I was glad there were no other visitors at the battlefield today site of the last battle of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce band after their long trail from Idaho. It needs to be experienced with no sound but that of the wind off the mountains rushing across the plains hissing through the grasses and bringing up the smell of sage in the sun and only a lone antelope for company. It is a hard story to tell to do justice to both sides. For whatever paths of life -whether ill or good- that had brought these groups to that place together men and boys of both sides died as warriors a long way from their homes on the cold lonely plains of Montana.
It is a strange mixture of present peace and a past of war and death.
Below is a picture of Snake Creek today its water rapidly rising from the hard rains in the southern Mountains that had fallen all week and were falling again today. It was the main source of water for the Nez Perce but hard to get to as this woman recalls:
“..dried meat and some other grub would be handed around. It would be given to the children first. I was 3 days without food. Children cried with hunger and cold. In the small creek there was water, but we could only get to it at night.”
4 days of fighting,shelling,siege,hard deeds, and death.
Below is the scenes from Point of Rocks where Tulhuulhulsuit and five other were killed doing what warriors and men do when evil times come defend the women and children. So peaceful a place for death to have come.
This picture of a bullet scarred rock resting serenely in the grass highlights that strange mixture of peace and war.
Offerings left at the spot of the final surrender and near where Ollikut and Lean Elk fell. Please if you visit do not disturb the offerings left for the fallen it is a place made sacred by the blood of warriors of both sides and should be treated as a burial site and memorial.
-Chief Joseph “…Our chiefs are killed, Looking Glass is dead.Tulhuulhulsuit is dead. the old men are all dead….He who led the young men is dead. It is cold, we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are, perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead.”
The next to shots are marker for Ollikut’s death site and a little water filled depression which was the mass grave of the soldiers of the 7th Calvary who fell in the battle..so little for those who gave so much. They were at last reburied at the Little Bighorn Battlefield in 1912.
The last two photos are of the rain storm moving in from the distant mountains. Perhaps even the heavens decided to weep today for what occurred here in the fall of 1877 -Chief Joseph “..from where the sun now stands, I will fight no more, forever.”
Surely it is only the rushing wind ahead of the storm that cries and moans across the hills and down the deep ravines that I am hearing and not lonely voices crying. Also it is but the changing light that cause dark shapes like smoke and mist to be caught in the corners of the eye and be not there when I turn toward them….or maybe it is the people of this place saying “ Aye you have told our story well- it is good- now leave us in peace again”