Bear Paw Battlefield

How did Montana's Bear Paw Mountains get their name?

Old Chief Joseph grave site
Old Chief Joseph grave site.

Photo by NPS.

Bear Paw Battlefield, part of Nez Perce National Historical Park, commemorates the final battle of the Nez Perce War of 1877. It is here, at the foot of Montana's Bear Paw Mountains, that Chief Joseph famously said, "From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."

The origin of the mountains' name is unclear. The Montana Department of Transportation relates several possibilities. One legend tells of an Indian hunter who killed a deer in the area. Before returning to camp, a bear knocked the hunter over and held him to the ground. The hunter appealed to the Great Spirit for assistance. Lightning struck the bear dead and severed its paw, releasing the man. Other tales describe the mountains as looking like a bear's paw—either from a vantage point on one of the peaks or from a distance.