Date of Award

Spring 1957

Document Type




First Advisor

Thomas Clinch


For several years I have had an interest In the history of the American Indian, in his traditions, in his economics and particularly in the role he was forced to play in the great westward expansion of our nation. This role, or perhaps it could he called a tragedy, as far as the Indian goes, was not a passive role for either the whiteman or the Indian. It was rather an inevitable, dynamic clashing of forces as two opposing cultures sought the means to their existence. For the Whiteman it was a means towards what the distinguished author, historian and critic, Mr. Bernard DeVoto, would call "The Course of Empire.” For the Indians it meant the right to continue their primitive life as sole masters and simple exploiters of their vast hunting grounds. That one of these cultures had to make room for the other has been conceded, as witnessed by the final supremacy of the whiteman and the complete subjugation of the red. My purpose in this paper is to treat as fully as possible the Big hole Battle of the Nez heroes Indian War of 1877 and the history of events leading up to and those taking place after this battle, a battle which forms an important facet in the overall picture of our western territory in transition.

The Battle Of The Big Hole, the fourth major engagement of the Nez Perces War of 1877 fought between Indians of the Nez Perce Tribe and the United States Army, serves as the main study of this thesis.

I have arranged this work to give a brief early history of the Nez Perce Indians, their years of treaty negotiations with the United States Government, the opening of hostilities, followed by the major topic, The Battle Of The Big Hole, and finally a short later history of the Nez Perces through the war and their subsequent defeat at The Battle Of The Bear Paw Mountains.

Throughout the thesis I have mentioned frequently the immortal Nez Perce chief, Young Joseph known as Chief Joseph, the leader of the Nez Perce in the Big Hole Battle and the main Indian leader of the Nez Perces War.

Joseph, it has been stated, conducted the most scientific campaign against the United States army ever generated by an Indian. No one knew better than he the tremendous odds against him, yet, for the freedom of his people, he fought with a puny force of never more than four hundred warriors against superior forces of a mighty nation of millions. He stood up in battle array against veteran troops, fresh from the victory of Appomattox, who wore considered the “greatest soldiers in the world." He has been called the "Red Napoleon of the West," and his march toward Canada has been likened to Xenophon’s March of the ten thousand." 1

The Battle Of The Big Hole in itself would be more in keeping as a thesis in its objectivity if I were to mention Chief Joseph as a leader in this battle and little more. However, again, the eminence of this man in the latter battle as well as in the entire later history of the Nez Perces is such that for historical narrative, this work would be without its proper perspective if I did not dwell on this Indian leader in the manipulations of his tribe throughout the Nez Perces War and especially in The Battle Of The Big Hole.