield staff. [8]

Beginning in the 1970s, throughout the park service, and at every level of organization management decisions became rooted in data collection and evaluation. Organizationally, resource management in the Park Service was divided between natural and cultural disciplines. Natural resource management required scientifically trained botanists and wildlife biologists. Cultural resource management drew upon the disciplines of archeology, curation, history, and historical architecture, with contribution by cultural anthropologists beginning in the 1980s. Data collection and evaluation differed according to the resource and called for increasing specialization by discipline. Resource management grew more deliberate, thorough, precise, and time consuming. At the regional level, this fundamental change occurred by a gradual accretion of new technical staff positions and management plans. At Big Hole National Battlefield, responsibility for development of the various management plans and for their revision fell to Schulmeyer and his staff. Schulmeyer introduced his 1984 Annual Report with the complaint "when you are surrounded by snapping alligators you don't see enough of the swamp to get a general perspective." He explained:

the big beasts are the preparation of plans which may take weeks to think out even before doing much writing. This park can handle one or two significant plans but more than that are a disaster. This year [1984] we completed the Interpretive Operations Plan and the write and rewrite of the [Cultural] Resources Management Plan to which was added the Land Use Plan and its rewrites. . . . We are pleased to note that as the year ended we had survived but there was much undone. [9]

Virtue in the beasts was found only in that, on occasion, "resource management [came] to the front with more than just writing another plan, and that is good." Moreover, at Big Hole National Battlefield the line between cultural and natural resources was indistinct and often artificial, creating a unique opportunity for integration of two resource management disciplines often seen as contradictory. In retrospect, this integration foreshadowed the park service's recognition of the significance and value of what is now formally termed a "cultural landscape" but which at Big Hole was interchangeably referenced as the "historic scene" and the "natural scene." [10]

Efforts to restore this scene dominated the final years of Schulmeyer's tenure. Additional projects included continued research on the lives and motivations of those on either side of the Battle of the Big Hole and continued archeological survey and ground-truthing of the historical record and oral tradition.

Concurrent Jurisdiction

In 1933 the park service assumed exclusive jurisdiction over Big Hole Battlefield National Monument. Public Law 88-24, May 17, 1963, not only extended the boundaries of the Big Hole Battlefield but also recommended concurrent jurisdiction over petty offenders with the state of Montana, pursuant to state approval. Under the terms of exclusive jurisdiction, the federal government possesses all of the police authority of the state and the state concerned has not reserved the right to exercise authority concurrently with the United States. In 1956, an Interdepartmental Committee for The Study of Jurisdiction over Federal Areas Within the States recommended that exclusive federal jurisdiction be obtained, or retained, "only where it is absolutely necessary to the Federal Government, and in such instances the United States should provide a statutory or regulatory code to govern the areas." The committee further established that proprietary jurisdiction – "wherein the Federal Government not receive, or retain, any measure whatever of legislative jurisdiction, but that it hold the installations and areas in a proprietorial interest status only" – was the desirable status for a large majority of federally owned land. Exceptions included only areas of immense size, large populations, remote locations, or peculiar use. In these instances concurrent jurisdiction – wherein the States reserved the right to exercise authority concurrently with the United States – was preferred. Remote Big Hole Battlefield fell within this category. [11]

As late as 1976, the state legislature had not passed legislation accepting the 1963 retrocession. Correspondence suggests that the delay resulted from inaction rather than from disagreement over the conditions or the fact of the transfer. In fact, Al Schulmeyer presented concurrent jurisdiction as a means of increasing support for the park service within the "strong[ly] conservative Republican [Big Hole] area." The Beaverhead National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management, Schulmeyer noted, had been recently (and roundly) criticized for " 'tyrannical actions by federal agencies without considering local feelings.'. . . I do not want the NPS and the Battlefield to fall into the same group without an effort to avoid it." [12]

