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Interpretive Strategy

Draft Revision 1999

Dedication poster - click to enlarge
Click on the poster for a larger version

This Interpretive Strategy provides suggestions on how the Nez Perce Trail story might be interpreted with accuracy, balance and integrity. It provides general guidelines and standards for interpretive media such as signs, exhibits, publications and programs.

Anyone developing interpretive programs or media along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail may find this strategy valuable as a beginning point, though nothing contained within is intended to limit creativity of expression.

The ideas contained here resulted from a 1991 gathering of 35 historians, Nez Perce Tribal members, NPS, Forest Service, and BLM agency personnel and interpretive specialists in Bozeman, Montana. The strategy was first distributed in 1992. Since then it has been reviewed and revised by many other people interested in the preservation and management of the Historic Trail. The current version represents only the latest ideas — ideas that will continue to evolve as people work together in interpreting the trail. 


    1. Legislative and Planning History
    1. Invite People to See and Touch History
    2. Focus on Accuracy and Balance
    3. Use Imaginative But Conservative Interpretive Methods
    4. Use A Coordinated Approach
    1. Goals and Objectives
    2. Interpretive Themes and Subthemes
    1. Publications
    2. Markers and Signs
    3. Interpretive Signs
    4. Personal Services
    5. Audio Visual Programs
    6. Visitor Centers
    7. Traveling Exhibits
    8. Museum Exhibits
    9. Education Programs
    1. Trailwide Proposals
    2. Segment and Site Proposals
      1. SEGMENT I - Wallowa to Weippe Prairie
      2. SEGMENT II - Weippe Prairie to Big Hole Battlefield
      3. SEGMENT III - Big Hole Battlefield to Dead Indian Hill
      4. SEGMENT IV - Dead Indian Hill to Bear's Paw

I. Introduction

"Interpretation aims at giving people new understanding, new insights, new enthusiasms, new interests …  A good interpreter is sort of a Pied Piper, leading people into new and fascinating worlds that their senses never really penetrated before."

The primary objective of interpretation is to assist the visitor in developing a keener awareness, appreciation and understanding of the area he or she is visiting. Interpretation should help to make the visit a rich and enjoyable experience. Interpretation may also help accomplish management goals … First, it can encourage thoughtful use … Second, it can minimize human impact by guiding people away from fragile or overused areas."

Adapted from Interpreting the Environment, Grant W. Sharp, 1976


The Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail, extending approximately 1,170 miles from Wallowa Lake, Oregon, to the Bear's Paw Battlefield near Chinook, Montana, was designated a National Historic Trail in 1986.

A Comprehensive Plan, signed in October of 1990 by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service, established guidelines for planning, development, and protection of the Historic Trail, with sensitivity to its historic significance.

This Interpretive Strategy proposes a coordinated approach for developing interpretive facilities and programs along the entire National Historic Trail, with a specific focus on the 319 miles identified as "high potential segments" to be developed by federal and state agencies. Anyone interested in interpreting the trail, including federal and state agencies, private organizations, history buffs and individuals may find this strategy useful.

Interpretation and information programs will play important roles in the trail's preservation, management and enjoyment. Interpretive goals include:

Accomplishing these goals calls for a carefully crafted and consistent program of information and interpretation. Because the trail transcends state and federal agency boundaries, so must interpretive and informational programs.

Map of the trailKeys to Quality

Invite people to personally see and touch history. History is best re-examined in the places where it occurred. Most people like to see landscapes and historic locales as they might have been long ago, with few additional incongruous elements. Interpretation should provide just enough information without confining opportunities to explore and reach one’s own conclusions.

Focus on accuracy and balance. The story of the Nez Perce Trail is complex and has many important chapters beyond military events. There are many untold tales of non-combatants — women and men, young and old people, Nez Perce and non-Indians. Involving historians, Nez Perce people, and other informed sources at all stages of project planning can help avoid simplistic and romantic stereotypes.

Use creative but simple interpretive methods. Many historic concepts and stories can be best explained by a knowledgeable guide; others may be better presented by publications, exhibits or audio-visual programs. Almost every imaginable communication method will play a role along the trail, but where alternatives exist, the least obtrusive, most cost-effective method should be selected. Most interpretation on the high potential segments will consist of simple signs and publications.

Follow a coordinated approach. A little extra time spent talking with neighbors, historians, and the Nez Perce people will ensure that everyone isn't telling either exactly the same stories or conflicting stories.

Many trail devotees have contributed ideas to this strategy. It incorporates the best thoughts of land managers, historians, interpretive specialists, archaeologists, private citizens, and Nez Perce tribal members. In their recommendations, they recognize that today's travelers along the trail, just as those in 1877 and before, come from many cultures and points of view. Some will travel the whole route; others will join the trail for only a part. This strategy thus proposes a wide variety of interpretive opportunities, so that all visitors may approach the trail in their own way.

  The Interpretive Strategy is neither a mandate nor a cookbook. It is intended to stimulate creative ideas and encourage a cooperative spirit among all those interested in interpreting the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail.



On July 19, 1991, over 500 people gathered in a lonely meadow high in the Bitterroot Mountains on the Montana-Idaho border. They came to dedicate the  Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail. Nez Perce Elders retold the stories of the Nee-Me-Poo, or Nez Perce People ... and spoke of trails.

... of a happy trail walked for thousands of years crossing the mountains to visit friends and relatives on the plains, and to trade and hunt.

... of a trail of sadness where in 1877 750 Nez Perce men, women, and children made a heroic yet futile flight seeking freedom far from their homeland.

How did the fleeing bands feel as they camped in that same meadow over 100 years ago?  Did they remember, with sorrow, those happier camps there along their traditional buffalo trail?  Did they sing songs of sadness as they left their homeland, perhaps forever? 

The sun sank low across the meadow, and the sounds of drums and dancing drew all the people closer to shadows of the past. And in remembering, they knew that the trail is not just about those on yesterday's journeys, but that today's and tomorrow's travelers may also find meaning here.

In 1877 five bands of Nez Perce left their  ancestral homeland rather than fight a war. They fled from United states military forces in an epic journey hallmarked by battles, courage, and tragedy.

The 1170-mile Nez Perce National Historic Trail, established by Congress in 1986, memorializes the Nez Perce journey and focuses our attention on a cultural collision which continues to shape the American West.

A well known story. Few stories in Western history capture the imagination like that of the Nez Perce Trail. Every year numerous magazine and newspaper articles tell and retell the story. Hundreds if not thousands of scholarly works, children's books, and fictional accounts have been published. Most Americans have some familiarity with the story, and almost every elementary student can relate the basic facts — though much of what they have learned may be oversimplified, romanticized, or even untrue.   

Interest in the trail is not new. Public fascination with the Nez Perce War began almost immediately following the events of 1877. Historical societies and interested groups placed historical markers and plaques at many historic sites related to the Nez Perce Trail by the early 1900s. state Park agencies and the National Park Service for many years have preserved and interpreted some of the main battlefields.

A National Historic Trail. In 1986 Congress created the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail, largely in response to persistent pressure from the Nez Perce Tribe and a legion of dedicated trail supporters. The designation followed more than a decade of planning efforts and legislative actions.  Creation of the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail will help ensure that the entire route and its many historic places will be preserved and visited by generations to come.


1968 - P.L. 90-543, National Trails System Act defined process for planning National Trails.

1976 - P.L. 94-547 authorized study of the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) Trail to determine feasibility and suitability of trail designation.

