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Stealthy Midnight March

At 10 o’clock at night the officer of the guard spoke to the General in a whisper, and he arose with the alacrity of a youth who goes forth to engage in the sports of a holiday. The men were called at once, and in whispered orders the line of march was speedily formed. All were instructed to preserve the most profound silence from that moment until the signal should be given to open fire on the enemy, and, under the guidance of Joe Blodgett and Lieutenant Bradley, the little band filed silently down the winding trail, threading its way, now through dark groves of pine or fir; now through jungles of underbrush; now over rocky points; frequently wading the cold mountain brook, waist deep, and tramping through oozy marshes of saw-grass; speaking only in whispers; their rifles loaded, eyes peering into the starlit night, and ears strained to catch the slightest sound that might indicate the hiding-place of any lurking foe who might perchance be on an outpost to announce to his followers the approach of danger. Five miles were thus stealthily marched without giving an alarm. Then the valley in which the troops bad been moving opened out into what is known as the Big Hole, that is, the valley of the Big Hole River. This is a beautiful prairie basin, fifteen miles wide, and sixty miles long, covered with rich bunch-grass and surrounded by high mountains. In the edge of this valley the soldiers saw the smoldering camp-fires of the enemy; heard the baying of his hungry dogs responding to the howls of prowling coyotes, and...

Retreat of the Indians under Cover of Night

The Indians claimed after their final surrender that they would have held Gibbon’s command in the timber longer than they did, and would have killed many more, if not all of them, had they not learned that Howard was at hand with reinforcements. They admit that they were warned of impending danger in some form in due time to have avoided a meeting with Gibbon, but did not heed it. They tell us that on the evening before the arrival of Gibbon’s troops at the Indian camp, a “medicine man ” had cautioned the chiefs that death was on their trail. “What are we doing here he asked. ” While I slept, my medicine told me to move on ; that death was approaching us. Chiefs, I only tell you this for the good of our people. If you take my advice you can avoid death, and that advice is to speed through this country. If we do not there will be tears in our eyes.” But the chiefs heeded not his warning. They held a feast and a war-dance that night, and then lay down to sleep, feeling as safe as they ever did on their own reservation. They claim to have received news of Howard’s coming in this way : When the troops retired to the mouth of the gulch on the morning of the 9th, the warriors were examining the dead. Among them they found a white man, a citizen, who was breathing ; his eyes were closed and he pretended to be dead, but they saw that he was not though he was severely wounded....

Stubborn Resistance of the Indians in the Pine Woods

As soon as the command abandoned the camp, the Indians reoccupied it, and under the fire of the sharpshooters, hauled down several of their teepees, hastily bundled together the greater portion of their plunder, packed a number of horses with it, and, mounting their riding ponies, the squaws and children beat a hasty retreat down the valley, driving the herd of loose horses with them. They had hot work breaking camp, and several of them and their horses were killed while thus engaged. Two of Joseph’s wives and a daughter of Looking Glass were among the slain, who were believed to have been killed at this time. When the command retired into the timber, the Indians followed and surrounded them, taking cover along the river banks below, and behind rocks and trees on the hill-sides above. The men dug rifle pits with their trowel bayonets and piled up rocks to protect themselves as best they could, and a sharp shooting fight was kept up from this position all day. At times, the Indians’ fire was close and destructive, and here Lieutenant English received a mortal wound. Captain Williams was struck a second time, and a number of men killed and wounded. Two large pine trees stand on the open hillside some 400 yards from the mouth of the gulch. Behind one of these an Indian took cover early in the morning and staid there until late in the afternoon. He proved to be an excellent long-range shot, and harassed the troops sorely by his fire until a soldier who had crawled up the gulch some distance above the main...

Testimony of Officers and Men as to the Courage and Fierceness of the Nez Percé

Veterans of the civil war, and men who have been years on the frontier, who have participated in many of the most sanguine Indian campaigns ever fought, say this was the most hotly-contested field they were ever on. They tell us that never have they seen such cool and determined fighting, at such short range, kept up for so long a time, by Indians; that never have they known so many bullets placed with such deadly accuracy, and so few to fly wild as in this fight. Nearly every man engaged in the action, white or red, officer, private soldier, or citizen, seemed a cool, deliberate sharp shooter; and the fact that after the first assault both parties kept closely covered all day, alone accounts for the fact that so many survived the fiery ordeal. The Indians did splendid work and elicited from the beleaguered soldiers expressions of admiration for their marksmanship, as well as for their bravery and prowess in fierce, close work. An old sergeant, who was with the Seventh at Gettysburg, when it aided so nobly in holding Little Round Top, says there was no hotter place on that historic hill than he found in the Big Hole on the 9th of August, 1877. After the battle General Gibbon issued the following congratulatory order to his men: [Regimental Orders, No. 27.]Headquarters Seventh Infantry, Battle-Field Of The Big Hole, Montana Territory, Any. 11, 1877. The regimental commander congratulates the regiment upon the result of the conflict here with the hostile Nez Percé on the 9th and 10th inst. While mourning for the dead, Capt. William Logan and...

Gibbon Reinforced by Citizen Volunteers

General Gibbon moved as rapidly as his means of transportation would permit, cover ing thirty to thirty-five miles per day. In his march through the valley he was joined by thirty-six citizens who did not sympathize with the kind treatment their neighbors had shown the fugitives, but who believed that they (the Indians) should be punished for their crimes, and who were anxious to aid the troops in administering the punishment. The pursuing party gathered all possible information en route as to the rate of speed at which the Indians were traveling, their numbers, etc., and from the citizens and the camp sites passed, learned that there were still over 400 of the warriors, and about 150 squaws and children in the band; that the bucks were all armed with modern breech-loading rifles, many of which were repeaters; that they were amply supplied with ammunition, and had with them over 2,000 head of good horses. Gibbon ascertained that he was covering two of their daily marches with one of his, and the question of overtaking them, became, therefore, merely one of time. Near the head of the valley he fortunately secured the services of Joe Blodgett, an old-timer in this region, as guide and scout, who proved a valuable acquisition to his forces. The General had been previously assured that it would be impossible to take his wagons over the high divide between the Bitter Root and Big Hole Rivers, and had decided to leave them at the foot of the mountains and proceed with such supplies as he could take on pack mules; but Blodgett assured him that...

Description of the Battle Monument

A grateful country has erected on the Big Hole battle field a fitting monument, a modest but enduring shaft of solid granite, which marks the scene of the bloody conflict and tells in mute but eloquent words the story of the victory won there. The base of the monument is five feet six inches square; the pedestal is four feet six inches square by three feet seven inches in height, and the height of the entire structure is nine feet ten inches. On the north face of the shaft are carved the words: Erected By The United States. On the east face the words: On this Field 17 Officers and 138 Men of the 7th U. S. Infantry, under its Colonel, Bvt. Major-General John Gibbon, With 8 Other Soldiers and 36 Citizens, Surprised and Fought all Day A Superior Force Of Nez Percé Indians, More Than One-Third of the Command Being Killed and Wounded. On the south is inscribed : To The Officers and Soldiers of The Army, and Citizens of Montana, Who Fell at Big Hole, August 9, 1877, in Battle With Nez Percé Indians. And on the west side is a list of the soldiers and citizens killed in the action, which is the same as that already quoted from General Gibbon’s report. The stone was cut in Concord, N. H., shipped to Dillon, Mont., by rail, and hauled from there to the battle field by ox teams. It was placed in position in September, 1883, by a detachment of soldiers from Fort Missoula, under command of Capt. J. P. Thompson, of the Third Infantry. It cost...

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