Concurrent jurisdiction would cost the county no additional money, as park service rangers would continue to assume all responsibilities for police patrol. It would also place state and county laws on a par with federal laws, thereby "increas[ing] local control and participation [at] no increased cost." State representative Terry Murphy agreed to introduce legislation in approval of concurrent jurisdiction. Schulmeyer also urged that Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain Region officials actively involve State Senator Frank Hazelbaker, "MR. REPUBLICAN," in the legislative process, thereby sharing ownership for the proposal and for the anticipated positive local response. To do otherwise risked further alienating both Hazelbaker and the local community. While Schulmeyer was confident that concurrent jurisdiction would pass despite local opposition from the surrounding area he had no desire to create another source of animosity or to waste an opportunity to cultivate good will. The Montana legislature approved concurrent jurisdiction in 1980. By April 1982 all necessary documents had been filed with the county clerk, county sheriff, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Attorney's office. [13]

Infrastructure Maintenance

The sewage leach field established downslope from the visitor center in 1964 provided the first infrastructure crisis. By 1975, the septic tank system had proven inadequate and was leaking sewage from the leach fields into the local water courses, including area ditches and the North Fork of the Big Hole River. (Former Management Assistant Aubrey Haines remembers that in 1964, the Western Regional Office design team chose to ignore his concern that the bentonitic clay of the leach-field site would not allow sufficient evaporation and perculation, and proceeded with the inferior design.) The new system addressed the non-porous characteristics of local soil, the high water table, the variable rate of visitation/water demands, and Montana Water Quality standards that demanded tertiary treatment of all waste. As built, the system ("best described as a modified facultative wastewater oxidation pond with effluent disposal by evaporation and irrigation") incorporated a one-acre lined aerated lagoon connected to the existing septic tank by 700 feet of sewer pipe. A pump station conveyed treated sewage from the lagoon to a six-acre irrigation site. Indirect impacts associated with construction of the new sewage lagoon outside the historic district boundaries included "visual intrusion." The park service attempted to mitigate this impact with regrading and replanting and by using terrain and vegetation as natural screens. [14]

The 1979 Big Hole operations evaluation also included directives to immediately install a security system in the visitor center, to protect the building from fire and the museum articles from theft. This recommendation had been made before, but had previously been assigned a low priority and was not scheduled until 1984/1985. Given the distance between staff housing and the visitor center, and the ease with which the doors could be forced, the evaluation team considered this delay inadvisable. [15] (Previous to 1979, there had been two incidents of theft. In 1972, Chief Joseph's pipe and pipe bag was stolen. They were not recovered until many years later. In 1977, bows and arrows and rifles, including Yellow Wolf's rifle, were stolen from a display case. Investigators fingerprinted the smashed display case and traced the incident to two men employed by local rancher Dick Hirschey. The stolen items were found in a hayloft. The incident demonstrated the need for greater security precautions. [16]

Infrastructure needs were not limited to maintenance and reconstruction of Mission 66 improvements. The superintendent's residence included in the initial master plan for development had been deleted to save costs. Since the 1968 removal of the historic forest service residence, the superintendent and his family had lived in a two-bedroom unit of the four-unit apartment building. As staffing increased in the mid-1970s, one of the three remaining units was converted to a bunkhouse for interpretive rangers. As described in the 1978 operations evaluation, the auxiliary house trailer brought to the site in the late 1950s provided needed additional space but was an obtrusive eyesore. At a minimum, the house trailer needed to be replaced by a model that blended with the apartment complex. At some point in the future, construction of additional housing was imperative. [17]

Cultural Resources Management

Maintenance and reconstruction demanded compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as described in 36 CFR 800. This act and associated federal register regulations dictated that federal agencies assess the impact of proposed actions on significant cultural resources (those prehistoric and historic districts, sites, buildings, objects and structures determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places) and mitigate that action determined to be "adverse." By the late 1970s, the 106 compliance paper trail of cultural resource inventories, evaluations, and determinations of effect increasingly dominated Big Hole Battlefield's administrative files.

The historic Chief Joseph monument was moved to the visitor center. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, September, 1998.

