Commemoration and Preservation:
An Administrative History of Big Hole National Battlefield
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Chapter Six:
Administration under other Small Units (1987-1997)

Consolidation with Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

In 1987, Superintendent Al Schulmeyer's superiors in the Rocky Mountain Regional Office still regarded Big Hole National Battlefield as a "sleepy hollow." Remote from Montana's major cities, airports, interstate highways, and National Parks, the battlefield still received relatively light visitation. It was a place, regional officials assumed, where mid-level administrators marked time. [1] Thus, when Schulmeyer's two permanent staff members both resigned in the first half of 1987, the dual vacancies presented an opportunity to reevaluate how much staff was required at Big Hole. Perhaps the battlefield could be administered through another office. The Rocky Mountain Region's deputy director noticed the two vacancies and reached for his administrative pruning sheers. He requested Associate Regional Director Harold P. Danz and Colorado National Monument Superintendent Robert W. Reynolds to conduct a study of Big Hole's staffing needs looking to a consolidation of management offices some place else. [2]

For Schulmeyer, now in his fifteenth year as superintendent at the battlefield, the reorganization was painfully abrupt. Danz and Reynolds received their assignment on June 4, 1987, and conducted the study four days later. Reynolds visited the battlefield on June 8 and interviewed Schulmeyer about the management issues that were unusually complex or unique to Big Hole. Danz, who had been to Big Hole before, joined the discussion by telephone. They considered the feasibility of combining Big Hole's administration with that of Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. The following day, Reynolds continued these conversations with the superintendent and division chiefs at Grant Kohrs. [3]

The study team characterized Big Hole National Battlefield as a "rather small area" – 655.6 acres in size, lightly visited, and served by a "modest" physical plant. In 1987, the physical plant consisted of the visitor center, a four-unit apartment building, a double-wide house trailer, some temporary storage sheds, and a 50,000-gallon water tank and sewage lagoon. Danz and Reynolds learned from Schulmeyer that the battlefield was formerly administered by Yellowstone National Park, was separated from Yellowstone on June 13, 1982, and since that date the superintendent reported directly to the Regional Director, Rocky Mountain Region. [4]

Maintenance was the primary year-round staff function at Big Hole, Danz and Reynolds reported. In the winter, maintenance work consisted of removing snow from the entrance road, maintaining utilities, providing security, and performing custodial tasks. Closing the battlefield during the winter was not an option, primarily because of the need to maintain utility systems and provide security for the museum exhibits and collections stored in the visitor center. However, if the state or county were persuaded to take over plowing of the entrance road, then staff duties during the winter months would be significantly reduced. [5]

Jock Whitworth, unit manager and superintendent, Big Hole National Battlefield 1988 - 1993. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, n.d.

The study team recommended that the most appropriate reorganization "under the present circumstances" was to place Big Hole National Battlefield under the administration of Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. Technical staff at Grant Kohrs Ranch would be available to Big Hole. The new arrangement would "ensure a more effective, efficient, and economical use" of resources. [6] Regional Director Lorraine Mintzmeyer approved the study team's recommendation. Superintendent Jimmy Taylor of Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site assumed responsibility for Big Hole National Battlefield on October 1, 1987. (Taylor left in 1988 and was replaced by Eddie Lopez.) Maintenance duties, curation, and administrative functions at Big Hole were all transferred to the Grant Kohrs Ranch staff. A press release asserted that the main effect of this "realignment" would be "to provide increased focus on interpretive programs and the park's cultural and natural resource management concerns." [7] Schulmeyer bitterly disagreed, proud of his own accomplishments in these areas. Rather than accept a directed reassignment, he retired.

In January 1988, Jock Whitworth was hired as chief of interpretation and resources management. The single permanent ranger and all seasonal interpretive staff reported to Whitworth, while the chief of maintenance reported directly to the chief of maintenance at Grant Kohrs Ranch. The following November Whitworth's title was changed to unit manager, at which point he supervised maintenance too. The change of title was tacit acknowledgement that the effort to consolidate administrative functions between Big Hole and Grant-Kohrs Ranch had gone too far. In March 1992, his title was changed again to park manager/superintendent. This included a position upgrade from GS-9 to GS-11. Throughout the years 1987-1992 the Grant Kohrs Ranch staff provided administrative and clerical support and oversaw curation at Big Hole National Battlefield. [8] These activities are detailed later in the chapter.

Consolidation with Nez Perce National Historical Park

Big Hole National Battlefield underwent another administrative reorganization in 1992-1993 as a result of the Nez Perce National Historical Park Additions Act. In October 1992, Congress passed a law joining Big Hole National Battlefield and thirteen other sites in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana to Nez Perce National Historical Park. The placement of Big Hole with the other park was based on much more than mere administrative expedience; it was intended to enhance the interpretive design of Nez Perce National Historical Park. The park additions included three other battlefields along the Nez Perce Trail – Camas Meadows in Idaho, and Canyon Creek and Bear's Paw in Montana – as well as sites associated with the Joseph band's homeland in Oregon and its eventual place of exile in Washington. The additions were consistent with the original conception of Nez Perce National Historical Park as a series of sites, or "string of pearls," whose significance derived from their historical association with Nez Perce country. [9]

The Nez Perce National Historical Park Additions Act placed Big Hole National Battlefield in a somewhat anomalous position. Section 2 of the act expressly added Big Hole National Battlefield to the park, but it did not change the national battlefield designation nor annul the unit's own authorizing legislation. Indeed, the act directly acknowledged the site's dual status in its provision that "Lands added to the Big Hole National Battlefield, Montana, pursuant to paragraph (10) shall become part of and be placed under the administrative jurisdiction of the Big Hole National Battlefield, but may be interpreted in accordance with the purposes of this Act." Further, the battlefield retained its own base funding as a distinct unit within the National Park system. [10]

inscription on soldier's monument
Inscription on the soldier's monument. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, September, 1998.

The legislation presented new challenges and opportunities for administering Big Hole. The greatest challenge was distance: Nez Perce National Historical Park now sprawled over four states (or five, if one included the section of Nez Perce Trail through Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming). The headquarters for this unique park was in Spalding, Idaho – an eight-hour drive from Big Hole over twisting two-lane highways. In winter, the two mountain passes between Big Hole and Spalding could make the trip considerably longer. Another challenge was the existing boundaries between National Park Service regions: Nez Perce National Historical Park reported to the Pacific Northwest Region Office in Seattle; Big Hole and Grant Kohrs Ranch were under the Rocky Mountain Regional Office in Denver. On the other hand, the greatest opportunity presented by the joining of Big Hole and Nez Perce National Historical Park was the sharing of staff expertise, since both units revolved around the preservation and interpretation of Nez Perce culture and history.

It appears that Congress's intent in the Nez Perce National Historical Park Additions Act was to allow the Park Service some latitude in formulating how Big Hole and the three new battlefield sites in Idaho and Montana would be administered. Indeed, NPS officials at the field level began conceptualizing how the expanded park could most effectively be administered several months before Congress finally enacted the legislation. Jock Whitworth and Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historical Site Superintendent Eddie Lopez began working on the legislation with Nez Perce National Historical Park Superintendent Frank Walker in 1990. Walker believed that the most effective way to manage the Montana sites would be from Big Hole and the Rocky Mountain Regional Office. To avoid duplication of efforts between the two regions, certain parkwide administrative matters such as general management planning, interpretive planning, and relations with the Nez Perce Tribe could be handled out of one region. [11]

Pacific Northwest Regional Director Charles H. Odegaard supported this concept and broached the prospect of a cooperative agreement with the Rocky Mountain Region on October 19, 1992, three weeks after the Senate passed the bill. Odegaard suggested that the two regional directors decide between them which region would take the lead. The first task of the lead office would be to prepare a memorandum for activation of the new sites. [12]

Even this arrangement proved unwieldy, however. In May 1993, Rocky Mountain Regional Director Bob Baker was helping conduct a Purpose and Significance Workshop for Big Hole National Battlefield when he realized that it was difficult to interpret Big Hole separately from the other sites in Nez Perce National Historical Park. In March 1994, Baker and Odegaard agreed to an exchange: the three Montana battle sites for the Oregon National Historic Trail. The exchange took place on June 10, 1994. Thus, the Montana sites were brought under the administration of the superintendent at Spalding. [13]

At the same time that the regional directors were negotiating this agreement, the staff at the battlefield was in flux. Jock Whitworth left in June 1993, transferring to Rocky Mountain National Park. Art Hutchinson, an archeologist and interpretive park ranger from Mesa Verde National Park, accepted a temporary assignment as acting superintendent at Big Hole from July to November 1993. The park ranger also transferred out and a temporary replacement arrived that summer. Hutchinson successfully guided the permanent and seasonal staff through a transitional year. Returning seasonal interpreters provided a measure of continuity, and Hutchinson reported at the end of the year that the staff had functioned in "a definite atmosphere of cooperation." [14]

On January 13-14, 1994, the superintendents of Nez Perce National Historical Park, Big Hole National Battlefield, and Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historical Site convened with staff from the Personnel Division of the Pacific Northwest Regional Office to revamp the park's organizational structure. In essence, the plan replaced traditional functional divisions with five management units based on logical clusters of sites. Each of these units would handle daily operations, cultivate local community support, and develop working relations with the park's partner's in that area. Technical activities, planning, and overall coordination would be consolidated in a parkwide support unit based at Spalding. [15]

The administrative reorganization of Big Hole National Battlefield and Nez Perce National Historical Park paralleled the larger reorganization then underway throughout the National Park system. Superintendent Walker decentralized the administrative organization of the park at the same time that National Park Service Director Roger G. Kennedy activated a general reorganizational plan aimed at reducing the size of regional office staffs and moving personnel from regional offices to the field. Both efforts were aimed at empowering employees, putting employees closer to the resources and the Park Service's constituents, and reducing administrative costs. Both plans drew inspiration from the objectives outlined in the report of Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review, From Red Tape to Results – Creating a Government that Works Better and Costs Less.

