Day Five: Bear Paw Battlefield, MT

Crossing over into eastern Montana was symbolic since we had made it to Ken’s home state.  The landscape was much like ND of course, at first, and it will be a full day or more before we see the rocky areas of his home town, Libby.  But I could tell he was happy to be heading home.

Today’s highlight was an off the path visit to Bear Paw Battlefield, the site of Chief Joseph’s (Nez Perce) last battle before surrending his tribe forever to the white soldiers.  We were the only vehicle at this national historic site and it was all I could have hoped for.  Actually, there were only a few trucks/cars on the main roads as well.  We have been following Route 5 which is known as the high line.  Much of it is very long and straight and you can literally see for miles which is what I had wanted.

At this site, you can take a 1 1/2 mile foot path in and around the battlefield and note markers for where Chief Joseph’s warriors set up teepees or died.  At each commemoritive marker, people have left signs or gifts in the tribe’s honor.  The gifts were sometimes natural like antlers or even a braided horsetail rope, but I also saw a watch, sunglasses, beads and coins.  There was even a plastic binky of sorts or the end of a ring pop, bright orange plastic.  It didn’t seem to matter exactly what was left, but we treated the whole place like a gravesite and memorial.

It was quiet, with absolutely no cars or any other distractions in the distance.  I could sense the grandeur of the place and imagine the battle going on right in front of me.  It was interesting to read some of the signs along the trail that explained what portions of the battle took place where.  We saw the ditch where a number of white soldiers were quickly buried.  We saw where several warriors were killed.

But the most disturbing sign of all was a stone presented by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the early 1920s.  One one side, they celebebrated the sight as the last one in which the white men and red men battled for the land, and mourned the loss of the white soldiers.  Those men’s names were listed.  The other large marker from the DAR respectfully mentioned Chief Joseph and his loss, and how brave he was, but they were especially impressed with how honorable and polite he was in surrendering, all white women values.

I told Ken it would be fun to re-do the commemorations to something more respectful.