The Flight of 1877

The events of 1877, as one Nez Perce elder suggests, can be remembered as "our people's painful and tragic encounter with 'Manifest Destiny.'" When the Nez Perce reservation was reduced to one-tenth its original size, even those who refused to sign the 1863 Treaty were evicted from their homeland and moved onto the new reservation.

Roots of Conflict

Learn more about the complex events leading up to the Nez Perce Flight of 1877 by following the links below.

 
Watercolor painting depicting the arrival of the Nez Perce at Walla Walla Treaty May the 24, 1855.

The Treaty Era

The Treaty of 1855 designated a portion of the Nez Perce homeland as a reservation, but the Treaty of 1863 reduced it in size by 90 percent.

A white two story building with an outer porch.

Fort Lapwai History

When war broke out in 1877, the fort became the center of operations for the U.S. Army until the Nez Perce crossed the Bitterroot Mountains.

A monument with a lake in the background as the sun sets.

Old Chief Joseph Gravesite History

The remains of Old Chief Joseph, a leader who refused to sell his Wallowa homeland and sign the 1863 Treaty, were reburied here in 1926.

A river surrounded by rocky cliffs.

Dug Bar History

While on their way to the new reservation, Chief Joseph's band crossed the Snake River on May 31, 1877 and lost several heads of cattle.

A lake on a sunny day.

Tolo Lake History

When the non-treaty bands met on June 2, 1877, before moving onto the reservation, three Nez Perce warriors raided homesteads in the area.

 

War Breaks Out

Eventually war broke out between the the non-treaty Nez Perce and the U.S. Army, forcing the non-treaty Nez Perce on a 126-day journey that spanned over 1,170 miles and through four different states. The series of engagements between certain bands of Nez Perce, their allies, and the U.S. Army in the summer of 1877 are events that continue to resonate in the hearts and minds of the Nez Perce to this day. Many of the sites of conflict are protected and preserved by the National Park Service, often in cooperation with land owners and local citizens, and serve as reminders of the sacrifices of those who participated in the flight.

Learn more about the battles and other events that occured during the Nez Perce Flight of 1877 by following the links below.

 
A grassy meadow and hillside on a sunny day.

White Bird Battlefield History

During the first battle of the Nez Perce War on June 17,1877, the Nez Perce defeated the U.S. cavalry and escaped to find safety.

A grassy meadow with a few shrubs and the mountains in the background.

Looking Glass' 1877 Campsite History

The Looking Glass Band joined the non-treaty Nez Perce on July 1, 1877, when their village was attacked by the U.S. Army.

Two signs and a monument in the shape of Idaho on the side of the road.

Cottonwood Skirmish Site History

From July 3rd to July 5th of 1877, skirmishes took place between the U.S. Army and the Nez Perce.

A grassy hillside filled with rocks.

Clearwater Battlefield History

Following a two-day battle from July 11 to July 12 of 1877, the Nez Perce were able to escape from Gen. Oliver O. Howard's surprise attack.

A mountain hillside filled with conifer trees.

Lolo Trail and Pass History

Looking for safety in Montana in late July of 1877, the Nez Perce followed the same trail used by Lewis and Clark in 1805 and 1806.

Several tepee poles in a meadow on a sunny day.

Big Hole National Battlefield History

On the morning of August 9, 1877, U.S. troops surprised the Nez Perce killing 60 to 90 Nez Perce men, women, and children.

Three silhouettes of Nez Perce warriors on horseback

Camas Meadows History

On August 20, 1977, the Nez Perce were able to steal more than 200 of the Army's pack horses and mules, halting the Army's advance.

Painting of Nez Perce families in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone History

During the 13 days it took the Nez Perce to cross the park, they encountered 25 tourists, some more than once.

A painting that depicts two Nez Perce on top of a canyon looking down at the soldiers below.

Canyon Creek History

The Nez Perce were able to successfully stop the pursuing cavalry by firing down from the canyon walls on September 13, 1877.

Painting of Nez Perce people in a snowy  landscape wit h foreboding clouds.

Bear Paw Battlefield History

From September 30 to October 5, 1877, the final battle of the Flight of 1877 took place just 40 miles south of the Canadian border.

 

Suggested Reading

The National Park Service has commissioned special studies on particular aspects of 1877. These studies are available below in a digital format.

In addition, the Nez Perce National Historic Trail has an extensive bibliography that is useful for finding resources related to 1877.

Last updated: January 12, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Nez Perce National Historical Park
39063 US Hwy 95

Lapwai, ID 83540-9715

Phone:

(208) 843-7009

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