Superintendent/Unit Managers, 1988 to current.
1988-1993Jock Whitworth
1993Art Hutchinson
1994Tony Schetzle
1994-1996Sue Buchel
1996 to presentJon G. James

Superintendent Walker put his staff reorganization into effect in stages. The Oregon-Washington Unit was activated even before the unit organization concept was fully developed. Paul Henderson began work in August 1993 at Joseph, Oregon, as the park's first unit manager. [16] The following year, Walker established two staff units in Idaho. Art Hutchinson served as manager of the Spalding Unit, with primary responsibility for the visitor center operation, and Mark O'Neill became manager of the White Bird and Upper Clearwater Units, with offices and staff at Grangeville. Meanwhile, in February 1994, Tony Schetzle became the first unit manager of the Montana Unit under the reorganization, then moved four months later to Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site as superintendent. [17]

Jon G. James, superintendent of Big Hole National Battlefield and Montana unit manager, Nez Perce National Historical Park. Courtesy National Park Service, September, 1998.

Sue Buchel, curator at Nez Perce National Historical Park headquarters in Spalding, Idaho, took Schetzle's place as unit manager of the Montana Unit in June 1994. As former curator with responsibility for exhibits and museum, library, and photo collections at Spalding, Buchel brought a detailed knowledge of Nez Perce history and culture to her job. [18] In addition to managing a permanent staff of five at Big Hole, Buchel exercised line authority over a single park ranger at Bear's Paw Battlefield and was responsible for the undeveloped Canyon Creek site outside of Laurel, Montana. [19] Buchel served a year and seven months at Big Hole and then resigned for personal reasons. During this time, Buchel and other Nez Perce National Historical Park staff concluded that Big Hole National Battlefield needed to be somewhat more autonomous than the other management units. In September 1995, the Montana unit manager position was redesignated as both superintendent of Big Hole National Battlefield and unit manager of the Montana Unit of Nez Perce National Historical Park. [20]

Jon G. James arrived at Big Hole in March 1996. An historian by training, James had served as a seasonal interpreter at Big Hole nearly twenty years earlier in 1977. He was excited to return because he believed the Park Service had a "really important story to tell" at Big Hole and the interpretive design still needed work. [21] Certainly with the battlefield's integration into Nez Perce National Historical Park the need was now greater than ever to interpret the battle and the War of 1877 in the wider context of Nez Perce history. In yet another refinement of the administrative reorganization, James negotiated a verbal understanding with Superintendent Walker according to which James reported to Nez Perce National Historical Park on management issues relating to Nez Perce culture and history, and looked to the Columbia-Cascades System Support Office (formerly the Pacific Northwest Regional Office) for help on all other management issues. In some ways, Nez Perce National Historical Park now served as a system support office or lead cluster park for Big Hole, providing technical assistance in the areas of natural resources, cultural resources, and computer and library support as well as coordination of historical themes and interpretation. Big Hole, meanwhile, provided management activities in support of the three "Montana" sites (Bear's Paw, Canyon Creek, and Camas Meadows) by performing maintenance, management support, administrative support, community relations, and supervision of personnel. Additionally, the Big Hole superintendent took advantage of the unit's proximity to the USFS Region 1 office in Missoula by serving as NPS coordinator for the USFS-managed Nez Perce National Historical Trail. [21]

New Staff Housing

The administrative reorganization of Big Hole National Battlefield had repercussions for the unit's physical plant. It became evident as early as 1992 that Big Hole's staff would increase and that staff housing needed to be expanded. Superintendent Jock Whitworth initiated a housing study, and the Rocky Mountain Regional Office produced a new Housing Management Plan. The plans were in place when Whitworth transferred to a new position in June 1993, and the new housing units were built shortly thereafter. The new housing complex marked the most visible addition to the battlefield's physical plant since the construction of the visitor center some thirty years earlier. Whitworth acknowledged that the possibility of overbuilding gave him "nightmares," but given the Park Service's lack of authority to construct housing units outside the boundaries of the national battlefield the necessity for more on-site staff housing was inescapable. [23]

Existing quarters in 1992 were too small to accommodate the park staff. Not only was the staff itself growing, but the NPS workforce in general was becoming more diversified. Personnel who were married or had children needed larger accommodations. The housing complex in 1992 consisted of a two-bedroom mobile home, a pair of two-bedroom apartments, and two studio apartments for seasonal interpreters. That summer the trailer was occupied by a family of three, and each of the two-bedroom apartments by families of five. Four seasonal employees were crowded into the studio apartments, while two others lived in Wisdom. Temporary housing in Wisdom was of poor quality and hard to find. [24]

The Park Service contracted for the new housing construction and the project was completed in 1994. Subsequently, administrators contended that the contractor cut corners and that Park Service oversight of the contract was not well-executed. The project occurred at the same time that Big Hole National Battlefield was transferred from the Park Service's Rocky Mountain Region to the Pacific Northwest Region, perhaps explaining the lack of vigilance in overseeing the contract. In any case, the complex was not properly landscaped or contoured, and the ground did not drain well. Superintendent Jon James had to address these problems after he arrived, two years after the contract had been completed. [25]

Rehabilitation of the visitor center and housing complex topped the list of items included in the "action plan" for Big Hole National Battlefield in the new General Management Plan for Nez Perce National Historical Park and Big Hole National Battlefield, adopted in September 1997. By the fall of 1998, plans were underway to expand and remodel the visitor center, construct a new maintenance facility, and landscape the housing complex. The total cost of these contemplated improvements was estimated at $3.2 million. [26]

Visitor Use

Visitation, 1988-1997.

Visitor use of Big Hole National Battlefield increased in the 1990s. Having see-sawed either side of 40,000 people per year in the 1980s, visitation averaged around 50,000 in the early 1990s and climbed to 65,000 by 1997. The seasonality of visitor use remained about the same between the two decades with roughly half of annual visitation falling in the months of July and August and fully 95 percent of annual visitation appearing in the six months from May through October. [27]

Big Hole staff attributed much of the increase to population growth in western Montana, particularly in the Bitterroot and Missoula valleys to the west and north of Big Hole, as evidenced by the county numbers on Montana license plates commonly seen in the parking lot. "In the late 1980s, western Montana was discovered," Jock Whitworth recalled. The influx of population to these counties seemed to spring not from economic opportunity but from the area's attractiveness as a place "to enjoy the good life." [28] Many of the new day visitors to the battlefield appeared to the staff as greenhorns. At worst, they did not give the battlefield proper respect. Kermit Edmunds, a Missoula high school teacher who had served as a seasonal interpreter at Big Hole sporadically since 1964, remembered an incident in 1991 that seemed to epitomize the change. Once during that summer he had to apprehend some visitors who had brought a pair of llamas in a horse trailer to the battlefield and were allowing the animals to graze in the Siege Area. For Edmunds, this signaled that "the era of the cappuccino cowboy had arrived." [29]

anniversary event
Crowds attend an anniversary event. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, n.d.

Whitworth obtained an analysis of visitor use in 1991. He found that Montana residents comprised 30 percent of visitors in that year. Washington, Idaho, and California supplied the largest percentage of out-of-state visitors, while Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Minnesota, and Wisconsin accounted for 2 to 4 percent of visitors each. Texas, Wyoming, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Nevada accounted for another 1 percent each. [30] Approximately 15 percent of visitors were over 61 years of age, approximately 55 percent were between 61 and 18, and the remaining 30 percent were under 18. Whitworth estimated that 50 percent of visitors came in nuclear family groups (including couples traveling without children), 10 percent in organized tours, 10 percent by themselves, and the remaining 30 percent in some other grouping of extended family, multiple family, partial family, or peers. "Special populations," such as visitors with handicaps, non-English speakers, and ethnic minorities, had a relatively small presence at this unit of the National Park system, accounting for about 1 percent each. [31]

Whitworth's analysis included breakdowns of visitor use by duration of stay and activity. An overwhelming 99 percent of visitors were day users. Of these, approximately 10 percent were "home-based visitors" on a one-day excursion and approximately 89 percent were "through visitors" on an extended trip. Four out of five visitors centered their visit around the unit's "primary resource" – the battlefield, while one in five entered the area for purposes incidental to the primary resource. [32]

prayer offerings
Some visitors to Big Hole leave prayer offerings. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, September 1998.

In 1994, another analysis of visitor use was made under contract by the Cooperative Park Studies Unit, University of Idaho. This study, based on results from several hundred visitor surveys, corroborated the demographic profile described by Whitworth in 1991. It disclosed additional information about the visitor experience: for example, some 18 percent of visitors were repeat visitors, 99 percent of visitors made use of the visitor center, and 90 percent of visitors came "to learn history." Completed in 1995, the visitor study provided detailed statistics on visitors' length of stay, activities, reasons for the visit, primary area of interest, sources of information, use of visitor services and facilities, and preferences for educational subjects and tribal contact in the future. [33]

The staff was aware of another significant if intangible feature of visitor use: increasingly, visitors expressed more sympathy for the Nez Perce point of view. Staff members attributed some of this change to broad currents in American culture: for example, the pro-American Indian sentiment elicited by the popular Hollywood movie, "Dances with Wolves." Staff members also believed that the Nez Perce story was becoming more widely known among the general public. Many people, already knowledgeable about the story, came to the battlefield to pay homage to the site and to contemplate the tragedy. Although these visitor perspectives could not be documented statistically, they nevertheless had a potent effect on the interpretive program. [34]


The most significant change in the battlefield's interpretative program from 1987 to 1997 was an increased emphasis given to the Nez Perce point of view. Not since the McWhorter period in the 1920s and 1930s had there been such a concerted effort to include the Nez Perce "voice" in site interpretation. Indeed, Congress specifically mandated that the Nez Perce people would be consulted on interpretation of all park sites – including Big Hole National Battlefield – in the Nez Perce National Historical Park Additions Act of 1991. Even before that legislation was passed, the Park Service moved to involve the Nez Perce tribal leadership (through its governing body, the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee) and Nez Perce individuals in various issues of interpretation and cultural resources management at Big Hole National Battlefield.