In 1966, the national monument – as a historic site of the National Park Service – was "administratively listed" in the National Register of Historic Places for its significant association with the Indian Wars and Westward Expansion. A formal nomination form excluding the Developed Zone/Ruby Bench area from the historic district boundaries was approved by the National Register in 1978. The historic Chief Joseph monument, moved to the museum sometime between 1976 and 1978, was excluded from the resource "count" of the National Register Nomination (Section 5). The Park Service based this decision on National Register directives that "objects relocated to a museum are inappropriate for listing in the National Register of Historic Places." Moreover, the Park Service argued, if returned to the original site within the Siege Area or to a more appropriate commemorative site within the Encampment Area, the marker would still be evaluated as a noncontributing resource: "although the Battle of the Big Hole was fought in 1877, the monument to the Indians was not erected until 1928, some 51 years later. It cannot be said that the monument has either great age or longtime association with the battlefield." This evaluation conflicted starkly with long-time NPS inclusion of the soldiers' monument, the Chief Joseph monument, and Thain White's unauthorized plaque to the Nez Perce dead within its interpretive program, as examples of historic and evolving commemoration of the battle. [18]

An addendum to this form in 1984 identified individual resources and values that "contribute" to the significance of the battlefield. These included the five primary battle sites, the soldiers' trenches, and the soldiers' monument. (Upon designation as "significant and contributing," battlefield resources were also incorporated within the park service's internal cultural resources data base: the List of Classified Structures.) Noncontributing historic resources, including historic mining, ranching, and Forest Service administration, were defined as all resources not associated with either the principal ethnographic theme focusing on the Nez Perce or the principal battle theme. [19]

As approved in 1984, the National Register nomination did not include any prehistoric sites. In 1986, Montana State Historic Preservation Officer Marcella Sherfy requested revision of the Cultural Resource Component of the Resources Management Plan, to read:

the archeological resources of Big Hole National Battlefield and the historical remains of the Battle of 1877 . . . and any prehistoric remains yet to be identified. . . . No prehistoric sites have yet been identified on the Battlefield, with the exception of a isolated project[ile] point. However, that likely reflects the absence of prior professional inventory for prehistory and poor ground visibility more than the absence of sites. [20]

The Park Service responded by indicating that the Cultural Resources Study would be "more complicated than the usual one" and would include a metes and bounds definition of the "four major archaeological sites" (the Siege Area, the Nez Perce Encampment Area, the Battle Zone, and the Howitzer Capture Site). [21]

Cultural Resources Management Plan

The National Historic Preservation Act required not only that the impact of federal action on cultural resources be evaluated and mitigated as necessary (Section 106), but that federal agencies take a proactive role in identification and protection of all cultural resources within their land base or regulatory purview (Section 110). This requirement was clarified with the issue of Executive Order 11593, mandating that all federal land managing agencies prepare a cultural resource survey for lands under their control and that they develop and institute a cultural resources management plan. For "historic," rather than "natural" parks, these were critical management documents that guided site interpretation and research as well as site preservation.

In 1984, Al Schulmeyer identified completion of a comprehensive Cultural Resources Survey of Big Hole National Battlefield as a priority project. Recognizing that "funding and contract" for the entire 655-acre survey was untenable, Schulmeyer recommended a series of smaller-scale surveys on the 20-30 acres of documented historic activity and likely prehistoric use. These included continued archeological investigations of the Siege Area, to recover, document, and map the rifle pits and the estimated 20% of expended cartridge shells that remained. Without this effort, the significant archeological record of the Siege Area remained vulnerable to relic hunters. Schulmeyer hoped also to identify the "missing" fifth line of fire referenced in the historic record yet never located or ground truthed. Upon more complete documentation of the rifle pits, the park service would also be in better position to proceed with minor excavation and selective tree thinning, to return the rifle pits to their historic condition.

The archeological record within the Encampment Area was organic and not likely to be recovered through the use of metal detectors or ground survey. Schulmeyer recommended that this survey be more specific, targeted at identification of a large communal camas bulb earth oven pit referenced by survivors of the battle. Preparation of camas bulbs was a 3 to 4 day process. Location of the oven would confirm the hypothesis that the Nez Perce held a false sense of safety after their crossing from Idaho to Montana, were no longer in flight, and did not contemplate immediate departure. Although a small oven was later discovered during the course of a 1991 investigation, it was not the large communal oven that Schulmeyer described. [22]

prescibed burn on Battle Mountain
Prescribed burn on Battle Mountain. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, n.d.

