Camas Meadows is the location of the August 20th battle of the Nez Perce Flight of 1877. After the horrific attack at Big Hole on August 9th and 10th, the nimí·pu· (Nez Perce) went south, crossing back into Idaho over Bannock Pass before heading east towards Yellowstone National Park. In the meantime, General Howard's troops, which had not taken part in the attack at Big Hole, had taken a circuitous route roughly parallel to the nimí·pu· in an attempt to head them off. In an effort to slow down Howard, a small group of warriors decided to raid the army camp to steal horses and disrupt Howard's advance.
Battle at Camas Meadows
General Oliver Otis Howard camped near where the nimí·pu· had been observed the day before in Camas Meadows. All day the soldiers followed a broad trail left by the nimí·pu·. After an 18-mile march across the sagebrush prairie, General Howard arrived at Camas Meadows. He camped along the high ground fringing the bottom of Spring Creek and named the camp in honor of Captain Calloway.
Eighteen miles away, the nimí·pu· scouts had returned to camp, bringing word of the soldiers’ location. Cimúuxcimux húukux (Black Hair) had a strong vision in which he saw himself and others escaping with the U.S. Army’s horses. He told the chiefs of his vision, and 28 men were organized under the leadership of ’álok’at (Chief Ollikut), ’Elelímyete’qenin’ (Chief Looking Glass), and Chief Tuxúulxulc’ut to carry out a raid.
Near midnight, the nimí·pu· warriors approached the army camp. Several crept quietly among the herd of animals, cutting them loose, and removing warning bells. The main group of warriors rode four to a column, as would a cavalry unit. The sentry mistook them for Lieutenant Bacon’s returning men. He called out a challenge that resulted in a shot being fired that awakened the troops and spurred the nimí·pu· to action. General Howard ordered Companies B, I and L, consisting of about 150, men to recapture the mules and horses that were by this time far down the trail. Captain Norwood’s Company L was ordered to follow the warriors. He caught up with them after about five miles. They dismounted to exchange shots. The skirmish lasted more than four hours. Just as the men began to realize they were being circled by the sound of firing from a flanking maneuver of the nimí·pu·, “recall” was sounded.
As Companies B and I retreated, Captain Norwood’s troops hastily built rifle pits as a defense and remained until reinforcements came. The warriors left as reinforcements arrived.
Meanwhile, the nimí·pu· warriors assessed the success of their raid. As the sun arose, the warriors realized they had captured most of the mule herd and a few horses.
Their raid proved a tactical success by leaving General Howard with too few pack animals, forcing him to go to Virginia City, Montana to get more mules to continue his pursuit. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the nimí·pu· gathered their stock, broke camp and left Camas Meadows, headed east towards Yellowstone National Park. For their part the military paid a high price for the few mules they recovered: Bugler Bernard Arthur Brooks lay dead, two soldiers died later, and Captain Calloway's volunteers escorted five wounded men to Virginia City, Montana to receive medical treatment.
Learn more about what happened next by following the links below.
The Flight of 1877 through Yellowstone
During the 13 days it took the Nez Perce to cross the nation's first national park, they encountered 25 tourists, some more than once.
Nez Perce Trail Auto Tour
The staff at the Nez Perce National Historic Trail have developed auto tours with travel instructions for retracing the route of the Nez Perce along with maps, graphics, and details about the confilct at sites you can see along the way. Download Auto Tour 5 for more details about the Nez Perce route after they left the Big Hole, the battle at Camas Meadows, and their route between the battle and Yellowstone.
Last updated: June 11, 2021