Wilfred "Otis" Halfmoon, a descendent of an honored Nez Perce warrior killed at the Big Hole, joined the staff in 1989. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, n.d.

Jock Whitworth contributed enormously to the increased Nez Perce presence at Big Hole. Beginning in 1988, he recruited Nez Perce to serve as seasonal interpreters. Whitworth believed that the best way to achieve "balance," or at least a presentation of both the soldiers' and Nez Perce's point of view in the battle, was to include both military historians and Nez Perce tribal members on the interpretive staff. In his previous position at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Whitworth had recruited American Indians from three local tribes who provided cultural demonstrations. [35] In his first year at Big Hole, Whitworth hired Lem Mitchell as the first seasonal interpreter from the Nez Perce Tribe. [36] In 1989, he hired Ernestine Slickpoo as a Nez Perce Cultural Demonstrator. In 1990, Whitworth appointed permanent ranger Kevin Peters under an Indian Hiring Preference Authority. Peters was descended from Nez Perce who had participated in the battle. In 1991, Whitworth added Wilfred "Otis" Halfmoon to his staff under a cooperative education grant. Halfmoon was a descendant of an honored Nez Perce warrior killed in the battle. Halfmoon's position was renewed the next year. In 1992, Peters transferred to Nez Perce National Historical Park and Halfmoon was hired to fill the vacancy at Big Hole. Halfmoon transferred to Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area in 1993, and then to Bear's Paw Battlefield in 1994, where he served as the first on-site ranger. Halfmoon and Peters made important contributions to the visitor experience. Whitworth described Halfmoon's presentations as "very emotional and memorable," and reported receiving many positive comments from visitors. [37]

Kevin Peters, Nez Perce artist and ranger at Big Hole from 1989 to 1991. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, n.d.

Five years after Halfmoon and Peters left the Big Hole staff, the future of Nez Perce employment at Big Hole remained uncertain. For reasons unrelated to Big Hole, the Park Service lost its earlier ability to hire seasonal interpreters under the Indian Hiring Preference Authority. That reversal, coupled with the fact that few Nez Perce tribal members were readily interested in a Park Service career, made it difficult to recruit more Nez Perce onto the staff. Although other tribal members had served on the staff of Nez Perce National Historical Park, those staff positions were located closer to tribal members' homes on the Nez Perce Reservation. First Montana Unit Manager Buchel, then Big Hole Superintendent James, wanted to continue Whitworth's efforts in bringing Nez Perce interpreters to Big Hole, but the opportunities had narrowed. Moreover, after the unit reorganization in 1994, the superintendent of Nez Perce National Historical Park rather than the superintendent of Big Hole was primarily responsible for fostering relations with the Nez Perce Tribe. The superintendent of Nez Perce National Historical Park had a big advantage being located nearby the Nez Perce Reservation. [38]

Whitworth sought to involve the Nez Perce Tribe in other areas of interpretation besides staff presentations. Traveling to Lapwai, Idaho, he established official contact with the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee (NPTEC). He soon developed personal friendships with Al Slickpoo, a recognized expert on Nez Perce culture, and Horace Axtell, Nez Perce historian. He worked with Axtell on interpretation of the Nez Perce Trail. Traveling to Nespelem, Washington, he invited input from the Joseph Band of Nez Perce who resided on the Colville Indian Reservation. Among the latter group, he developed important lines of communication with two distinguished members of the band, Joseph and Soy Redthunder. [39] Subsequently, he consulted Joseph and Soy Redthunder on such interpretive matters as a draft script for a new audio-visual presentation. The Redthunders also spoke at the annual memorial ceremony held at Big Hole National Battlefield each August. [40]

The growing involvement by the Nez Perce Tribe enriched the interpretive program in many ways. With Whitworth's encouragement, Nez Perce assumed a conspicuous role at the memorial ceremony held each August on the anniversary of the battle. As Otis Halfmoon recalls, Nez Perce participation in this event revived in 1989 thanks in large part to the promotional efforts of NPTEC Chairman Wilfred Scott. Scott succeeded in getting the Nez Perce Tribe's local post of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to take a lead role in the annual preparations. By the early 1990s, Nez Perce participation was so strong as to practically dominate the event. As the annual event continued to evolve, Wilfred Scott recognized the need to involve local VFW posts in the Bitterroot and Big Hole valleys as well as the Nez Perce-dominated VFW post on the reservation so that non-Indians would take part in the ceremonies. [41] The Frontier Soldiers Association and similar groups were another fixture at the annual memorial ceremonies, with members dressed in period uniform explaining to visitors what the daily life of an enlisted man was like in Idaho and Montana territories in 1877. This complemented the cultural demonstrations provided by Nez Perce men and women. [42]

anniversary activity
Anniversary activity. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, n.d.

By the mid-1990s, consistent Nez Perce participation in the annual commemorative ceremony at Big Hole seemed assured. Unit Manager Sue Buchel reported in 1994 that the event featured Nez Perce cultural demonstrators, drummers, dancers, and a poet. In addition, Nez Perce members of the VFW held a special pipe ceremony at the Encampment Area, beside the North Fork of the Big Hole River. [43] Another notable addition was made to the event in 1995 with the performance of the "empty saddle ceremony." In this ceremony, five appaloosa horses with empty saddles were paraded on the battlefield, each horse representing a chief and band who were present in the Nez Perce flight of 1877. The event marked the revival of a ceremony that had not been seen on the Nez Perce Reservation for many years. [44]

While Nez Perce participation was the most significant development in Big Hole National Battlefield's interpretive program in the late 1980s and 1990s, Jock Whitworth introduced a number of other changes too. Whitworth's approach to interpretation was markedly different from that of his predecessor, Al Schulmeyer. Whereas Schulmeyer believed that the visitor should have a choice to experience the battlefield either with or without an interpreter, Whitworth believed it was the Park Service's responsibility to initiate visitor contact. He eschewed a program of formal guided walks in favor of "roving interpretation." According to the new approach, interpreters circulated among the visitors – both on the trail system and on the visitor center floor – eliciting visitor questions and providing interpretation in a face-to-face context. [45]

Consistent with this more assertive approach to visitor contact, Whitworth also placed new emphasis on educational outreach. He invited guest speakers to the battlefield, gave slide talks about the battle and the history of the War of 1877 in western Montana communities, encouraged school groups to visit the site, and shared educational materials with area schools. In April and May 1989, the staff conducted a series of outreach programs at Wisdom School, 10 miles east of the battlefield. [46] Montana Unit Manager Sue Buchel and Superintendent Jon James continued the programs begun by Whitworth. [47] In 1995, some 1200 students visited the site on school field trips in May and September. Invited speakers included Douglas McChristian, historian at Little Bighorn National Battlefield, in 1995, and Professor Edward T. Linenthal, author of Sacred Ground: Americans and their Battlefields, in 1997. [48] In another instance of off-site interpretation, the staff at Big Hole cooperated with Beaverhead National Forest in providing campfire programs at the May Creek Campground located on the national forest about 7 miles west of the battlefield. [49]

For years the annual commemoration of the battle in August marked the climax of the busy summer season for the battlefield's interpretive staff. Jock Whitworth took the event to a new level in 1989 when the event was held in conjunction with various Montana statehood centennial events, drawing 4300 tourists over a two-day period. Whitworth arranged to have a day devoted to interpretation of the soldier's life on the frontier, featuring performances by "living history" experts from throughout the West, followed by another day dedicated to Nez Perce cultural demonstrations and commemoration of the Nez Perce participants in the battle. [50]

The Big Hole staff developed other commemorative events as well. Unit Manager Sue Buchel organized an event on May 21, 1995 to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the proclamation of Big Hole National Monument. Activities centered around interpretation of what the Big Hole Valley was like in 1910. Community volunteers portrayed early 20th century ranch life with demonstrations of the beaver-slide hay stacker and the use of draft horses. Staff from Bannack State Park offered visitors a chance to pan for gold. Park Service staff from Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site demonstrated blacksmithing on the open range. Forest Service staff talked about the life of an early days ranger. The Big Hole Cattlewomen's Association provided a lunch. Volunteers from the Beaverhead County Museum lectured on early travel in the Big Hole Valley. [51]

A decade after Whitworth revamped the interpretive program at Big Hole, there were certain projects long discussed or called for in park planning documents still remaining to be done. Starting with Whitworth, unit managers all agreed that the interpretive markers on the battlefield – the cartoonish-looking soldier's hats and warrior's feathers – were outdated and inappropriate and needed to be replaced with something else. [52] Superintendent James oversaw development of a plan to update these markers. The plan was to pull them all out, replacing a limited selection with unobtrusive metal cylinders to show in a more suggestive manner the positions of the combatants. [53]

Unit managers also shared frustration over the failure to get a new audio-visual program completed. The effort to produce a new AV program was initiated in 1989. The battlefield received $25,000 out of the Rocky Mountain Region's exhibit repair/rehabilitation funds for a new program and equipment. The Park Service contracted with Far West Communications, Inc., of Missoula, Montana, to produce it. Although the Park Service received a satisfactory first draft of the script by April 1990, the project stalled. The Park Service's Harper's Ferry Center (HFC) insisted on a larger role in the project after it was started, creating a funding shortfall. As Whitworth explained the situation in July 1990, "Originally we were informed that we could have it produced through HFC or through area production companies. We requested bids from three companies, awarded the bid and selected the equipment, and received the first draft of the script when I was notified that we would have to go through HFC and change the format and equipment." [54] Whitworth reported in November 1991 that "efforts to restart the stalled video project were successful," and he noted "donations of national quality footage of the Nez Perce sites by Channel 9 TV in Denver." But some time thereafter the project again stalled.