1978 - P.L. 95-625, National Parks and Recreation Act established National Historic Trails category as part of National Trails System.

1982 - Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) Trail Study Report recommended that the entire 1,170 miles be designated.

1985 - Decision Notice selected moderate development alternative from environmental assessment.

1986 - P.L. 99-445 designated the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

1989 - Advisory Council formed to assist with preparation of NPNHT Comprehensive Plan.

1990 - Comprehensive Management Plan approved by Forest Service, Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management.

1991 - Trail dedication - large ceremony at Lolo Pass.

1991 - Advisory Council disbanded.

1991 - Nez Perce Trail Foundation formed.

1991 - Interpretive planning held in Bozeman MT.

1992 - Nez Perce National Park expanded - Wallowa Lake, Canyon Creek Battlefield, and Bear's Paw Battlefield and other sites placed under National Park Service management.

Comprehensive Management Plan calls for coordinated management approach. Today the Nez Perce National Historic Trail passes through a mosaic of private, state, tribal, and federally managed lands. It leads through towns, ranchland, and still-primitive backcountry. No one agency or organization can preserve and interpret this trail without the cooperation of many others. In 1989 an Advisory Council was formed to help prepare a plan for management of the National Historic Trail. The Forest Service, as lead agency for the NPNHT, chaired the council of representatives from the Nez Perce Tribe, historians, federal and state agencies, and interested parties from all parts of the Trail. The Advisory Council held public meetings during 1989 and 1990 at key trail locations. The best ideas from these public meetings were incorporated in the Comprehensive Management Plan for NPNHT, approved and published in October 1990. The work of the Advisory Council ended with the official Nez Perce Trail Dedication held on July 19, 1991.

Interpretive Strategy -  A Bozeman, Montana, planning firm, Charrette Collaborative, was hired in 1991 to help develop an interpretive strategy for the NPNHT. A diverse group of people met for a two-day charrette — a strategic planning session —  with members of the Nez Perce tribe, the Nez Perce National Historic Trail Foundation, public agencies, and concerned citizens. Group members explored possible themes, sites to interpret, and methods of interpretation. They re-examined existing interpretive programs and discussed what should be done next. The group members' suggestions for interpreting the Trail present exciting and challenging ideas which are listed in this strategy.

III. How the Comprehensive Plan Guides Trail Interpretation

The Comprehensive Plan directs that the entire 1,170-mile trail and related historic places will be marked and interpreted. Initial federal development will concentrate on "high potential segments," about 319 miles of the trail on public lands that are well documented and best preserved, and that have good potential for visitation. Eventually other sections may also be developed. The trail will be developed with dignity and respect. Where the trail retains its original appearance, it will be allowed to speak for itself. Signs and development will be kept at a distance from places of cultural and spiritual importance. Appropriate interpretive programs and facilities will be developed along original trail segments, on hiking and horse trails, and at historic and recreation sites along an auto tour route. Uniform trail markers will raise the awareness of highway travelers. Wayside exhibits and trailhead signs will illustrate key events and features along the trail, and help bring historic events to life.

Specific Comprehensive Plan Direction:

The following exerpts from the Comprehensive Management Plan contain specific direction that will guide interpretation of the NPNHT. Because direction relating to interpretation was widely scattered through the plan, these exerpts have been re-ordered for clarity. Note that the Comprehensive Plan dealt most specifically with management of the "original historic route" and the “hiking and horseback trail,” because these constitute the actual National Historic Trail. Direction for the auto tour route is general where it exists at all. The Comprehensive Plan is designed to provide a coordinated framework for the development, interpretation, and protection of the trail. Decisions regarding the specific interpretive route, development standards, permitted use, and management policies are delegated to the respective managing authorities. Close coordination will be established and maintained among local agencies, Indian tribes, and private organizations and individuals along the route of the trail.

Administering Agency Role

The Forest Service, as the administering agency, is responsible for overall administration of the trail and  will have a continuing oversight and assistance role to encourage trail development and to ensure consistency with the Plan. The various tasks of the Forest Service involve the following:

Plan Coordination. Coordinate with the federal and non-federal managing authorities in the preparation and approval of management plans designed to harmonize with and complement multiple-use plans to ensure continued maximum benefits from the land.

Agreements. Assist private organizations and federal, state, and local agencies with the development of agreements to facilitate management and development of the NPNHT.

Marking Coordination. Arrange for and coordinate marking the trail. Provide sources for markers to federal, state, and local managing authorities.

Technical Trail Assistance. Provide technical assistance to cooperating managing authorities in all aspects of trail planning, acquisition, development, operation, and maintenance.

Publication Assistance. Promote and provide technical assistance for publication of reports, maps, brochures, and interpretive materials relating to the Trail. Publish an official NPNHT brochure and map.


Federal Agency Role

Each federal agency is responsible for management of the trail on its respective lands. Common responsibilities may include:

State and Local Government Role

Outside of federally administered areas, it is the state or local government's role to develop applications to designate segments if they meet the criteria established in this Act, and to agree to administer these segments without expense to the federal government. On those portions of high potential route segments that are privately owned, or other significant segments nominated by state or local governments, easements may be acquired by the state. Condemnation will not be used to acquire route segments that cross private land.

Volunteer Role

The Act authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Interior to encourage volunteers and volunteer organizations to assist with the development and maintenance of the trail. Specifically, the Secretaries are encouraged to utilize the Volunteers in the Parks Act of 1969, the Volunteers in the Forests Act of 1972, and Section 6 of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965. Volunteer work may include, but need not be limited to (1) planning, developing, maintaining, or managing; (2) operating programs to organize and supervise volunteer trail-building efforts; and (3) conducting trail-related research projects or providing education and training to volunteers.

Trail Development, Maintenance, and Protection

The entire 1,170-mile route is designated as a National Historic Trail. The Study Report of 1982 identified 464 miles of high potential route segments. This was further modified in the Decision Notice dated 1985 to exclude development of those private lands within the high potential route segments, leaving a balance of 319 miles on state and federally managed lands.

Priority for development will be given to federal and state lands where use by the Nez Perce people can be identified on the ground. Where feasible, minor route variations on certain trail segments will place the recreation trails on public lands and reduce the need for easements. Initial development will include trail components on federally managed land located within the boundary of federally administered areas, and only on those trail components identified as high potential route segments. In keeping with the intent of the National Trails System Act, the trail will be regarded as a simple facility for the hiker and horseman; the most minimal development standards will be employed.

Trail Location Guidelines

The National Historic Trail is intended to follow the historic route as accurately as possible. Its location must be sufficiently known to permit evaluation and development of public recreation and historic interpretation opportunities. Designation of the trail is continuous, but the established or developed trail does not have to be continuous. The trail may deviate from the historic route to avoid difficult routing or to provide a more pleasurable recreation experience, but deviations are to be noted onsite. In order to facilitate retracement of the historic route, segments which have been developed as roads, railroads, or other motorized routes may be designated and marked as segments connecting to the historic trail. The route best conceived for public travel and interpretation is to be determined by the managing agency, state, or local government.

Trail Design Standards

Construction, maintenance, and operation of the trail travelway, whether it be trail, minimum roadway, or primary highway system, will be in accordance with existing agency direction, in harmony with the area through which the trail passes; it should also maintain the integrity of the historic route. Related facilities and services to provide access and interpretation will be in accordance with the agency management direction for the management area traversed by the trail. Intensity of development will vary with the historic significance and mission of the administering agency.

