Battle of the Big Hole

Battle Of The Big Hole

Military Conflict
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Battle of the Big Hole

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The Battle of the Big Hole was a costly battle in the Montana Territory between the Nez Percé and United States army during the Nez Perce War of 1877.


The Nez Percé Chiefs had led their people on an extensive trek from the Clearwater Valley in Idaho to the Big Hole River in Montana. General Oliver Otis Howard had set out after the Nez Percé on July 30. He had telegraphed ahead for forces to intercept the Nez Percé warriors. The Nez Percé had gone without shelter since the Battle of the Clearwater one month earlier. This fatigue led to persuasion of the chiefs by Chief Looking Glass to let the weary Nez Percé rest in the Big Hole Basin, believing they were far enough away from Howard's army. The talking wire — the Nez Percé term for the telegraph — was still an unknown concept to them, so they were unaware of a force of about 200 soldiers marching to their camp under Colonel John Gibbon, who had received Howard's telegram.

The Battle

Colonel Gibbon, who was known to the Indians as "he who limps" due to an old Civil War wound, reached the Nez Percé camp on August 9 and in the early dawn he attacked. Looking Glass, Toohulhulzote, and Ollicot (the war chiefs), believing that they were far enough away from Howard to be out of harm's way, had not bothered to post sentries around their camp. Gibbon's attack took the Nez Percé by complete surprise and threw the camp into complete confusion. Caught in their tipis, the women and...
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