Discovering our nation’s past is fun. And Big Hole National Battlefield offers the perfect opportunity to delve deep into some of the most poignant events in our history.
Visit gorgeous Montana to get a taste of real American history set against a gorgeous backdrop of gently rolling hills and fields filled with wildflowers.
The site was created to honor the memories of the men, women, and children who lost their lives at the site.
So what exactly is there to do, and why should you go?
Read on to discover the rich history behind this site, and what it can offer you.
Examining Our History at Big Hole National Battlefield
Visiting Big Hole Battlefield involves stepping back in time, to the days of the Wild West and Manifest Destiny.
The battlefield was the site of the infamous Battle of Big Hole near Wisdom, Montana. The battle was between the Native American tribe of the Nez Perce and the white settlers, who were hoping to instigate westward expansion into the region (and make a few dollars in the process).
Tensions between the Nez Perce and the settles had been growing for some time. The ancestral homelands of the Nez Perce were given to them in a government treaty during the 1800s, but settlers were constantly encroaching.
The conditions of the treaty were violated in 1863 when gold was discovered in the lands. The government drew up a new treaty, but the treaty cut down Nez Perce ownership by 30 percent.
This sparked rage among the people, and many of them refused outright to sign the treaty. Small skirmishes began to come about, leading to a final battle: The Battle of Big Hole.
Big Hole National Battlefield Honors the Memory of Early America
On the morning of August 10, 1877, the battle commenced. When all was said and done, 90 Nez Perce and 31 soldiers were dead.
This historical site aims to serve their memory with purpose and learning opportunities for all. Thoughts on tolerance occupy the minds of all who visit here.
Nowadays, the Nez Perce work together with the United States government to preserve their culture and bear witness to the past.
Big Hole Commemoration
Each year, the Nez Perce tribe gathers at Big Hole to commemorate the battle. The commemoration is for the purposes of honor and remembrance and includes these themes in all activities performed.
These include singing, dancing, a pipe ceremony, and a drum circle. There is no entrance fee. Feel free to come out and experience a bit of Nez Perce culture and tradition.
The commemoration takes place in August and everyone is invited to attend to honor those who lost their lives in the battle.
You won’t have to worry at the gate — they don’t charge admission. And if you need physical assistance to get to the campsite, they provide a shuttle from the park visitor center. They do suggest you bring a chair or blanket to sit on, as well as plenty of sunscreen or an umbrella.
The ceremony starts early and wraps up by noon, so be sure to arrive early. Commemorations include a drum circle as well as pipe ceremony, and they ask that you refrain from taking photos.
The Practicalities of a Visit to Big Hole National Battlefield
Big Hole National Battlefield is a great place to bring yourself or the whole family for a visit. You’ll learn tons of new stuff and get to experience a whole other culture up close and personal.
The Gist of Big Hole
Big Hole is near Wisdom, Montan, about 10 miles west of the town on Highway 43. The park is open from dusk until dawn, 365 days a year. The visitor center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the summer and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter.
The park is free of charge for sports and recreation such as family outings.
Where to Stay at Big Hole National Battlefield
Big Hole National Battlefield does not offer lodging on-site, but you’ll find campgrounds around the area to enjoy during your visit.
Try out Grandview Campground and RV Park in Hardin, Montana, for a fun, clean, and comfortable experience. At Grandview Campground you’ll find friendly staff to assist you with your every need.
Interested in other Montana and nearby Wyoming battlefields? Try going over to Bighorn Battlefield for another look into history.
Hiking to Enjoy at Big Hole National Battlefield
Hiking is king here at Big Hole. Trails are open during daylight hours all year. The park offers three trails, each with its own historical significance:
The Nez Perce Camp Trail
The Nez Perce Camp trail is 1.6 miles round trip. The path is pretty flat and traces the path of the Nez Perce along the river and through their camp. Hikers here will have a chance to see the Nez Perce Camp Site Memorial.
Siege Area Trail
The Siege Area trail is a bit more difficult, with a small rise in elevation. It’s about 1.2 miles long and affords visitors views of rifle pits dug by the soldiers. You’ll also be able to see a monument for the soldiers along this route.
The Howitzer Trail
The Howitzer trail is less than a mile but rises steeply in elevation. Hikers can enjoy the view offered by the scenic hillside. You’ll enjoy the surrounding fields filled with wildflowers and the gentle valleys between them.
Ancient Sites at Big Hole National Battlefield
One of the most intriguing aspects of the park is its access to sites of ancient human habitation. The area has been settled by people as far back as 11,000 years ago. Viewing the artifacts that remain are one of the most fascinating activities available to visitors.
In sharp bends of the Snake River, you’ll find Petroglyph and pictographs left by ancestors of the Nez Perce people. The name of the site — Buffalo Eddy — derives from the images of hunters chasing bison on horseback. Some of the images may date back as long as 4,500 years ago.
Hasotino Village Site
This ancient village was once the home of some of the Nez Perce. Archeologists have been studying the site for the last 50 years. The Hesutiin or Hasotino site is near a lamprey fishery and provided access to food and water. This made it one of the largest and longest used villages in the area.
Other Attractions at Big Hole National Battlefield
Along with the annual commemoration and extensive trails, you’ll find other activities at Big Hole National Battlefield.
Spalding Site Trails
The Spalding Site hosts four short, interpretive trails filled with storytelling and history.
Along with the Whitebird Battlefield trail that tells the story of the battle, you’ll also be able to walk the Heart of the Monster trail, that tells the story of Coyote’s fight with a monster. You can see where the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through in 1805. Or marvel at ancient petroglyphs and pictographs on the Buffalo Eddy trail.
If you would prefer to spend some time indoors, you can stop at any of the three indoor museums in the park and learn a bit more about the history of the area.
Spalding Visitor Center
The Spalding visitor center hosts activities and you can learn more about the Nez Perce. Throughout the year, they show the film, “Nez Perce – Portrait of a People” for visitors. You can also check out the museum for an impressive display of apparel, tools, weapons, and ceremonial objects from the tribe.
Big Hole National Battlefield
The park visitor center provides information on how to access the battlefield. You can also watch the film, “Weet’uciklitukt: There’s No Turning Back, Battle at Big Hole” to learn more about the Nez Perce War of 1877.
Bear Paw Battlefield
If you find yourself near the Blaine County Museum in Chinook, check out the museum and watch “40 Miles to Freedom,” an audiovisual presentation. They also have a museum with exhibits on history and paleontology in the local area.
Big Hole National Battlefield is Open for All
Big Hole Battlefield is representative of how far we’ve come as a nation. To come here is to support the prosperity that comes in times of peace and to remember the lessons learned that follow times of war.
Traveling to Big Hole is a learning opportunity for all.
Featured Image: CC0, via National Parks Service