Unit managers Buchel and James continued to remind their superiors of the need for this program. [55] Finally in January 1998, James met with Anne Tubiolo of HFC, Marie Marek of Nez Perce National Historical Park, and documentary filmmaker Chris Wheeler, whose company, Great Divide Pictures, had taken over the project. By now the Park Service had invested $45,000 and it seemed that another $52,000 would be needed to finish the video by May 1999. Wheeler had completed a script, but there was unanimous agreement that the video needed interviews and a professional interviewer. [56]

The struggle to get a new AV program done highlighted another element in the battlefield's interpretive program: the Park Service wanted to tie interpretation at Big Hole National Battlefield more closely to the broad interpretive themes of Nez Perce National Historical Park. Increasingly, the Park Service sought to introduce visitors to a wider story and encourage them to seek more information at other related sites. The unique configuration of Nez Perce National Historical Park demanded such an approach. With the establishment of a "Montana Unit" including the Bear's Paw and Canyon Creek battle sites, the need for an effective interpretive web was more pressing than ever. By the mid-1990s, plans were underway to redevelop the visitor center exhibits and park brochure in order to reflect the relationship of Big Hole National Battlefield to all of the sites in Nez Perce National Historical Park. [57]

Natural and Cultural Resources Management

The Statement for Management for Big Hole National Battlefield, updated in 1989, confirmed Superintendent Schulmeyer's efforts to integrate natural and cultural resources management into a seamless whole. The document listed three management objectives for natural and cultural resources management:

  • To maintain the historic lands and the natural resources in such a way that they approximate the scene in 1877 when the battle occurred.

  • To make the historical (cultural) resources available and accessible to visitors and also protect the cultural resources from adverse impact and possible loss of data.

  • To promote archeological, historical, and biological research to provide accurate data for management and interpretation of the resources of Big Hole National Battlefield and related areas. [58]

Since the principal features of the battlefield – the meandering river, the willows, the twin trees, the point of timber – were all natural objects, it followed that the distinction between natural and cultural resources would have less bearing than usual. Unit managers recognized that it was Big Hole's impressive story coupled with the somber beauty of the battlefield and its environs that drew visitors.

Collection Management

The emphasis on story and landscape was reflected in Big Hole's museum collection, which remained relatively small. In 1987 it consisted of some 1900 items. The collection included Nez Perce and U.S. Army weapons and accoutrements, clothing and personal gear, archives, photographs, and about 400 herbarium specimens.

Record keeping practices prior to 1987 had been "somewhat casual." [59] In the reorganization of 1987, Big Hole's curatorial function was consolidated with Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. The collection remained in the visitor center at Big Hole but curatorial responsibilities were transferred to the Chief, Curatorial Division, at Grant-Kohrs. As the authors of the reorganization plan commented, "this position is the only one which has the professional training and skill to manage the Big Hole collection." [60] Placing the collection under the care of a curator was a start toward bringing the museum collection up to current NPS standards. During the following year Curator Randi Bry prepared a Collection Management Report on the Big Hole collection. Of approximately 1900 items, 1430 were catalogued. All items were stored or exhibited in the visitor center. Bry's report served as a point of departure for the development of a Collection Management Plan between 1989 and 1991. [61]

In 1989, the Park Service assembled a collection management planning team consisting of Allen S. Bohnert, regional curator in Denver; Rachel Maines and Laura Joss Griffin of the collection management firm Maines & Associates; and Lisa Mibach, a conservator. The team visited Big Hole National Battlefield on October 26, 1989, to evaluate the current museum collection management program. It reviewed previous planning documents, including a Yellowstone National Park memorandum of June 18, 1945, "Collecting Artifacts for Big Hole Battlefield Museum" – the earliest known management direction given to the collection, and a Scope of Collection Statement of 1986. Scant reference to the museum collection was found in other planning documents, including the Resources Management Plan of 1987, Statements for Management in 1987 and 1989, and Jock Whitworth's Interpretive Plan of 1989. [62]

The Collection Management Plan for Big Hole National Battlefield, approved in 1991, provided a detailed guide for management, care, and growth of the collection. In some respects, collection management at Big Hole was relatively straightforward. Not only was the collection small, it was well-tailored to the preservation and interpretive mission of the battlefield. Few items were extraneous to the story of the battle. Moreover, the possibilities for adding to the collection were relatively focused. As the plan's authors noted, there were only three potential sources of growth for the collection: archeological exploration of the site, natural history collecting, and acquisition of relevant artifacts from other locations – such as items associated with battle participants. The plan's authors made two salient recommendations: to develop more storage space, and to improve record keeping. [63]

Kermit Edmunds
Kermit Edmunds, veteran seasonal interpreter. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, n.d.

Coincidentally, the collection management planning team completed its work about the same time that the Park Service received a tip leading to the recovery of a precious item that had been stolen out of the visitor center nearly twenty years earlier. As noted in Chapter 6, a burglary in 1972 had resulted in the loss of Chief Joseph's pipe and pipe bag. In September 1990, Superintendent Whitworth learned from an informant that the stolen pipe was in the possession of a man residing in St. George, Utah. Whitworth contacted law enforcement rangers at nearby Zion National Park, and that park's investigator, Pat Buccello, recovered the pipe with the assistance of an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation on December 26, 1990. Five suspects were indicted for conspiracy to conceal stolen property; one of the five was tried while the other four were granted immunity in return for testimony. The testimony implicated one of the remaining four alleged conspirators in the burglary of the visitor center, a separate crime. After the suspect returned from a year in Antarctica, Whitworth and Buccello relocated the man and questioned him about the missing pipe bag. Two weeks after the interview, on November 18, 1992, the pipe bag arrived in the mail at Big Hole National Battlefield's post office box in Wisdom. Over the two-year period Whitworth and Buccello had traveled to six states and interviewed numerous witnesses and suspects. As Whitworth remarked in his annual report, "we finally interviewed the right suspect enough times that he apparently decided to pressure someone into returning the bag to us." Whitworth, Buccello, and the regional chief ranger's office were praised for their dogged pursuit of the stolen property. [64]

Archeological Investigation

The tip leading to the recovery of Chief Joseph's pipe was not the only lucky break that Big Hole staff experienced in 1990. Country western singer Hank Williams, Jr., approached Park Service officials at the end of that year about the possibility of a grant to fund an archeological investigation at the battlefield. Williams owned a ranch in the Big Hole. A frontier military history buff, he had taken a keen interest in the recent archeological investigation of the Little Bighorn Battlefield. The Park Service had long desired to undertake an archeological investigation of Big Hole battlefield but had lacked funds. Superintendent Whitworth encouraged Williams' proposal and suggested that the investigation might be extended over a wider area in order to learn more about the Nez Perce participants in the battle. He introduced Williams to the two Nez Perce on the staff, Kevin Peters and Otis Halfmoon, and directed the country western singer to various sources on Nez Perce military culture at the time of the War of 1877. As a result, Williams acquired a strong interest in Nez Perce history and culture and became personally acquainted with the Halfmoon family at Lapwai. His offer of financial support grew into a careful research design, principally authored by Dr. Douglas Scott of the Park Service's Midwest Archeological Center (Omaha), in 1991. [65]

Proceeding with this unusual source of funding, the Park Service conducted the archeological investigation that summer. Headed by Doug Scott, the field work involved battlefield staff, archeologists from the Midwest Archeological Center, and more than 50 volunteers from around the nation. More than 1000 artifacts were recovered. The effort included a thorough re-examination of the existing collection as well as a metal-detecting survey of the battlefield. The survey drew some significant conclusions for management, including the location of tepees and events during the battle that indicated a need to acquire additional acreage at the site. It also provided valuable information for interpretation, confirming the disposition and movements of troops and warriors during the battle and the fact that Bannocks had mutilated the bodies of fallen Nez Perce. [66]

Dave Jurgella
NPS interpreter Dave Jurgella demonstrating use of a 1841 "Mississippi" Harper's Ferry rifle. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, n.d.

Prior to the project, battlefield staff consulted the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee on how to proceed in case the investigation uncovered any human remains. Sadly, the investigation did uncover the remains of a young Nez Perce woman killed in the battle, and the consultation was renewed after this burial was disturbed. The tribal consultation was notable, since it predated any law respecting Native American burial remains. At the request of the Tribe (and on the recommendation of Otis Halfmoon), the remains were reburied in a safer location farther from the river channel. The reburial took place during a ceremony conducted by Tribal Historian Alan Slickpoo, Sr., and his son. The men sang traditional Nez Perce songs and gave prayers and offerings. Traditional food was shared with the woman's spirit by placing it with the remains. Two golden eagles and two hawks soared overhead, a sacred sign for the Nez Perce. Accentuating the sadness of the occasion, the remains revealed the fact that the young woman's body had been extensively mutilated after the battle. [67]

Following the archeological investigation, the Park Service had further discussion with Hank Williams, Jr., about funding an expansion of the visitor center exhibits to display some of the newly discovered artifacts. These discussions broke off in 1993, due in part to the administrative reorganization and turnover of superintendents at that time, and additional funding was not forthcoming. In August 1995, Montana Unit Manager Sue Buchel informed Williams that "rehabilitation" of the exhibit area was then under consideration as part of the overall interpretive planning associated with Nez Perce National Historical Park. As for the artifacts, they had been moved off-site during the winter of 1994-1995. With the completion of the new housing complex that summer, additional storage became available. In August 1995, Buchel worked with Doug Scott of the Midwest Archeological Center to have the collection returned to the national battlefield. [68]

Superintendent Jon James revived efforts to expand the visitor center's exhibit area. Indeed, the project topped the list of items included in the "action plan" for Big Hole National Battlefield in the new General Management Plan, adopted in September 1997. In the meantime, James arranged for a temporary exhibit of artifacts from the archeological study that would travel from city to city in Montana. Hank Williams, Jr., indicated that he would be willing to work with the Park Service further. [69]

Vegetation Management

Management direction did not change on the issue of vegetation management at Big Hole. Succeeding Statements for Management reiterated that the object was "to maintain the historic lands and the natural resources in such a way that they approximate the scene in 1877 when the battle occurred." [70] Superintendent Schulmeyer was the architect of the battlefield's vegetation management program. His successors after 1987 implemented his policies. In the decade after Schulmeyer's retirement, major elements of vegetation management included willow burns, sagebrush burns, weed control, and logging of young trees encroaching on the Horse Pasture Area. Although unit managers requested a comprehensive vegetation management plan for Big Hole National Battlefield, it was yet to be funded.