Trail Marking Standards and Logo

Trail logoA standardized system of signs will be developed to give identity and recognition to the trail. The Secretary of Agriculture, in consultation with appropriate governmental agencies and public and private organizations, has established a uniform marker, including thereon an appropriate and distinctive logo for the trail, registered the official NPNHT logo with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and arranged for production of a sufficient quantity of trail markers to meet present need. The Advisory Council selected the following historic trail system marker for use on Nez Perce National Historic Trail; it is the official logo representing the trail.

Where the trail crosses lands administered by federal agencies, such markers shall be erected at appropriate points along the trail and maintained by the federal agency administering the trail. Where the trail crosses non-federal lands in accordance with written cooperative agreements, the lead agency will provide markers to the cooperating agency. That agency is responsible for erecting and maintaining them in accordance with the standards established.

Trail marking objectives are:

  1. To mark the trail with a uniform marker that distinctly identifies the trail route.
  2. To mark the initial high potential route segments.
  3. To mark the trail along non-federal segments.
  4. To mark a parallel designated auto tour highway route.

Route markers will be placed within the existing right-of-way of federal, state, and local highways and will require no acquisition of private lands. Interstate routes will be marked only at rest areas. Route markers will be placed at existing highway rest areas, developed historic sites/signs, state parks, and similar areas already under the control of land-managing agencies.

The trail marker will be available in three sizes. These are 3½  inches, 9 inches, and 18 inches. The 3½-inch marker will be used for foot and horse trails. The 9-inch marker will be used to designate trailheads, low speed motorways, and/or highway connector routes off the designated highway route. The 18-inch marker will be used to mark the designated highway route and/or wherever the trail crosses a major or secondary highway.

Historic Site and Route Interpretation

Seven "high potential routes" and 79 historic sites have been certified as components of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. Each federal agency, state, and local government will develop those sites and trail segments within their individual ownership in accordance with accepted practices and styles. The Nez Perce Trail logo will provide identity to each interpretive site. Interpretive development for the trail will be characterized as low key, with emphasis placed on self-guiding publications, trailhead orientation/information displays, and simple, sturdy, on-trail devices. Big Hole National Battlefield and the Nez Perce National Historical Park visitor centers provide an interpretive overview of the Nez Perce culture and their flight for freedom in 1877. At a limited number of sites or areas of significant interest (related to either natural or historical topics), a moderate level of onsite interpretive displays or media presentations may be developed. However, the general criteria for overall interpretive development for the trail should be characterized as sensitive to the historic significance.

Associated Trails

The following trails are located adjacent to, overlap, or cross the Nez Perce National Historic Trail:  Southern Nez Perce Trail, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, Lolo Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Overland Trail, Bannock Trail, Bozeman Trail, Carrol Trail,and Cow Creek Freight Road. The location and interpretation of these trails will be considered for inclusion with the story of the Nez Perce Trail. Official trail markers for other National Historic and Scenic Trails will be displayed with the Nez Perce Trail marker as appropriate.


The Forest Service will work with the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management to publish a brochure about the NPNHT showing the general route of the trail, portions currently available for public use, and associated historic, cultural, scenic, and recreational features. The purpose of the brochure would be twofold:

IV. Interpretive Strategy

There's no better way to get in touch with our common heritage than to retrace the footsteps of the Nez Perce tribe and the soldiers who pursued them over some of the most spectacular country in the Northern Rockies. Whether you drive the trail along established roadways, or ride or hike rugged trail segments through dark forests which have changed little since the 1870s, it will be an experience you won't soon forget.

You will learn not only about war, but about the people of the time:  The different bands of Nez Perce, treaty and non-treaty; experienced soldiers, young recruits, and volunteers;  townspeople, settlers and tourists;  men, women and children of many ages and nationalities. You will explore their differing customs, their hopes and dreams — and see how their lives were ripped asunder in a war that few wanted  ... and no one won.

As you stand in the exact places they stood, you may ponder and seek meaning in the tragic events of 1877.

The Comprehensive Management Plan recognizes that interpretation will play a major role in overall management. It will help instill understanding and appreciation of the trail, develop support for resource preservation, and provide information necessary for appropriate, safe, and enjoyable public use.

Appropriate interpretive programs and facilities will be developed along:

Nez Perce Trail interpretation will be guided by four principles:

  1. Invite people to see and touch history.
  2. Focus on accuracy and balance.
  3. Use creative but simple interpretive methods.
  4. Follow a coordinated approach.

A. Invite People to See and Touch History


People appreciate authenticity above all else. We want to see the actual spot. We prefer to hear it from a guide with first-hand experience and deep personal knowledge. We want to search for our own meanings and interpretation of events based on evidence we see with our own eyes. Better yet, we want to help dig up the evidence, to participate in doing the research. Most of all, we love to learn those minute particulars about what happened "right here" so we can place it in a larger context ourselves.

We should never underestimate the importance of touching and feeling. Most of us can recall the details of every field trip we took in elementary school, but few can remember a single textbook.

The strong sense of place and vast distances embraced distinguish a National Historic Trail from other historic sites, museums, and institutions for learning. Museum collections and exhibits can be located anywhere, but there is only one Lolo Trail, only one Cow Island, and only one Big Hole Battlefield. This unique sense of authenticity should be the basis of all interpretation of the Nez Perce Trail. For this reason, we should emphasize projects and programs that allow people to actively explore historic sites.

The primary business of the NPNHT is providing access to authentic trail segments and historic sites. Historic interpretation is most effective when it brings visitors into close contact with places where historic events really happened and when the visitor is able to get physically and mentally involved. Most people comprehend history best when they participate actively — not just read a sign or brochure. They need to walk the trail, feel the breeze, pick up and handle real artifacts, and closely examine site features. It is so much easier to understand a battle while standing in a rifle pit. We can really appreciate how the Nez Perce traditionally gathered roots when we kneel with a digging stick in our hands. The real place, the real thing — that’s what stimulates our imagination and makes us want to know more.

Every person learns and recreates in his own way and brings an individual appetite along. Some enjoy viewing exhibits; some like to walk alone and try to reconstruct past events in their own minds. Some relive history by re-enacting it in costumes, and some like to read a detailed account by campfire light after a hard day’s horseback ride. Our interpretive efforts should strive to allow some latitude for individual preferences in learning and participation styles — to prevent a sterile interpretive experience. To best understand the conditions encountered by the Nez Perce during their flight, visitors should be encouraged to approximate 19th century forms of travel (e.g. walking or horseback riding). Trails and setting sthat remain relatively unaltered will be identified and given priority for interpretation and preservation.

B. Focus on Accuracy and Balance


The story of the Nez Perce Trail is largely an intellectual one. While numerous trail segments, landmarks, and historic sites provide tangible clues to its existence, they do not in themselves offer a complete picture of trail history. Without knowledge of what happened there, historic sites will have little meaning to visitors. Trail interpretation can help people understand the complex story of the Nez Perce Trail if it is based on careful research, avoids over-simplification, and resists the temptation to embellish for the sake of a good story. The truth is remarkable enough.

Sensitive. Interpretation will recognize that the Nez Perce Trail is important to many people who often have strong feelings about how it should be developed and interpreted. Descendants of those who died view the Trail as a cemetery to be treated with respect. The story of the Nez Perce War of 1877 is a tragic tale of death, betrayal, intolerance, and fear. These strong words reflect how strongly people felt about what happened then, and how strongly many feel today. This trail commemorates a sad time of transition and conflict between cultures, and inevitably, people are going to have powerful opinions about how interpretive programs portray the story. Not all the wounds have healed.

