Dug Bar History

A rocky and dusty mountain top on a sunny day.
The heights above Dug Bar, looking north into Idaho.

NPS Photo

Dug Bar is the site where Chief Joseph band's of nimíipuu (Nez Perce) forded the Snake River on May 31, 1877 while complying with the U.S. government's demand to leave their homeland in the Wallowa Valley of northeastern Oregon and to move onto the smaller Nez Perce Reservation near Lapwai, Idaho.

Roots of Conflict

In the aftermath of the 1863 Treaty with the U.S. government, the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon was left outside of the Nez Perce Reservation. Joseph and his brother Ollokot met with General O.O. Howard at Fort Lapwai in the spring of 1877 in an attempt to forestall a forced eviction from their homes. Their parley failed and Joseph returned home with sad news - the nimíipuu had to leave. Howard gave them only thirty days to pack and move to the Nez Perce Reservation. Although at the time they did not know it, Joseph's band would never be allowed to return to their homeland again.

The Crossing at Dug Bar

Dug Bar was a traditional crossing point for the Nez Perce. In the late summer, after water levels traditionally drop, it was a relatively safe place to cross the river. Unfortunately, Joseph's people were forced to cross the Snake River at the end of May when it was flowing high and fast with the spring runoff. Conditions were ripe for disaster.

Women, children, the elderly, and all of the band's possessions crossed the churning river on horsehide rafts pulled by swimming horses. Several thousand head of horses and cattle were also forced to swim the river, with considerable losses.

Learn more about what happened next by following the links below.

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.

Painting depicting soldiers and Nez Perce warriors in battle.

The Nez Perce Flight of 1877

In 1877, the non-treaty Nez Perce were forced on a 126-day journey that spanned over 1,170 miles and through four different states.

A wooden sign about the Nez Perce Crossing at Dug Bar with canyon walls in the background.

Visit Dug Bar

Visit the site on the Snake River where Chief Joseph's band lost many horses and cattle during the Flight of 1877.


Nez Perce Trail Auto Tour

The Nez Perce National Historic Trail has developed auto tours with travel instructions for retracing the 1877 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 1 for more details about the what occurred at Dug Bar and other early events in the Nez Perce Flight of 1877.

Last updated: December 29, 2022

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Nez Perce National Historical Park
39063 US Hwy 95

Lapwai, ID 83540-9715


208 843-7001

Contact Us