Superintendent Whitworth acknowledged Schulmeyer's contribution while preparing a fire management plan and environmental assessment for Big Hole National Battlefield. "Thanks for your interest in the fire management plan at the battlefield," Whitworth wrote. "I appreciate your efforts in developing the prescribed fire program during your tenure." [71] It was one of the few occasions when Schulmeyer, retired and residing in Wisdom, involved himself with the national battlefield's management. The Fire Management Plan, approved in May 1991, integrated the Park Service's prescribed burning efforts with new, more aggressive procedures for suppression of wildfire that sprang from the infamous Yellowstone fire season of 1988. [72]

Removal of sagebrush and new trees in the Horse Pasture Area was relatively easy compared to the willow problem. Unit managers wanted to burn the willows back so that they would be approximately the size of the willows growing in the bottomland in 1877. Vegetation studies indicated that before the era of fire suppression, the willows were swept by natural fire approximately once every eight years. In an effort to get back to something resembling that fire cycle, the Park Service conducted willow burns in 1986 and 1988. [73] These jobs required close coordination with the Forest Service, careful consideration of human safety, property, and environmental hazards, and favorable weather conditions. [74] The large size of the willows made the task more difficult. The first two prescribed willow burns did not go well, as the fire killed but did not consume the largest willows. Forest Service wildlife biologist Jeff Jones of the Wisdom Ranger District estimated that it would take three years for the dead "snags" to lay down or for new growth to conceal them. Given the many river channels through the area, it was hard to ignite ground fires by the usual drip torch method and achieve a hot enough burn to take out the big willows. The alternative, aerial ignition by helicopter, carried risks of spilling gas into the river or creating a fire so hot that it would kill the root clumps. [75] After extended consultation with burn experts in the Forest Service and the Park Service, Whitworth obtained authority in 1991 for a third major willow burn using a helicopter and helitorch module. [76]

In preparation for the major burn, smaller burns were carried out in 1991 and 1992 to reduce fuel loads. Finally another major willow burn was undertaken in May 1993 – the first of that magnitude since 1988. Although weather conditions were within the prescription, they were marginal. The burn did not accomplish the desired results and the ignition was terminated early. [77] A fourth willow burn was conducted in the spring of 1998.

Noxious weeds were another challenge to the Park Service's goal of managing vegetation so that the landscape looked much the way it did in 1877. Exotic species included spotted knapweed, yellow star thistle, and leafy spurge. [78] These plants were not even known to the region at the time the battle was fought. Although noxious weeds were not as much of a disturbance to the untrained eye, they threatened to drive out other species that were native to the area.

Early in 1995, Unit Manager Buchel renewed Big Hole's interagency agreement with Beaverhead National Forest. The agreement included a cooperative plan for noxious weed control. Under the agreement, the Forest Service provided the Park Service with a certified herbicide applicator supervisor to direct a crew of Park Service and Forest Service sprayers. To complete the weed control program, Nez Perce National Historical Park's new resource management specialist, Renee Beymer, obtained authorization to use two herbicides, "Tordon" and "Roundup," on the battlefield for the control of spotted knapweed, yellow star thistle, and leafy spurge. In the summer of 1995, 2.4 gallons of Tordon was applied to 88 acres of the battlefield using three backpack sprayers and a Forest Service tank truck. In addition, battlefield staff spent eight man-days hand-pulling weeds in areas that were too close to the river to permit chemical applications. A similar program was undertaken the following year. [79]

While the goal of willow burning was to get the vegetation back to a condition where smaller prescription fires at appropriate intervals would maintain the desired effect, the outlook for weed control was less encouraging. Buchel described the "incredible infestation" of exotic weeds visible along the roads leading from the Big Hole Valley over the mountains to the west. "How will we ever combat the 'drift' from badly infested areas such as this?" she asked. The Park Service could take steps to control the weeds on the 655 acres under its care, but it would constantly face the threat of reintroduction from weed-infested areas outside. [80]

Water Rights

No other resource issue at Big Hole National Battlefield is so closely tied to the area's ranching community as that of water rights. Several old irrigation ditches cross the national battlefield, and a number of area ranchers assert water rights that could potentially effect national battlefield resources.

Historically the NPS, like other federal agencies, recognized state water law to pertain wherever waters traversed federal lands under its jurisdiction. Montana state water law is based on the Prior Appropriation Doctrine, which recognizes the priority of water rights, or the order in time in which they were originally acquired. Adapted to the region's semi-arid climate, the doctrine provides that in times of water shortage, appropriators who have prior or senior rights can use water from a given stream before appropriators with later or junior rights on that same stream. Under the doctrine, appropriators can claim a water right by putting water to beneficial use, such as for mining or irrigation purposes. In addition, Montana state water law provides for ditch rights that are distinct from water rights. In most cases, ditch rights are easements with the same legal status as any other easement, such as an easement for an access road. [81]

Within the boundaries of the national battlefield, Ruby Creek and Trail Creek converge to form the swampy headwaters of the North Fork of the Big Hole River. Subsequent to 1877, and mostly prior to the establishment of the national monument in 1910, upstream waters that flow through the national battlefield were appropriated for use in mining and ranching operations. In addition, appropriators built a number of ditches through the area now contained within the boundaries of Big Hole National Battlefield, thereby establishing ditch rights. Not all of these appropriative water rights and ditch rights are in use and some may no longer be valid. As a whole, however, these water rights and ditch rights have presented three distinct but related issues for park administration. First, the National Park Service has sought to ensure the unit's own water supply. Second, it has taken steps to protect the battlefield setting from intrusive physical developments associated with ditch rights – particularly the reconstruction of a trestle across the bottomland that would flume the water diversion from one side of the river to the other. Third, it has striven to establish a federal reserved water right that will protect instream flow and the biotic resources that are dependent upon it.

The National Park Service first addressed the issue of water rights for administrative use in 1944. On the initiative of Acting Director Hillory A. Tolson, NPS officials inquired with the Forest Service as to whether it had filed a water claim by the United States for Big Hole National Battlefield Monument. [82] Although the Forest Service had appropriated water for domestic use by the ranger station and campers, it appeared that the appropriative right had never been perfected. The Forest Service had no water claim in its records and probably none had ever been filed. [83] In further reply to this inquiry, the Forest Service disclaimed any interest in the existing water supply system associated with the ranger residence and campground, these facilities having been transferred to the NPS by the 1939 boundary extension. [84]

Four years later – the reason for the delay is unclear – the NPS filed a Notice of Appropriation of Water Right with the state of Montana and Beaverhead County. The water right notice was prepared by the service's Water Resources Branch based on information provided by Yellowstone's assistant park engineer. The NPS filed a claim for domestic, recreational, irrigation, and other purposes for Big Hole Battlefield National Monument based on a prior appropriation date of December 31, 1909. The water claim amounted to a modest 0.025 cubic feet per second, or the total flow of a "nameless spring" located within the monument. [85]

In 1962, following the introduction in Congress of House Resolution 11781 to enlarge the national monument, the NPS reviewed its water claim and considered the need for an additional water source to supply a prospective visitor center on the top of the bench on the opposite side of the river. As a result, the Midwest Regional Office programmed $700 for a field study of potential well development and an additional $600 for test-drilling and test-pumping of the water supply. It requested the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct the two-phased project. [86] The well was completed in 1966. A second water right filing for the national battlefield was made soon afterwards. [87]

In 1973, the Montana legislature passed the Water Use Act, establishing new administrative procedures for adjudicating water rights. The state law affirmed the Prior Appropriation Doctrine by recognizing and confirming all "existing rights," or water rights with priority dates before July 1, 1973. [88] Passage of the Water Use Act, together with a drought in 1973, sparked new interest in water rights on the North Fork of the Big Hole River. That fall, Superintendent Al Schulmeyer reviewed the general situation and filed a lengthy memorandum to the assistant superintendent at Yellowstone. [89]

Schulmeyer noted that water rights on the main rivers in the Big Hole Valley had been contested and determined. In general, these water rights were the most senior in the valley. Water rights on the tributaries were another matter, however, as "priorities along the rivers apparently never covered waters of the tributaries which never reached the main river." Schulmeyer believed that later homesteads along the tributaries had traditionally taken what they needed regardless of downstream water rights. In recent times, as larger ranches in the valley acquired some of these homesteads, it formed the potential for litigation between "tributary waters vs. river priority rights." [90]

Trail Creek and Ruby Creek, converging within the boundaries of the national battlefield to form the North Fork of the Big Hole River, were two such tributaries. The headwaters of both creeks, Schulmeyer explained, were in the national forest. Trail Creek flowed eastward through Willow Ranch before entering the national battlefield. Ruby Creek began southwest of the battlefield and flowed northeastward through Ruby Ranch, then under the highway and through a corner of Willow Ranch before entering the national battlefield. There were privately held water rights on both creeks. There were also claims to three or four irrigation ditches running through the national battlefield. [91]