Fact based. As with any historic event, there are conflicting accounts of the Nez Perce journey. There were lots of people involved, and they all saw things from their own perspectives. Newspaper coverage, diaries, letters, and official documents are filled with contradictory information. Passage of time has further obscured details, and scholarly authors continue to debate even basic facts such as casualties, routes, and when things happened. To ensure a solid base for interpretation, continuing research projects are encouraged. Such projects can be conducted through partnerships, such as with nearby colleges or the Nez Perce Tribe.

The Whole Story. Details of battle and conflict are important, but they are not the whole story. Certainly all visitors must become aware of the military and political events that dominate the significance of the Nez Perce Trail, but many people will relate better to less dramatic but equally important stories such as  Nez Perce culture, daily lives of Indians and settlers, and the roles of women and children.

C. Use Creative But Simple Interpretive Methods.


Nez Perce Trail sites and events are at once simple and complex, similar and diverse. Similarly, each visitor brings various interests, knowledge, and preferences. We should select interpretive methods that fit the unique character of each site and which offer enough diversity to engage most visitors. Though there must be some continuity between areas, interpretation for each site will use highly divergent methods that bring out minute historic details which have great human interest and fascination, rather than using the same approach at every site.

The NPNHT Logo will become a symbol of quality. Where it appears, visitors will come to expect easy access to well preserved historic settings with an enjoyable and stimulating interpretive program. Whether they travel the entire route or stop at only one or two sites, visitors will learn about the tragic human drama represented by the Nez Perce Trail. Interpretation will invite them to closely examine specific features of each site, to personally explore places where historic events occurred. Visitors will encounter a variety of interpretive media — signs, recordings, publications — as well as knowledgeable interpreters. Most visitors will remember their visit as a stimulating outing rather than a structured educational lesson, but school groups and others will take advantage of lesson plans and more detailed information.

All interpretation, whether it involve buildings, markers, wayside exhibits, scheduled programs, or events, will be designed to blend in with the historic and often pastoral character of the environment, rather than intruding on the visitor experience. Man-made structures or changes to the landscape will be planned with an understanding of the character of the setting as well as the enjoyment, education, and safety of the visitor. In general, elaborate interpretive programs will take place only at a few developed historic sites with the highest level of historical importance, physical integrity, and public access. Most of the NPNHT segments and sites will remain relatively undeveloped, with few interpretive facilities other than simple signs and markers.

D. Use A Coordinated Approach


The test of our success with information and interpretive programs will be how well the public perceives the Trail as one coherent whole, rather than as a series of individual sites. The Nez Perce National Historic Trail has many varied sites and multiple ownership, which allows many opportunities to work in a coordinated manner. Agencies and landowners will plan and develop respective properties, conduct their own research, and coordinate with their neighbors; however, periodic interagency coordination meetings, standardized use of the trail logo and markers, and certification of historic sites and interpretation will encourage consistency.

The Nez Perce Trail presents a complex management and interpretive challenge:  It is a trail of vast distance, and most visitors will have only limited exposure to its history and  environment. Few will travel the entire trail. Some visitors will see portions solely by car, others by hiking or horseback riding or some combination thereof. An additional complication is that so many different people are involved in coordinating the plan. Three federal government agencies are involved:  the Forest Service, National Park Service, and  Bureau of Land Management. State agencies from Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, and numerous local agencies, private museums, Indian tribes, and other groups and individuals may become involved in interpretation. Each will have ideas, policies and objectives; each will work at a different pace.

  The Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Nez Perce Tribe have worked closely together at every planning step thus far. State agencies from Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have freely offered their support and assistance. The newly formed Nez Perce National Historic Trail Foundation will surely become an important contributor in making plans into reality. This trail, in truth, does belong to everyone who lives along it or who travels it. In time, it is hoped that communities and private landowners will become major trail partners as well.

1.   What will be done to encourage coordination?

Communication among the NPNHT community is the key. The Forest Service has been designated by the Department of Agriculture as lead agency for the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. As such, it will encourage and monitor cooperation between all land managing agencies of officially designated segments of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

In carrying out this coordination role for interpretation, the Forest Service will:

  1. Schedule and host periodic interagency meetings to identify opportunities for trail-wide projects which may be supported by many trail partners.
  2. Publish a periodic newsletter to share status of NPNHT progress with the entire trail community.
  3. Certify new NPNHT segments and sites and interpretive programs.
  4. Arrange for and coordinate Trail marking. This includes providing sources of markers for federal, state, and local managing authorities.
  5. Encourage unified design themes for signs, exhibits, and public use facilities.  Review wayside exhibits which use the logo now, and establish a review procedure for all future use of the logo on exhibits, publications, etc.
  6. Coordinate and stimulate creative and high quality interpretive programs.
  7. Serve as a clearinghouse for project information to avoid overlap or duplication.
  8. Work with and encourage NPNHT support groups such as the Nez Perce Trail Foundation.
  9. Work with Nez Perce Tribe Cultural Committee to review all present and proposed exhibits for correct Nez Perce spellings and terms.
  10. Promote and provide technical assistance for publication of reports, maps, brochures, and interpretive materials relating to the NPNHT.

How can other agencies and landowners help?

Every managing agency or landowner will develop and manage the trail within established guidelines. Nothing in the interpretive strategy requires agencies to depart from their established procedures for funding, planning, and implementing interpretive facility projects or programs. By working closely with neighbors along the trail, with the Nez Perce Tribe, with historians, and with skilled designers, site or segment managers can proceed in the knowledge that they are doing what is most appropriate for their area and the entire trail. Opportunities for jointly funded and developed programs will be identified early in the planning process so they can be realized.

On Consistency of Interpretation

It is appealing to envision a totally coordinated program of interpretation for the NPNHT. One can easily foresee a system of brochures and maps that would direct visitors to all of the important historic sites and tell a consistent story with sensitivity. Similarly, we could propose that all signage and recreation development look similar, using the same colors, materials, typeface, and the like. We could also propose that all interpretive writing be reviewed for accuracy by a panel of historical experts and by the Nez Perce people.

Unfortunately, the real world just isn't that tidy. Development and interpretation of the Nez Perce Trail has been occurring since shortly after the War of 1877 — and will continue to occur long into the future. A partial bibliography included dozens of significant books in 1992, with more being published every year. Preservation and interpretation of the Trail is not the property of any one group. Numerous state and federal agencies, dozens of historical societies, and literally thousands of individuals have been or will become involved in telling the story. Each will add their own angle or slant. Time is also a major factor discouraging rigidly consistent design standards. Many interpretive signs and publications already exist, and it will not be practical to replace them soon. Additionally, tastes in design and agency standards evolve more rapidly than funds become available to stay "up to date."

The way we view the Trail will surely continue to evolve as it has in the past. Views that were dogma yesterday are anathema today. Future people will similarly view our efforts as simplistic or biased. This variability and lack of consistency should not be viewed as a problem. Rather, we should strive for dynamic, evolving, creative re-interpretation as we learn new facts about what actually happened and as we become sensitive to historic factors once ignored. Interpretation should continue to live as the story of the trail has remained alive and vital. We should celebrate the fact that each new generation may seek and find new meanings of relevance to their lives.

Does this mean that we should abandon all thoughts of consistency?