The "Natural Scene": Natural and Cultural Resource Protection

The Cultural Resources Management Plan also reflected the battlefield's long-standing definition of the "natural scene" as a significant cultural resource. In response to federal environmental legislation, particularly the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), and of service-wide environmental initiatives, park service personnel increasingly included identification and protection of natural resources (in contrast to the "natural [historic] scene") in the battlefield preservation plan. In broad terms, NEPA defined "a national policy . . . to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man." As carefully defined, the environment included "historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage." To that end, NEPA stipulated a "systematic, interdisciplinary" review of natural and social science data to assist in planning and in decisionmaking, or – as interpreted in practice and regulationEnvironmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Studies. [23]

As with passage of the National Historic Preservation Act, compliance with NEPA dramatically redefined management, use, and development of all federally owned land. Within the context of this management transition, Big Hole Battlefield was unique only in the degree to which preservation of cultural resources was synonymous with preservation of natural resources. Park service staff continued to evaluate the "historic scene" as the overriding cultural resource of concern. Montana State Historic Preservation Officer Sherfy commended Schulmeyer on his "clear description of the park's cultural resource as its natural resource and praised the park's proposed long-term treatment of the natural scene as "clearly and concretely planned." [24]

In 1981, the park service contracted with John Pierce, University of Montana School of Forestry, to complete a vegetation study of the battlefield (similar to that first proposed by Clyde Maxey in 1963). As described by the park service, the study was designed to provide base line data of species composition, relative abundance, and distribution on the battlefield. This baseline information was then used to assess the possible impact of management actions to native flora and fauna. Schulmeyer noted that "it is only with the development of the baseline data that it becomes possible to determine the degree, the location, and biological process of succession." Armed with this information, Schulmeyer pursued an aggressive course of action. [25]

Park service personnel had long lamented the changes in vegetative cover, particularly the willow growth of the bottomland, the second-growth lodgepole pine of the Siege Area, and the second-growth encroaching upon the Horse Pasture/sagebrush steppe. Pierce's analysis, based upon field study and historical research, established that prior to the battle and until substantial settlement of the Big Hole Valley in the 1890s fire had burned through the willow bottoms every eight to ten years. These fires were part of the natural cycle; the altered and deteriorated willow community was both historically inappropriate and unnatural, representing "over 100 years of human interference in the natural process of fire." [26]

In an era when federal land management agencies increasingly used fire as part of an integrated approach to resource management, Al Schulmeyer proposed the use of controlled burns to return the battlefield to an approximation of 1877 conditions. In preparation of his "Environmental Assessment, Willow Control, Big Hole National Battlefield," Schulmeyer consulted with Pierce, an ecologist, a biologist, a prehistoric archeologist, a historic archeologist, an historian, a wildlife specialist, a NEPE/NHPA compliance officer from the Rocky Mountain Region, and the Montana State Historic Preservation Officer. Resource management at Big Hole National Battlefield was an increasingly multi-disciplinary affair. [27]

The final environmental assessment established that controlled burns would recreate the historic scene and recreate wildlife habitat. Ideally, the heat of the fire would remove the dead materials, return nutrients to the soil, and stimulate willow regrowth. The only threatened plant within the river bottom, penstemon lemhiensis, had been shown to respond well to fire. Assessed alternatives to fire included "No Action," whereby the continued "denseness and age [of the willow community] would drive away the wildlife . . . and hinder effective understanding of the [battle]; chemical treatment, effective in killing the overgrowth yet also fatal to the root crown (and demanding removal of all dead material; and mechanical removal, dismissed as too labor intensive and visually intrusive (as "the cut ends would be apparent, and regrowth would not be rapidly stimulated)." In 1985, the park service received clearance to proceed with the controlled fire alternative. [28]

burning sagebrush in the Horse Pasture
Burning sagebrush in the Horse Pasture. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, n.d.