Encumbrances on Trail Creek, Schulmeyer continued, began with the formation of an irrigation company "about 1912." (Subsequent research would disclose an earlier claim by a Ruby Water Company, whose notice of appropriation of a claim to 250 cubic feet per second was filed in February 1901. Further, the company filed an application for ditch right-of-way in 1904. [92]) The so-called Ruby Ditch began at a point of diversion upstream from the battlefield site, ran along the bench on the north side of Trail Creek to the point where it joins with Ruby Creek. From that point, the company had built a flume and trestle across the bottomland to the Ruby Bench on the south side. The Ruby Water Company had failed early in the twentieth century, its ditch had fallen into disuse, and the trestle had eventually collapsed. Although the Ruby Ditch had not been used for decades, the owners did occasional maintenance work to maintain the right. In 1973, Schulmeyer thought the ditch was owned by Mark Clemow whose ranch bordered the national battlefield on the east. [93]

Water diversions along Ruby Creek also dated to the early twentieth century. Ruby Ranch itself was "laced with irrigation ditches," Schulmeyer wrote. Near the point that Ruby Creek enters the national battlefield, Schulmeyer reported the existence of "an unused dam which can divert the entire water of Ruby Creek into Ditch #1," or Ruby Ditch. According to Schulmeyer's information:

One of the ditches on Ruby Ranch takes off Ruby Creek water and crosses the highway and enters the Battlefield where yet another dam is capable of dividing the waters between Irrigation Ditches #2 and #3. The Rights to Ditch #3 are 100% owned by Mark Clemow and has not been used for decades. On the other hand, Ditch #2 is very active and is owned on shares. Mark Clemow owns 1/3 which he does not use. The other 2/3's are owned by the Fred Else Ranch. As ditch #2 passes from the Battlefield it enters Clemow's Ritschel Ranch and then finally on to the Fred Else Ranch. [94]

Schulmeyer recommended that the NPS negotiate with the ditch owners. If it could not obtain the ditch rights, the NPS should prove its claim to any waters not reserved and forestall any other claims to additional waters within the national battlefield. [95]

Spurred, perhaps, by the new Montana water law, one local rancher after another began to assert interests in the Ruby Ditch. "If everyone who had told me that they had a share of the claim were valid, there would be an army," Schulmeyer remarked. [96] By 1978, these ranchers were proposing to rebuild the flume and trestle and reactivate the ditch – actions that would have a profound visual effect on the battlefield scene and an impact on the amount of water flowing in the creek bed respectively. Organized first as the Ruby Ditch Company, later as the Big Hole Irrigation District, and still later as the Trail Creek Water Association, the ranchers asserted claims to the water right and ditch right based on a U.S. Forest Service special use permit issued in 1911 to the Trail Creek Water Company. The ranchers claimed to be heirs of the Trail Creek Water Company. [97] The proposal remained inchoate until September 1982, when the Trail Creek Water Association submitted a written plan to the NPS. [98]

The NPS had two options for deflecting this threat to the national battlefield. It could block the development altogether by invalidating the ranchers' claim on the grounds that the right-of-way was abandoned. Or it could mitigate the effects of the development by having the flume and trestle relocated upstream, west of the national battlefield. Litigate or negotiate. Schulmeyer tried both tacks at once.

Mountain howitzer, visitor center. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, September, 1998.

Book display, visitor center. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB, September, 1998.

Schulmeyer was unsuccessful in his effort to obtain a legal opinion that the ditch right-of-way was abandoned. First the NPS sought an opinion from the field solicitor in the Department of the Interior's office in Billings, but the interior solicitor insisted it was a question for the Department of Agriculture since the ditch right-of-way originated under a Forest Service permit. Next the NPS requested a determination by the Forest Service's Office of General Counsel. The result was disappointing. Attorney Lawrence M. Jakub found that the right-of-way should be treated "as a valid existing easement." Moreover, he did not think a rerouting of the easement could be required as a condition for reconstructing the flume and trestle. Short of condemning the easement, he wrote, the government had "no legal means to prevent appropriate use of the easement for irrigation purposes." [99]

This legal finding left the NPS with little choice but to negotiate with the ranchers on the location of the easement. (There is no indication in the written record that NPS officials were interested in pursuing condemnation of the easement. Schulmeyer recalls that the possibility of condemnation was never broached, but he also insists that that had nothing to do with the ill-feelings brought about by the earlier condemnation of Clemow property. [100] In Clemow's deed to the National Park Foundation of April 18, 1972, the conveyance was made subject to "the use and maintenance of an irrigation ditch." [101]) In May 1983, the NPS received notice from David C. Moon, attorney for the ranchers now organized under the name Trail Creek Water Association, that his clients intended to reactivate the ditch. The Rocky Mountain regional director replied to Moon:

The National Park Service is greatly concerned about the proposed development associated with your reactivation project and we request that Trail Creek Water Company personnel coordinate very closely with the Park Service Superintendent, Mr. Alfred Schulmeyer, to mitigate the adverse impacts on the Big Hole National Battlefield. [102]

He requested that the ranchers furnish Superintendent Schulmeyer with plans and maps of the proposed development for his review "pending final approval" of the project.

Based on the Trail Creek Water Association's plans, NPS officials in the Lands Division, Rocky Mountain Regional Office, proposed an alternative route for the Trail Creek crossing approximately 1/4 mile west of the national battlefield boundary. The new easement would cross wetlands on both the Beaverhead National Forest and the Big Hole National Battlefield; consequently, the Forest Service and the National Park Service cooperated in the preparation of a joint environmental assessment, completed in June 1984. [103]

Three alternatives were considered. Alternative A, "No Action," assumed that the proposed action did not take place. Alternative B, "Use of the Existing Right-of-Way," involved burial of a siphon within the right-of-way as routed in the original easement. The existing right-of-way paralleled Trail Creek Ditch downstream for about 1/4 mile from the point of diversion on Trail Creek, then turned southeastward to cross Trail Creek within Big Hole National Battlefield. It also crossed a corner of land owned by the Dick Hirschey Cattle Company. Most of the easement lay within the national battlefield. Finally, Alternative C, "Use of a New Right-of-Way," involved burial of a siphon within a new right-of-way located west of the national battlefield boundary, and an extension of the Ruby Ditch 728 feet westward to an intersection with the siphon. Most of the new easement would span the Dick Hirschey Cattle Company property. [104]

Before the environmental assessment was released, Schulmeyer alerted the Nez Perce Tribe to this threat to the national battlefield. The Nez Perce Tribe registered its opposition to the development in a strongly-worded resolution in January 1984. The Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee urged the NPS to disapprove the plan. Noting that the inverted siphon would "deface" the site, the Tribe defined the proposed action as "an act of disgrace and dishonor to the significance of the memorial site." [105]

Local landowner Wayne D. Petrik also objected to the proposal. Petrik owned 40 acres in the southwest corner of Section 23, about one mile west of the national battlefield. The Trail Creek Ditch ran through his property. According to Petrik's own research, the members of the Trail Creek Water Association were not heirs to the Trail Creek Water Company's ditch. Petrik provided his documentation to the NPS. Petrik's argument focused on the transfer of lands to Beaverhead County for tax delinquency in the 1920s and their repurchase by the Bankers Loan and Mortgage Company of Billings a few years later. Petrik believed that name confusion between the Trail Creek Water Association and the Trail Creek Water Company had led officials to dismiss the issue of abandonment too quickly. [106]

In 1985 and 1986, the ranchers advanced two more proposals. The Soil Conservation Service office in Dillon assisted with the plans and cost estimates. The plans involved new rights-of-way and in the first instance a new water filing claim for 70 cubic feet per second, reduced from 176 cubic feet per second. The Forest Service raised concerns about potential impacts to the Nez Perce Trail and Lewis and Clark Trail west of the national battlefield. [107] The Nez Perce Tribe renewed its objections to the development. Gwendolyn B. Carter, Water Resources Coordinator for the Tribe, noted that the plan did not include costs for monitoring by an archeologist. In burying the siphon, "the potential for uncovering graves is great since Nez Perce who lost their lives during the Battle were buried where they had fallen." [108]

As the ranchers' legal costs and projected construction costs mounted, their interest in the project waned. Schulmeyer believed that the ranchers eventually turned away in frustration. "Let's say I tied them up with bureaucracy and they gave up," the former superintendent recalls. [109]

In 1988, two members of the Land Resources Division, Rocky Mountain Regional Office, Lloyd Garrison and Richard Young, reviewed the history and current status of the proposal to reactivate the Trail Creek Ditch. At that time the Trail Creek Ditch Association was exploring an alternative that would route the ditch around the national battlefield, but little had been heard about the plan since 1986 "very likely due to the depressed state of agriculture in general." The NPS expected the issue to resurface. When it did, the NPS would have three options: to allow the ditch to be reactivated and a siphon installed on the original right-of-way through the National battlefield; to resist all attempts to reactivate the ditch; or to work with the ranchers in an effort to have the siphon relocated outside the national battlefield boundaries. It was Garrison and Young's assessment that the first option would provoke "a highly critical reaction" and a lawsuit by the Nez Perce Tribe, while the second option would require condemnation and perhaps a sizable outlay of funds. Consequently the NPS stood ready to negotiate further should the ranchers desire to proceed. [110]

No sooner did the reactivation proposal for the Trail Creek Ditch recede than another threat arose, this time involving a ditch on the north side of the river where the national battlefield abuts the Clemow property. On October 12, 1986, Superintendent Schulmeyer filed the following incident report:

In the morning of October 7, the park neighbor, Mark Clemow, had a very large earth moving backhoe (bucket about 3' wide) come to his ranch, traveling along the fence to the northeast part of the park along the valley floor. It did cross the North Fork of the Big Hole River. The contractor makes a living maintaining irrigation ditches. The machine dug an irrigation ditch along the toe of Battle Mountain for a distance of 1,940 feet, to connect with sloughs and pools of a meandering river and thus make a new water diversion from the main river, the North Fork of the Big Hole, which passes through the park. [111]

After conferring in person with Clemow and by telephone with his superiors in the Rocky Mountain Regional Office, Schulmeyer averred that the NPS regarded Clemow's action as a trespass and would seek restitution for damages.