No, of course not. To the degree possible, consistency, avoidance of repetition, and coordination among sites should be achieved where it makes sense to do so. There will be many places where agencies and individuals can create a series of linked interpretive opportunities, each leading naturally to the next. It will just make good sense to plan and develop these areas together as much as possible. By selecting a consistent style of signs, letter style, and artistic treatment, it will also cost less so more may be accomplished with scarce dollars.

What should be consistent?

Interpretive programs and facilities should be of the highest possible quality:

V. Interpretive Goals, Objectives and Themes

The overall philosophy and broad goals for interpretive programs are based on those articulated in the comprehensive Management Plan for the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail. These are refined by the principles that guide the Interpretive Strategy. The Nez Perce Trail story consists of many interrelated events that often occurred hundreds of miles apart. The interpretive goals, objectives, themes, and subthemes identified below provide a framework for developing and interpreting individual sites so they clearly explain how these events fit into a coherent whole. This framework will be applicable regardless of which organization, agency, group, or individual manages that site.

Interpretive Goals and Objectives describe how interpretive facilities and programs help accomplish larger management purposes. They identify what we hope to accomplish and why.

Interpretive Themes describe which stories and messages we hope visitors will take away from their experiences on the Nez Perce Trail.

A. Goals and Objectives.

Goal 1:  Encourage people to use and appreciate the trail.

  1. Create a promotion program to make potential visitors aware of trail attractions and opportunities.
    • Publish NPNHT trail brochure for distribution at agency offices, visitor centers, information centers and tourism businesses.
    • Install "gateway exhibits" along major highways and in communities.
    • Encourage magazine, newspaper, television, and other media coverage of trail events.
  2. Make it easy for visitors to find the trail.
    • Install standard markers along entire NPNHT and at "gateway exhibits."
    • Improve identification and directional signing to developed trail sites.
    • Provide high quality maps.
    • Provide handout information and displays to public and private information centers.
  3. Provide visitor facilities to accommodate use.
    • Construct trailheads with parking, toilets, and barrier-free interpretive opportunities.
    • Emphasize self-guided trails and vista points (where feasible) rather than simple wayside exhibits.
    • Develop auto tour opportunities to link trail sites together.
  4. Provide high quality personal service to welcome and direct visitors to trail resources and interpretive programs.
    • Hire and train knowledgeable and diverse staff.
    • Where feasible, use Nez Perce people to interpret traditional culture.
    • Expand agency capabilities through active volunteer programs.
    • Encourage private sector businesses to provide guiding services and interpretation.

Goal 2:  Encourage appropriate, respectful, and safe use of the trail.

  1. Invite visitors only when trail segments and sites are ready and able to  sustain visitor impacts.
  2. Include minimum impact and trail preservation messages in all interpretive  products and programs.
  3. Install signs that clearly define which uses are appropriate and safe at   historic and cultural sites and on approach roads.

Goal 3:  Instill understanding of National Historic Trail history and management.

  1. Provide visitors with information and interpretation of reasons the collision of Nez Perce and white cultures occurred, what life on the Trail was like, and what happened at specific sites.
    • Include an interpretive balance between military events of 1877, traditional Nez Perce culture, events leading up to wars, the aftermath, and daily life on the trail.
    • Dispel romantic and inaccurate misconceptions.
  2. Develop coordinated interagency interpretive programs that support consistent themes and promote the trail as a whole.
    • Recognize the existence of — and in some cases combine — NPNHT interpretive programs and facilities with those of other historic trails.
    • Encourage a spirit of cooperation among individuals and organizations, and state, local, and federal agencies.
    • Involve the Nez Perce People in planning and carrying out interpretive programs.
    • Emphasize both military and non-military historic aspects.

Goal 4:  Develop support for trail resource preservation.

  1. Publicize ongoing research efforts to accurately locate, mark and preserve the trail.
  2. Involve public in research, preservation, and interpretive projects through  partnerships, volunteer programs, and public archaeology programs (such as  Passports in Time).
  3. Demonstrate the economic value of NPNHT-based tourism to local communities and businesses.
    • Monitor levels of use and estimate economic impacts
    • Encourage appropriate trail-related businesses such as guide services, publishing, souvenir products, accommodations, performing arts, etc.

B. Interpretive Themes and Subthemes

Interpretive Themes:  Describe the stories and messages we hope visitors will take away from their experiences on the Nez Perce Trail. The following statement summarizes the interpretive theme for the entire Nez Perce National Historic Trail:

  • The Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail commemorates a tragic period in American History — a war that few wanted — and no one won.
  • The Nez Perce Perce War of 1877 symbolizes the dramatic collision of cultures which continues to shape the West and its people. A native people were forced to flee their homeland in a futile attempt to avoid warfare and live in their own way. A transported European people found themselves fighting neighbors who had been their friends for many years. Traditional trails, which had long been a source of joy and sustenance, became a trail of flight and conflict, a trail of sorrow. Reluctant military leaders found little pleasure in an empty victory against an honorable and valiant foe.
  • The Nez Perce Trail story is not about heroes, though there were many; nor is it a story of villains, though there were dishonorable acts. This is a story of people from two very different cultures who largely failed the test of living together peacefully on the same land. The Nez Perce Trail parallels that of all people who strive for peace, homeland, wealth, security, spiritual freedom, and a preferred way of life.
  • The story of the Nez Perce Trail is as alive today as it was during the war of 1877.

What makes the Nez Perce Trail significant?

There is no question that the flight of the non-treaty Nez Perce during the War of 1877 captures the imaginations of many. Why?  What are the aspects of these historic events that make them so compelling?  In the answers to these seemingly simple questions, interpreters will find compelling themes around which to build effective interpretive programs.

What is the historical and inspirational significance of the Nez Perce story?

  1. There is a "David and Goliath" element to the story. A seemingly powerless group, a small number of Nez Perce, inflict heavy casualties and frequent tactical embarrassments upon a numerically and technologically superior Army force. That they almost get away to Canada and apparent freedom makes us want to cheer. Everyone likes it when the underdog wins.

  2. It was one of the last Indian wars — and it was a bloody affair, yielding  greater casualties than the Battle of Little Bighorn. Firsts and Lasts have a natural appeal — as does violence on a grand scale.

  3. The sheer scale of action is staggering!  Both the Nez Perce and the pursuing troops covered enormous distances with enormous geographic and logistical barriers, which provides an impressive example of human fortitude and heroism.

  4. It seems unjust that the Nez Perce, who were often seen as peaceful and accommodating compared with other tribes, should suffer so grievously. The war began almost accidentally after Nez Perce leaders had reluctantly decided to move to the reservation, which deepens the sense of tragedy. It's easy to feel personally involved. If this could happen to the Nez Perce, it could happen to anyone.

  5. Chief Joseph's role as charismatic and eloquent spokesman for peace provides a stark contrast to the tragic war. Before and during the flight, his role as a force for compromise and peaceful co-existence is inspiring. That his leadership role during the flight has often been romanticized and exaggerated in no way diminishes his historical importance.

  6. The Nez Perce Trail story also relates broadly to the U.S. Government's Indian removal policy and the effect of that policy on the Nez Perce Nation. The issue involves many sensitive areas:

    • Cultural differences between Indian and non-Indian societies. The Trail highlights the legal and ethical relationship between native and non-native peoples during the period of "Western Expansion."
    • Prevailing attitudes within white society and the military toward Indians, reflecting the "Manifest Destiny" philosophy toward native peoples.
    • The treaties of 1855 and 1863 between the Nez Perce and the U.S. Government.
    • Emigration of whites into Indian territory, violating and ending the 1855 treaty.

