Battle of Bear Paw 1877

What was happening in 1877?

The Nez Perce War had begun in June, 1877. This was a small-scale war between the Native American Nez Perce tribe and the U.S. Army. The Nez Perce originally lived in southwestern areas of USA. They were eventually granted 7.5 million acres of land by the U.S. government but later, the government asked them to give up their land and move to a reservation in Idaho.

This angered the Nez Perce because this was in violation of an earlier treaty. So they refused to settle at the reservation and when the U.S. army tried to force them, they fought back. They then started to retreat towards southeast, hoping to travel to the Canadian border and to Canada where they may retain their freedom.

Background of the Battle of Bear Paw

From June, 1877 to October, 1877, the Nez Perce were successfully able to fight a number of battles with the U.S. army which was following them. They won some battles and retreated from a few but they successfully continued their journey towards the Canadian border.

By September, 1877, the Nez Perce hoped that they had finally outrun the army that was following them. But unknown to them, a second army under Colonel A. Miles was rapidly coming towards them from another direction. It was this army that caught up with them while the Nez Perce were only 40 miles from the Canadian border.

When and where did the battle take place?

The Battle of Bear Paw took place from September 30, 1877 to October 5, 1877. It took place in the Blaine County in Montana, only 40 miles from the Canadian border.

Commanders on both sides

The U.S. army was commanded by Colonel A. Miles who had nearly 520 soldiers in his army. The main Nez Perce leaders in the battle were Looking Glass, Chief Joseph and Ollokot. The Nez Perce strength lay in nearly 200 warriors.

The Fighting

When the army of Colonel A. Miles caught up with the retreating Nez Perce camp, he attacked. The Nez Perce fought back fiercely and although they suffered many casualties, they were able to inflict a lot of damage on Miles’ army. The attack began around 9 a.m. on September 30, before the Nez Perce camp could continue its journey in the morning.

Like in their previous battles, the Nez Perce were quick to send their women and children ahead, and then turned to fight back the army. They dug up defencive positions and started sniping, keeping Miles’ army from advancing any further. But the battle delayed them from journeying any further and meanwhile, General Oliver Otis Howard also caught up with Miles’ army. The Nez Perce finally agreed to surrender.

Result and Aftermath

Despite only 200 warriors, the Nez Perce fought back fiercely. They suffered 25 deaths and 46 wounded during the fighting. The U.S. army suffered 24 dead and 49 wounded. Around 450 Nez Perce surrendered after the battle. Some bands tried to run and reach the Canadian border. While many were intercepted en route, many were able to cross the border and reach safety in Canada.

Beyond Bear’s Paw: The Nez Perce Indians in Canada Hardcover – May 6, 2010

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