Reconstruction of the eroded riverbank adjacent to the Encampment Area also required an assessment of associated environmental impacts. In 1973 Schulmeyer directed removal of a driftwood and beaver dam that had caused the North Fork of the Big Hole River to abrade into the Nez Perce Encampment Area. This effort proved insufficient and a 100-yard reach of the North Fork River continued to erode, threatening archeological resources and altering the historic battle scene. The NPS considered four alternative proposals to control the erosion and evaluated the associated impact to natural- and cultural-resource values. The no-action alternative, Alternative 1, would require acceptance "of the loss of the historic scene." Alternative 2, substantial and expensive rip-rap of the eroded bank with concrete or stone, would control the immediate threat to archeological resources yet would also intrude upon the natural and historic scene. It was dismissed as quickly as Alternative 1. Planting additional willow along the river's edge, Alternative 3, would stall the erosion without environmental impact yet would also exacerbate the existing problem of willow overgrowth and would introduce additional management costs associated with annual vista clearings. The park service, with SHPO concurrence, determined that Alternative 4, construction of seven synthetic beaver dams at points subject to the force of high water river flow, most effectively "protected the natural scene which is the historic scene." Officials with the Rocky Mountain Regional Office and the Montana State Historic Preservation Office, found that Alternative 4 would have no significant impact on the natural or historic environment. [29]

Additional land-base proposals initiated by Schulmeyer yet not completed during his tenure included selective thinning of the Siege Area, based on baseline (1877) data provided by Pierce; a controlled burn on Battle Mountain to eliminate the lodgepole pine encroaching on the Horse Pasture Area; and removal of two beaver dams that diverted water from the historically swampy land between the Encampment and Siege areas. Restoration of the abandoned road cuts and irrigation ditches also remained a park goal. These projects were included in the draft 1984 Cultural Resources Management Plan and were approved between 1986 and 1987, following findings of no significant impact (FONSI). They were not funded and initiated until the 1990s. [30]

Research and Interpretation

Although the Museum Branch advocated redesign of interpretive displays every five years ("to keep pace with developing knowledge and tastes") funds were rarely available for any but minor variations. The battlefield interpretive prospectus remained static in its identification of the primary interpretive theme – "the Nez Perce War of 1877 and the clash and confrontation of individuals and cultures" – and the most appropriate means of communicating that theme – the audio-visual auditorium, museum exhibit room, information desk, sales desk, self-guided trails, and wayside exhibit of the howitzer capture site. Within this general outline established in 1964, however, Schulmeyer's impact on the interpretive focus and research effort is evident. In the 1984 interpretive prospectus Schulmeyer wrote: "without followers there can be no leaders" and urged an interpretive focus that respected the individuals involved. The Cultural Resources Management Plan includes a recommendation for continued effort to identify "the names of the battle participants on both sides and learn something about them before and after" and to organize and analyze the McWhorter research collection in an effort to learn more about the individual Nez Perce who participated in the battle. The management plan also urged continued study of the soldier uniforms and accoutrements worn in the field at the time of battle, in an effort to retain a "balanced" rather than Nez-Perce focused interpretive presentation. Schulmeyer also recommended continued analysis of the leadership of the Seventh Infantry to explain "why Gibbon chose certain companies and officers to fight and why certain companies performed better than others under stress." Each of these projects was to be continued "on a low key, as a supplemental duty but without rigid goals or required annual production." As such, these were personality-driven rather than contract-driven projects, absolutely dependent upon the time, energy, and commitment of those assigned to the battlefield. [31]

In 1984, NPS historian Jerome Green and Chief Historian Edwin C. Bearss protested that the hat and feather markers along the Siege Area trail were more appropriate to Disneyland than to a battlefield site. In a dramatic example of the impact of changing taste and methodology on static goals, Acting Associate Director for Cultural Resources Rowland T. Bowers chided Harpers Ferry Center and Big Hole officials to find a more "dignified treatment of a battlefield, where men, women, and children of both races made the supreme sacrifice." [32] The markers, however, remained.

Controversy that would define the next phase of the interpretive program was introduced in 1985, when a Rocky Mountain Region Operations Evaluation Team (with the support of Big Hole Park Ranger Phillip Gomez) criticized the interpretive program as slanted to the Nez Perce point of view. The focus of the Centennial-era interpretive program (particularly the audio-visual program), Gomez complained, was a "relic of the 1960's and the Civil Rights Movement," and did not reflect 1980s public sensibilities. Schulmeyer objected strongly to the operation team's criticism of the content and focus of the AV program, noting previous positive evaluations and visitors' approval. He agreed, however, that the presentation and text were outdated, and urged funding of a new program, developed by Harpers Ferry Center in collaboration with Big Hole personnel. [33]

hat and feather markers
The hat and feather markers identify positions held during the siege.
Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, September, 1998.

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Last Updated: 22-Feb-2000