Historical Significance

The 1982 Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) Trail Study Report included this discussion of historical significance:

General Sherman called the saga of the Nez Perce "the most extraordinary of Indian wars."  Pressed into a fight by the rash actions of a few revengeful braves, some 750 "nontreaty" Nez Perces fought for their lives in two pitched battles in Idaho, then sought escape from the pursuing Army. Their circuitous route through four states, dictated by terrain and strategy, measured over 1,100 miles. From first to last, a warrior force never exceeding 250 men fought some 20 engagements with pursuing forces which totaled some 2,000 soldiers plus uncounted civilian volunteers and support from Nez Perce tribal enemies.

The Nez Perce campaign, with its series of battles and skirmishes, yielded greater casualties than the Battle of the Little Bighorn. About 300 of the 750 fugitive Nez Perce — men, women, and children — died before reaching the Bear's Paw Mountains, or died shortly thereafter as prisoners.

The Nez Perce campaign was a "Freedom Flight," a life-or-death effort by peaceful people, demonstrably wronged, to escape from their violated homeland to seek distant lands in which they might again live their own lives. Their fighting was defensive, not aggressive. The fact that they were officially branded "hostiles" and their superb effort rendered futile does not obscure the tragedy of people being denied freedom by those who themselves cherished it.

There is irony in the fate of the Nez Perce. In contrast to the behavior of some other tribes, their actions were exemplary. Their help to Lewis and Clark assured the success of the famed explorers. Fur traders admired the Nez Perce. They were superb warriors and horsemen. They were the first Indians in the Pacific Northwest to request missionaries. When miners and ranchers invaded their homelands, they showed great patience despite growing abuses, while looking vainly to the Government for justice. Many of their white contemporaries testified to the good character of the Nez Perce people. Even in battle, the Nez Perce followed a relatively civilized code of conduct, refraining from scalping and torture and generally avoiding attacks on citizens.

Ambiguous official policy and public attitudes toward Indians whose lands were coveted were dramatically illustrated in the Nez Perce episode. Official policy blew hot or cold according to the winds of public opinion and theories of current politicians. The prevailing attitude among miners and settlers was denial of Indian rights. It is interesting, however, that national sentiment sympathized with the Nez Perce, and it grew in proportion to military action against them. Public moral support for the defeated Indians notwithstanding, official policy remained oppressive. Rather than honoring General Miles’s promise to Chief Joseph to return survivors to their homeland, the Government sent him and his followers into an exile where hardship and disease rapidly decimated them.

An inspirational element confounding claims that Indians were "ignorant savages" was the Nez Perce’s amazing capability of conducting retreat warfare against overwhelming odds. Nez Perce strategy and tactics improvised under stress showed exceptional intelligence, courage, endurance, and marksmanship. In the course of their flight, they repeatedly confounded the Army with chessboard stratagems and distracting raids, diverting attack by decoy. They demonstrated their ability to entrench and withstand siege, and expertly used wide-ranging scouting parties. Their amazing recovery from attack to become themselves the attackers at Big Hole is unique in military annals. Howard and Miles, the pursuing generals, generously praised Nez Perce fighting skills.

The Nez Perce people had yet another asset related to the basic motivation of freedom. Their exceptionally strong loyalty to tribe and family helped them persevere. They did not think of surrender until all hope vanished, relatively few miles from safety in Canada. It seems incredible that the dwindling force of warriors continued to travel on marathon forced marches with some 2,000 horses and 500 noncombatants — the elderly, sick and wounded, women, children, and newborn babies. The freedom sought by the Nez Perce was real; it meant survival for themselves and their families, and also their tribal identity and entire way of life.

Trailwide Theme:

The Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail symbolizes the dramatic collision of cultures which shaped the region's past and continues to change the region and its people today. This Trail parallels the lives of all people who strive for peace, homeland, wealth, security, spiritual freedom and a chosen way of life.


Native American and Euro-American peoples were involved in an overall "collision of cultures," but each group included many factions.

In fact there were overt and subtle differences between both groups. The image of two locomotives colliding is less accurate than that of the meeting and blending of two rivers. Native American tribes were distinctly different, and conflict among them was as common as cooperation. Often there were distinct factions within a tribe, such as that displayed by the non-treaty and treaty Nez Perce. There were  many groups among the Euro-Americans. Soldiers, townspeople, settlers, miners, recent European immigrants, Yankees and ex-Confederates, Westerners and Easterners — all had divergent attitudes and lifestyles.

A trail of peace, sustenance and freedom became a trail of fear and death.

The Nez Perce and pursuing military followed centuries-old prehistoric travelways that originally were created by seasonal hunting and gathering trips and trade between tribes and regions. The Nez Perce and other tribes knew these trails well and used many sites along them for spiritual ceremonies, hunting, and the gathering of food and materials. Euro-Americans, too, knew the trails well and had for decades used them for commerce. Many parts of old trails had been improved into wagon roads. The flight followed well known travel routes for the most part, and both the Nez Perce and Army planned their own movements and anticipated those of the other based on intimate knowledge of geography and established roads and trails.

Life on the trail was a contrast of cultures. Though both the Nez Perce and Army had learned from and adopted many aspects of the others’ material culture and adaptations for Western travel, significant differences still remained.

  The Nez Perce moved as an autonomous group, gathering supplies from the land and from residents. The Army moved as part of a "grand plan" or strategy with long lines of communication — and supply dictating their decisions. The Nez Perce were all mounted; many infantry walked. Daily life in the Nez Perce camp revolved around age-old traditions of tribal travel. Military life was "by the book." The Nez Perce group included hundreds of women and children in addition to the warriors. The Army column consisted only of infantry, cavalry, artillery, civilian volunteers, and Indian scouts.

Both cultures had run out of trail. The Nez Perce had been backed into a corner consisting of their small reservation. The white culture had largely restricted Native Americans to small reservations and had settled available land; the era of "manifest destiny" was ending.

  The Nez Perce story is just a small part of the larger process of Euro-American domination of the West and is similar to that of other tribes. The War of 1877 is but a single chapter in a long and continuing saga of two cultures attempting to co-exist. The Nez Perce story did not end at Bear's Paw, but extends to Indian territory, Canada, back to the reservation and to the contemporary scene. Euro-Americans and Native Americans are still adjusting to environmental limits and multicultural realities of the region, still adapting to the need to live together.

Storyline Major Points

I. Many cultural factors contributed to misunderstanding, conflict, and war.

Euro-Americans and Native Americans (Nez Perce and others) had very different attitudes toward land ownership. Native Americans believed that land belongs to the tribe and not to any individual. Individuals could use the land, but they could not sell or give it to another. Euro-Americans saw land as a commodity to be owned by individuals who could use or sell it as desired.

Leadership was exercised very differently. Nez Perce leadership was dispersed and informal. There was no central chief who could speak for all the people. Each individual, family, and band followed the lead of those with whom they agreed. Chiefs led by persuasion. The military exercised rigid hierarchical leadership with each person in the chain of command having total control over those below, while being totally subservient to those above. Punishment was delivered for disobedience. Civilian settlers and volunteers were much more informal and democratic in leadership style, more like the Nez Perce than the military.