One week later there was a second alleged trespass, again by contractors working for Clemow. The workers extended their excavations in an easterly direction to Clemow's property. [112] Two days later Field Solicitor Richard K. Aldrich advised Schulmeyer that he was referring the matter to the U.S. attorney to institute legal proceedings against Clemow and seek a restraining order. [113] A few days after that, Monte Clemow and his son, Mark Clemow, visited headquarters and produced some documents that purported to show an existing ditch where his men were excavating. Mark Clemow announced that he had filed for water rights on the project. [114] Afterwards Schulmeyer reluctantly admitted that there may indeed have been a ditch in that place unbeknownst to the NPS. If so, Clemow had the right to clean the ditch. When it came to ditch maintenance, however, "cleaning it up," Schulmeyer had had occasion to observe, really meant making the ditch "a little wider and a little deeper." [115]

After review of property records, aerial photos, and the physical ground, the Montana Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) stated that "there has been a ditch there for quite some time." Based on photographic evidence and the size of the brush growing in the ditch, the MDNR estimated that the ditch was more than 35 years old. [116]

Again the NPS sought a compromise solution. The NPS would pay to have the ditch lined. In return, it would have better control over maintenance activity. Not only would the arrangement prevent Clemow from getting in there with a backhoe again, the ditch lining would tend to protect the national battlefield from losing additional water out of the North Fork to water migration through the intervening swampy ground. [117] Clemow and the superintendent signed a letter of understanding on October 6, 1988, stipulating that Clemow would notify the NPS one year in advance of any ditch maintenance within the national battlefield. [118]

By the 1990s, issues involving ditch rights and water rights were receding from view. The Trail Creek Ditch was inactive; the Clemow ditch was lined. As long as these private interests remained intact within the national battlefield the potential for adverse development remained, but nothing appeared imminent.

On a separate track, meanwhile, NPS officials worked with the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission to define the federal reserved water right at Big Hole National Battlefield. These negotiations were part of a larger process to define the federal reserved water rights for all national park lands in Montana. The intent was to establish what each NPS unit required so that the unit's natural resources would be protected and so that state and private interests would be able to claim or develop anything left over. An initial effort to reach a compact in the 1980s broke down – primarily over issues at Glacier National Park and Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area where water courses extended onto Indian reservations – but in 1991 the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission invited the NPS to renew negotiations. In January 1993, the NPS signed the first of two compacts, which defined the federal reserved water rights for Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, and Big Hole. In May 1994, the NPS signed the second compact involving Little Big Horn National Battlefield and Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area. [119]

Once approved, the compact would establish a federal reserved right for Big Hole National Battlefield involving minimum flow of 10 cubic feet per second in winter and a limitation on the amount of water that could be taken upstream in other seasons. After the Montana State Legislature ratified the two compacts they were submitted to the state water court as preliminary decrees awaiting objections.

Neighbors And Partners

Beginning in the 1980s, the National Park Service placed increasing emphasis on relations with park neighbors and partners. "Neighbors" were those nearby landowners whose land uses could potentially impact park resources. "Partners" were those public and private entities who worked with park managers to achieve mutual objectives. The increasing emphasis on neighbors and partners stemmed in part from the pressures of population growth and the universal need for more regional planning and growth management. Frequent use of the disarming terms "neighbors" and "partners" also signaled the Park Service's response to broad-based public concerns – most pronounced in the rural West – that government agencies had become bloated and domineering. Faced with a resurgence of private property interests, states rights, and fiscal conservatism, the Park Service sought to improve its effectiveness and increase its base of support by looking outward. [120] Other federal land management agencies adopted a similar strategy. For Big Hole National Battlefield's managers, this required innovative approaches toward four principal groups or entities: neighboring landowners, the Forest Service, state and county government, and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The Clemow Ranch

The most important neighbor to Big Hole National Battlefield was the Clemow family. The Clemow ranch bordered the battlefield on the east. Of the national battlefield's 655.6 acres, some 295 acres or 44 percent of the land surface had been taken from the Clemow property by condemnation proceedings between 1964 and 1972. Mark Clemow remained bitter about the loss of his valuable pastureland along the North Fork of the Big Hole. Superintendent Schulmeyer's efforts to improve relations with Clemow foundered on the alleged trespass incident in 1986. By then the elderly Mark Clemow was passing the ranch operation to his son Monte Clemow, who demonstrated a more accommodating attitude toward the Park Service. The desire to improve this important relationship was probably one factor in the decision to replace Schulmeyer with a new unit manager in 1987.

While the administrative reorganization at Big Hole was under discussion, Schulmeyer provided his assessment of three possible additions to the national battlefield's land base. Foremost in importance was the addition of a strip of land approximately 100-200 yards in width along the eastern boundary with the Clemow ranch property. The ground would provide a buffer zone beyond the Nez Perce Encampment Area and would include most of Bloody Gulch, the draw through which the Nez Perce fled the battle. If the area were acquired in fee simple, the NPS could eliminate the property fence line. Alternatively, a scenic easement would afford protection against building construction but it would not eliminate the fence line or the grazing of cattle on the edge of the battlefield. Schulmeyer noted two other additions of lesser importance: a 40-acre tract on the west side of the national battlefield belonging to rancher Dick Hirschey, and an area of national forest land extending from the north boundary to the crest of Battle Mountain. The Hirschey property was undeveloped and attractive because it was cut off from the rest of the Hirschey ranch by the highway and Hirschey was probably a "willing seller." The national forest parcel was significant because it comprised the upper watershed of Battle Creek and was presently part of a grazing allotment under lease to the Big Hole Grazing Association. [121]

When Jock Whitworth took over management duties at Big Hole in 1988, the property line between the national battlefield and the Clemow ranch remained a sensitive issue. The findings of the archeological survey in 1991 heightened interest in the strip of land east of the Nez Perce encampment site. In November 1991, Monte Clemow raised the question of trading the land to the government for tax credits. Although this specific proposal did not get very far, it opened the door to further negotiations. The timing was propitious since the Park Service was then looking at other land issues associated with the Nez Perce National Historical Park bill. As a result, the Nez Perce National Historical Park Additions Act authorized the Park Service to acquire lands on the east of Big Hole National Battlefield. [122]

Perhaps with a view toward pressuring the Park Service to act on this authorization, the Clemow family next made gestures toward subdividing the land and developing it for condominiums. In June 1993, Mark Clemow, vice president of Mark Clemow Ranches, Inc., had the western portion of his land surveyed into 38 lots of 20 acres each and placed under "restrictive covenants" of his own making. Each parcel was to be "used only for a residential dwelling which must be custom built and must have a minimum of twelve hundred (1200) feet floor area," the covenants began. All buildings were to be "set back a minimum of sixty (60) feet from the exterior boundaries of the property." While Clemow's declared purpose was "to preserve the natural beauty and serenity within the Big Hole," his plan raised the spectre for the Park Service of condominiums sprouting up within a stone's throw of the eastern park boundary. [123]

The Park Service contracted with Hoeger-Jackson & Associates, a Bozeman real estate firm, for an appraisal of the land at issue in the summer of 1994. Dennis C. Hoeger appraised the land to have a fair market value of $160,000, and a Park Service official from the Division of Land Resources of the Pacific Northwest Regional Office reviewed and approved it. In November 1994, Rick Wagner, Chief of the Division of Land Resources in Seattle, informed Mark Clemow of the appraisal and invited Clemow to make a sale offer for that amount. Clemow's sale offer, Wagner explained, would become a binding contract when accepted on behalf of the United States. [124]

Here the matter stood when Jay Lynde, a wealthy businessman residing in Billings, Montana, purchased the Clemow ranch. In November 1996, Lynde's representative, Ron Johnson, of Dillon, Montana, contacted Big Hole Superintendent James about the possibility of Lynde donating 355 acres of his property as a conservation easement. On December 13, 1996, Superintendents James and Walker and Rick Wagner from the SSO met with Lynde in Billings. [125] From this discussion a general plan emerged over the next year and a half involving a three-way land exchange between Lynde, the Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In exchange for the 355-acre parcel adjoining Big Hole National Battlefield, Lynde would acquire BLM land adjoining his Bridger Creek Ranch near Billings. By the fall of 1998, the land exchange appeared to be imminent; a first phase involved four parcels south of Big Timber, Montana, and a second phase tentatively included two parcels in the Big Hole Valley. In return for the BLM land, the Park Service undertook all of the NEPA and Section 106 compliance work. [126] After more than a year of negotiations, Jon James anticipated the first extension of Big Hole National Battlefield's boundaries in more than 25 years.

USDA Forest Service

Big Hole National Battlefield's longstanding relationship with the Forest Service continued into the 1990s. Memoranda of Understanding covering interpretation, vegetation management, fire suppression, and a joint Youth Conservation Corps program were updated. As before, the Park Service offered interpretive programs at the nearby national forest campground in Beaverhead National Forest and the Forest Service provided expert assistance with prescribed burns and other measures to manage the battlefield's vegetation so that it appeared the way it looked in 1877. [127] Cooperative efforts, meanwhile, were extended in two areas: administration of the Nez Perce National Historical Trail and federal wildland fire management policy.