Differences in Rreligion led to intolerance. Christian Euro-Americans often viewed non-Christian Nez Perce as "godless heathens" and felt an obligation to "save their souls."  A common definition of "good Indians" was those who accepted Christian teachings and lifestyle. General Howard had very strong Christian beliefs and was intolerant of all Nez Perce "Dreamers," considering them troublemakers. This might account for his vehemence in denouncing the non-treaty Nez Perce. Nez Perce who practiced their traditional religion were called "Dreamers" because they relied on visions to guide their lives. At least once during the flight, Nez Perce told of visions or dreams that foreshadowed future disaster at the Bighole.

The Nez Perce hunting and gathering economy required wide travel over the region to visit sources of natural resources. This contrasted greatly with Euro-American concepts of private property and agriculture-based economy. Traditional Nez Perce lifestyle required much more land per person to sustain. To settlers it looked like the Nez Perce were "wasting" the productivity of the land. To them it didn't seem fair that the Nez Perce had so much land that they weren't "using." Many Nez Perce eagerly adopted agricultural practices, but most, especially among the non-treaty bands, wished to continue many parts of their original lifestyle as well.


The two groups of combatants conducted war from a different basis. The U.S. Government conducted war as a matter of public policy through the military. All military units coordinated their response and pursued the conflict relentlessly until their assigned objectives were met. The Nez Perce viewed war as a normal part of life among warrier tribes, but fought only as required to meet tactical needs. Individual Nez Perce joined in the wars they believed in, and they stayed out of those they didn't.

II. National political events and policies contributed to conflict.

American policy toward Native Americans changed from one of co-existence to one of removal and restriction to reservations. From the 1860s to the turn of the century, the U.S. Government deliberately waged a campaign to end the "free roaming" lifestyle of Native Americans. The Nez Perce were just one of many tribes affected, but their flight of freedom was one of the last major armed conflicts. The 1870s featured a series of "Indian Wars" including the Bannock War, Sioux War (including battle of Little Bighorn), etc. Pressure for westward expansion led to mass migration of settlers and miners to the Western U.S. with opening of the Oregon, Santa Fe, and California Trails in the 1840s. Settlement in the Rocky Mountains intensified during reverse migration from the West Coast after the end of the California Gold Rush and the Civil War.

As Western settlement population increased, settlers and miners demanded more access to "under-utilized" Indian lands and resources — minerals, farm land, game, and furs. Some settlers deliberately created conflict so the Army would be forced to step in and make a new peace — almost always to the disadvantage of the Indians. There was much virulent propaganda claiming Indian atrocities — calculated to bring pressure on the tribes.

Treaties, broken by Euro-Americans when valuable resources were found, were a major cause of conflict. In the face of an influx of Euro-Americans in the mid-1800s, the Nez Perce tribe agreed to a treaty in 1855 to gain peace. The treaty confined the Nez Perce to a spacious reservation that included much of their ancestral lands and promised that non-Indians could live on the reservation only with Nez Perce consent. When gold was discovered in 1860, though, settlers and miners forced a new treaty in 1863 that reduced the reservation to one-tenth its original size. Chiefs whose lands lay within the reservation reluctantly agreed, but those whose lands were outside refused. The five bands who refused were called non-treaty Nez Perce. The non-treaty bands stayed on their lands, and white settlement increased until the Indian Bureau ordered all Nez Perce to comply with the 1863 treaty. General Howard was sent to enforce the order. Faced with a likely war, the non-treaty bands reluctantly agreed to move onto the reservation. Before they arrived, hostilities broke out.

III. The Trail was really many trails

The flight trail was really made up of many separate trails (e.g. the Bannock, Lolo, Imnaha, and Bighole trails) that were traversed in their entirety only once by the fleeing Nez Perce and pursuing troops. The whole region was criss-crossed by prehistoric trails worn deep by many generations of Native American use. Most modern highways follow prehistoric trail corridors; in some places, parts of the original prehistoric trails have been preserved because road improvements bypassed them. Some of these are now managed as hiking and horse trails.

The prehistoric, pre-war trail was a happy place — used for hunting, visiting, trading, and celebrations (and occasionally for raiding and horse stealing). It was a passageway, a link from east to west. Some special places along the trail were used for vision quests and other religious ceremonies.


IV. The war was a tragic affair that few wanted and no one really won.

Non-treaty Nez Perce were on their way to the reservation when several settlers were killed. These murders led to more bloodshed, but were not the only "causes" of the war. Because he was under orders, General Howard had no choice but to require surrender and forcefully relocate the non-treaty bands to the Nez Perce reservation. Someone would have to be punished for the murders. Apparently, a volunteer fired on the Nez Perce and precipitated the battle of White Bird Canyon. Troops and volunteers under General Sturgis were soundly defeated by the Nez Perce, who demonstrated "unexpected" military prowess.

The Nez Perce leaders were convinced, after the Battle of Clearwater, that peaceful resolution was impossible in Idaho because of white fear and anger. Seventy whites and only a handful of Nez Perce had been killed. The leaders met in council and decided to go to stay with the Crows in Montana and let things cool down, so they could peacefully return later and live on either the Lapwai or the Nez Perce reservation.

The Nez Perce showed great restraint over the warriors in Montana, and they peacefully moved down the Bitterroot Valley through frightened communities to Big Hole. There they were attacked; but despite heavy losses, they beat back Gibbon’s attacking troops. Seventy Nez Perce, including many women and children (and 30 Army soldiers) were killed.

After the Battle of Big Hole, the Nez Perce frantically retreated, with General Howard in close pursuit and other Army units trying to cut them off. Showing less restraint, the Nez Perce fought many skirmishes, killed more civilians, and engineered several "miraculous" escapes as they fled over 700 miles north toward Canada. They found that no tribe (including the Crows, their traditional allies) would help them. The flight ended just a few miles short of Canada. The bands camped to rest, believing their pursuing enemies had been left far behind. But Miles's 7th Cavalry then attacked the camp. After six days of bitter fighting with heavy casualties on both sides, Chief Joseph at long last agreed to end the war.

Though General Miles had promised that the Nez Perce could return to the reservation in Idaho, Chief Joseph and 500 survivors were sent to Indian Territory. During four years of exile, a third of the remaining Nez Perce died.

  The Nez Perce War of 1877 was one of the last and bloodiest Indian wars in the American West. About 250 people, including many non-combatants, were killed on each side. The greatest tragedy is that this loss of life accomplished virtually nothing. When all was over, most of the non-treaty Nez Perce bands ended up on the reservation they had originally set out for. The rest of them were settled on the Colville Reservation near Spokane, Washington — far from their homeland, and never to return.

V.   Once begun, it became an epic tale of endurance over vast distances by both Nez Perce and military forces. Both the Nez Perce and Howard's troops rode or walked far greater distances than those designated as the official National Historic Trail, some as many as 1,700 miles in just five months.

The day-to-day existence of both the pursued and the pursuers was one of extreme hardship and endurance. They often had to travel long distances every day with little time for rest. Many of them were not accustomed to long travel when they started; the Nez Perce had adopted a more "settled" lifestyle, similar to that of their white neighbors, and they had all their possessions, their horses, and their families along. Many of Howard's troops were fresh from "garrison duty" or were new recruits, poorly conditioned for the long exhausting pursuit.