Formally designated on July 19, 1991, the Nez Perce or Nee-Me-Poo National Historical Trail had long been recognized as a cultural and recreational resource. In 1976, Congress amended the National Trails System Act to authorize a joint study of the 1,200-mile route of the Nez Perce flight of 1877 by the Park Service and the Forest Service. The agencies submitted the joint report to the public review process after 1982, and Congress designated the trail in 1986 (P.L. 99-445). The law placed the trail under the administration of the Forest Service – one of the few units in the National Trail System administered by that agency. The Forest Service administered the trail with the help of the private Nez Perce National Historic Trail Foundation, which included a representative of the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho as well as a member of the Joseph Band on the Colville Reservation in Washington. [128]

Throughout the planning and implementation process, the Forest Service sought advice from the Big Hole staff on issues relating to the trail, particularly in the vicinity of the battlefield. The trail's approach to the battlefield was over present-day Gibbon Pass and down Trail Creek mostly within Beaverhead National Forest although it traversed some private land holdings west of the national battlefield. Five miles west of the national battlefield was the site where Colonel Gibbon's command had camped the night before the battle. Known as the Wagon Train Camp, the site marked where Gibbon had left his supply wagons, stock animals, and mountain howitzer when he advanced under cover of darkness to the edge of the Nez Perce encampment (with orders for the howitzer crew to follow at dawn with the gun and a reserve supply of rifle ammunition). Although little remained of the Wagon Train Camp site as it had been heavily disturbed by dredge mining around the turn of the century, it still held interpretive interest. The trail's continuation east and south of the battlefield, meanwhile, extended mostly through private land. The site of the Nez Perce camp on the night following the dawn attack was thought to be on the Peterson Ranch, approximately 16 miles south of the battlefield. Big Hole National Battlefield staff treated both the wagon train camp and the post-battle Nez Perce camp as related resources outside of the park boundaries. [129] Forest Service officials relied extensively on Park Service expertise for technical assistance with this section of the Nez Perce Trail. [130]

The second area of increased cooperation involved wildland fire management. In the 1990s, Big Hole National Battlefield joined Beaverhead National Forest and other organizations in an expanded effort to pool resources and develop a more comprehensive approach to fire management activities. These included use of prescribed fire and fuels management, suppression of wildfire, interagency coordination of fire policy and program management, and wildland/urban interface protection. [131] In 1994, Big Hole National Battlefield became a party to a new interagency operating plan, or memorandum of agreement, developed by the Dillon Interagency Dispatch Center (DDC). The DDC was established to handle fire and other emergency dispatching for the Beaverhead and Deerlodge national forests and the Dillon Unit of the Department of State Lands. [132]

State and County Agencies

Big Hole National Battlefield had long looked to state and county agencies for various support services such as snow removal and law enforcement. In the 1990s, the NPS sought opportunities for forming partnerships with state and county agencies under which it could give as well as receive assistance. In 1990, for example, the NPS prepared a cooperative agreement with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks that aimed primarily at research, a mutual concern and a shift away from the traditional focus on wildlife law enforcement. Drafted principally by members of Glacier National Park's staff, it covered all National Park system units in Montana including Big Hole National Battlefield. The agreement established procedures for mutual sharing of staff expertise, research, equipment, and supplies, and it provided for either agency to elicit funded assistance from the other agency through formal work orders. [133]

The NPS also became more involved in the state's efforts to promote and manage growth of the tourism industry. In 1993, the NPS joined ten other federal and state agencies in forming the Montana Tourism and Recreation Initiative (MTRI). A Memorandum of Understanding was developed in November and was signed at the Governor's Conference on Tourism and Recreation in April 1994. The purpose of the MTRI was "to facilitate and enhance communications, management, protection, administration, planning and information concerning natural and cultural resource related tourism in Montana." Under the Memorandum of Understanding, a representative of each agency was appointed to the MTRI and the group was to convene twice a year. Eddie Lopez, superintendent of Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, represented the NPS at the initial meeting and his successor, Tony Schetzle, represented the NPS at the next. [134] In the area of planning, the MTRI sought to encourage coordination of statewide interagency tourism marketing efforts with the state's six tourism "countries." Big Hole National Battlefield fell within the area called "Gold West Country." The region covered all of southwest Montana. State tourism brochures and the official state highway map described various historic attractions in the region including Big Hole and Grant-Kohrs Ranch, mining ghost towns, and the historic mining cities of Helena and Butte.

Members of the Frontier Soldiers Association, 1992. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB.

The NPS also supported non-government organizations involved in tourism promotion. Jock Whitworth joined the Big Hole Association for Tourism. As a member of that association, he requested Gold West Country of Montana, Inc., an organization based in Deer Lodge, to advertise all special scheduled events in the Big Hole Valley in its upcoming publications and promotions. These were not limited to battlefield events, but included "Wisdom Days," a one-day street dance and barbecue in Wisdom, "Old Timers Day," a day of foot races, games, and a barbecue in Jackson, and the "VFW Turkey Shoot," held on the Dale Strodman Ranch near Jackson. [135] Thus, the NPS tried to stimulate tourism outside the national battlefield itself.

Significantly, the tourism promotion effort by-passed the Beaverhead County government. A Beaverhead County Comprehensive Plan, produced by the county commission and revised in 1990, did not even mention tourism as a sector in the local economy nor did it contain a single reference to historic resources or Big Hole National Battlefield. The county remained predominantly rural and agricultural. There was relatively little county support for the growing interest shown by the state in "heritage tourism," the marketing of historic resources to attract vacationers. [136]

Partnerships were nowhere as important to overall site management as they were at the other battlefield sites in the Montana Unit. Camas Meadows Battle Sites, located in southeastern Idaho, Canyon Creek, located in Yellowstone County, Montana, and Bear Paw Battlefield, located in Blaine County, Montana, were all cooperative sites established on the Nez Perce National Historical Park model, and consisted solely of private and state lands. In the case of Camas Meadows, local landowners were wary of drawing too many visitors to the site. Sensitive to these local concerns, the Park Service proposed to develop an off-site interpretive display at the Interstate 15 rest area east of the site. At Canyon Creek, meanwhile, the Park Service found an eager partner in the Friends of Canyon Creek, an organization of local business owners and history enthusiasts who wanted to improve interpretation of the site. There, the Park Service planned to redevelop a wayside exhibit and to create a new exhibit in the nearby town of Laurel with assistance from Friends of Canyon Creek, Laurel Chamber of Commerce, the Crow Tribe, and other partners. Finally, at Bear Paw Battlefield, where the state had already established limited visitor facilities, the Park Service worked with Blaine County Museum, Chinook Chamber of Commerce, and the Fort Belknap Tribe to redevelop the site. [137]

Nez Perce Tribe

As discussed in the section on interpretation above, Big Hole National Battlefield made significant strides in developing closer ties to the Nez Perce Tribe in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nez Perce participation in the "Cultural Contrasts" event of August 5 and 6, 1989, was covered in a formal Memorandum of Agreement between Big Hole National Battlefield and Nez Perce tribal members. Dancers, drummers, and other performers received honoraria and funds to help cover expenses. [138] In subsequent years, Nez Perce participation continued on a less formal basis.

In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a law with long-term ramifications for NPS administration, cultural resources management, and relations with Indian tribes. The act required that all federal agencies and museums having possession or control of Native American human remains and associated funerary objects compile an inventory of such items within five years. To the extent possible, these inventories needed to identify the geographical and cultural affiliation of such items and notify the affected Native American tribes within six months of the completion of the inventory. If the cultural affiliation of such items was established, the agency was required by law to return such items upon the request of a known lineal descendant of the Native American Tribe. [139] In 1994, the NPS contracted with the Nez Perce Tribe to consult with park officials on the inventory of items held in Nez Perce National Historical Park, including the Montana Unit, as required by NAGPRA. [140]

After Chief Joseph's pipe bag was recovered in 1992, the NPS received a request by the Nez Perce Tribe for the repatriation of this item as a sacred object of the tribe. This was the first such request in the Park Service's Rocky Mountain Region, and it led to an official interpretation of what was "sacred" under NAGPRA. After some debate, it was decided that anything a Native American tribe declared as sacred had to be considered sacred by the Park Service under the act. [141]

Nez Perce members of Veterans of Foreign Wars
Nez Perce members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the Encampment Area, August 1993. Courtesy National Park Service, Big Hole NB.

Perhaps the Park Service's most ambitious effort to develop stronger relations with the Nez Perce Tribe began to unfold in October 1993, with the convening of an Interagency Coordinated Strategy workshop. The workshop brought together representatives of seven federal agencies and the Nez Perce Tribe. Its goal was to develop a coordinated strategy for federal land managers in the Nez Perce country of Idaho that would allow agencies to pool their resources and minimize conflict. At first the Coordinated Strategy was modeled on the so-called "Four Corners Strategy" of resource management being developed in the four corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. But as the program developed, the focus shifted to interpretation, documentation, and consultation relating to Nez Perce history and culture. The Park Service, Forest Service, and Nez Perce Tribe were the major partners in the Coordinated Strategy; the Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, Soil Conservation Service, and Idaho State Historic Preservation Office were involved too. Following the workshop, designated participants took six months to prepare an action plan. Among the promised actions was a Nez Perce Trail symposium. The first symposium took place in Lewiston in October 1995. [142]

As the Nez Perce National Historical Park staff took over primary responsibility for fostering good relations between Big Hole and the Nez Perce Tribe in the 1990s, opportunities still remained for the Big Hole staff to improve this relationship, too. Chief among these was the annual commemorative event at Big Hole in August. Superintendent James expanded the number of contacts with Nez Perce tribal organizations each year to include such groups as the Nez Perce Young Horsemen's Project, the Chief Looking Glass Descendants Pow-Wow Committee, and the Nez Perce Nation Drum. [143] The avid participation of such groups in Big Hole National Battlefield's interpretive program was indeed an encouraging sign, recognized in the opening lines of the General Management Plan for Nez Perce National Historical Park and Big Hole National Battlefield published in September 1997:

The drumbeat, the heartbeat, of the Nez Perce people has echoed across the forests, rivers and canyons of the homeland for a very, very long time. It continues to be heard today – loud and clear and stronger than ever....Once heard it is hard to forget. It carries messages for those who would listen – messages of hope and despair, of deception and triumph, of pain and guilt, laughter and joy. It speaks to us as human beings – where we have been and where we are going. And it helps define us as a nation. [144]

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Last Updated: 22-Feb-2000