VI. The war has left a legacy of pain — but also of hope.

Even today, the descendants of those involved have feelings of distrust and division:  between treaty and non-treaty Nez Perce, between Nez Perce people and their traditional allies from other tribes (such as the Salish and Crows), between Nez Perce people and Euro-American residents of the region, and between the Nez Perce Tribe and the U.S. government. Time has helped to heal some wounds. Despite all that happened, the Nez Perce have remained mostly peaceful neighbors, and they’ve worked to co-exist and develop positive relationships with whites. They continue to fight peacefully for their treaty rights and to preserve their cultural heritage. The regional non-Indian population is coming to value the diversity and culture that Native Americans contribute to living in the American West. They continue to find the history of westward expansion and settlement a source of personal satisfaction and fascination. Many communities benefit economically from the visitors who come from around the U.S. and other countries to see the places where the war was fought.

VI. Standards for Quality Interpretation

We can think of the Nez Perce Trail as a necklace with many beads of different sizes and shapes strung on a cord of precious metal. Historic sites are like the beads, and trail segments like the cord that holds it all together. Most existing interpretation has been centered on the historic sites. Much less effort has been placed on the long trail segments between sites. The result is that several major battle sites are well known, while most of the remaining trail lies undiscovered. As we implement the Comprehensive Plan and Interpretive Strategy, the entire trail will begin to come into focus, and people will begin to realize the beauty and importance of each bead of the necklace.

The challenge for interpretation is bringing each part of the trail to an appropriate level, so that visitors may enjoy every site's contribution and value.

Every conceivable interpretive method may find an appropriate use somewhere along the Trail, so the full range of options is presented here. On the other hand, the interpretive programs for the Nez Perce National Historic Trail are seen as "low-key with emphasis placed on self-guiding publications, trailhead orientation/information displays, and simple, sturdy on-trail devices." At a limited number of sites or areas of significant interest, a moderate level of onsite interpretive displays or media presentations could be considered.

Generally speaking, what kinds of interpretive methods may be effectively used at the majority of trail areas?

Publications - Brochures, booklets, information flyers, and maps will have wide application for promoting use and for interpretation.

Markers and Signs - Standard trail markers, directional and identification signs, and site entry signs.

Interpretive Signs - Wayside exhibits, kiosks, self-guided roads, trails and vistas, and small interpretive centers will be used where appropriate.

Personal Services - Interpreters will generally be available at interpretive centers and major recreation facilities during heavy use periods. They may occasionally be cost-effective at remote sites or for education programs.

Audio-visual Programs - Movies, videos, broadcast radio, audio tapes, and slide tape programs may be used at heavily visited sites and for outreach in urban areas and rural communities.

Traveling and Museum Exhibits - Professional quality exhibits will generally be reserved for major interpretive centers.

Education Programs – Teacher’s guides and educational materials will have wide application both for field trips and for in-class use. Education programs will extend to audiences beyond public schools.


Publications include brochures, maps, handbooks, and magazine and newspaper articles.

Advantages:  This flexible print medium requires no permanent facility for distribution. Publications are self-paced and easily revised and updated, carry interpretive messages off-site, and have take-home value. Publications may be the best tool for directing people to specific points of interest and for presenting large and complex stories — because they can incorporate lengthy text passages, photographs, color art, and detailed maps.

Disadvantages:  The major drawback of publications is that they require more initiative and personal effort than other methods. The visitor must acquire the publication, and then bring it along. When driving, one usually has to stop to read safely. When visiting a historic site, the publication must be carried and repeatedly examined to understand the significance of site features. It is difficult to get feedback from users of publications, and print materials may create a litter problem at sites.

Publications Strategy Standard: 
Federal agencies will provide a system of maps and brochures to direct visitors to trail sites and facilities, and to interpret the history of the National Historic Trail. Where appropriate, small booklets and simple information sheets may also be provided at federal sites free of charge.

A wide range of printed products will be needed to meet the wide diversity of public needs. The Forest Service, as lead agency, will coordinate and produce two publications for the entire trail:  the official Nez Perce National Historic Trail Guide, and a large-scale map showing the entire trail. All other publications will be produced by individual field units of the federal and state agencies. Publications may include:

 A. Official Nez Perce Trail Guide. This free interagency brochure will be the official guide to the entire Nez Perce National Historic Trail and will be printed in sufficient numbers that it is widely available to travelers. It will follow most elements of the NPS unigrid design system, to give it a similar appearance and to maintain continuity with existing guides to other National Historic Trails.

It will be a four-color publication approximately 18" x 24". The guide will contain a map of the trail with highlighted major historic sites and features, a brief historical narrative of causes, events, and aftermath of the flight, a description of how to visit the trail, a listing of major interpretive sites, and a listing of information sources. The NPNHT logo will be prominently featured. NPS, USFS, and BLM logos and addresses will be included. This brochure is a very high priority, as it will be distributed along the entire trail and used widely to promote interest in and visitation to the trail.

 B. Official Nez Perce Trail Map. This map will be larger (24" x 36") and more detailed than the Trail Guide. It will be similar to the map printed with the Comprehensive Plan, in that it will show the trail and associated sites on a base that includes federal and state land ownership. This map is intended to provide an official record of the status of the trail, including locations of high potential segments, original historic routes, horse/hiking trails, and the auto tour route.  All certified historic sites will also be shown. The back side will include an historic narrative and chronology of the Nez Perce War of 1877, along with its causes and aftermath. A brief description of management objectives and interpretive themes will be included. This map may be printed in partnership with an interpretive association or the Nez Perce Foundation to insure its wide availability.

C. Segment Guides. Trail managing agencies and other private and public sector parties are encouraged to produce a series of detailed access guides for specific trail segments. Eventually each segment of the trail should have at least one (and probably more) segment guides to provide detailed traveler information. These will lead travelers to the historic trail and certified historic sites, and will relate the history in a detailed (yet not encyclopedic) manner.

D.  Site Bulletins. Each major historic site is encouraged to develop a site bulletin tooffer detailed information and orientation for visitors. Site bulletins should bring specific local events vividly to life, concentrating on chronology, relationships, cause and effect, individual personalities, and eyewitness accounts. They should direct visitors to specific historic features such as original trail tread, rifle pits, and campsites.

E. Self-guided road or trail brochures. The very detailed booklet or brochure that leads people to a series of features may be one of the most powerful of interpretive publications. Usually locally produced and inexpensive, self-guided brochures provide the most detailed information about a specific event or place where they can be appreciated most — on site. They can provide photos, illustrations, and eyewitness accounts to give depth of understanding and detailed treatment of complex issues. To be most effective, the trail or road that the brochure is used on should be specially designed to lead visitors to the best vantage points. Some type of marker usually marks the stops, though they can also be used very effectively in combination with wayside exhibits.

F. Other publications. The only constraints on the variety of print materials should be lack of imagination, inadequate funding, or limited demand. Public agencies, private publishers, and non-profit groups are encouraged to produce accurate, enjoyable, and creative materials about the Nez Perce Trail. The Forest Service will review any proposed manuscript or idea for accuracy and balance, and will refer interested publishers to other more knowledgeable reviewers. (A few possible products include booklets, calenders, notecards, posters, children's and adult literature, scholarly journal articles, teacher's guides and lesson plans, technical flyers, coloring guides, photo books, reproductions of historic documents, photos and maps, oral histories, and poetry.)

Use of NPNHT logo on publications.

On products produced by federal and state agencies, the logo should be prominently displayed on all publications related specifically to a certified trail segment or site. This will promote the identity of the NPNHT as a single continuous whole made up of many different parts. The logo may be made available to commercial and private non-profit publications specifically designed to facilitate public use of the NPNHT. Such use must be approved in writing following a simple review process to ensure accuracy and balance. Generally such use will be limited to interior display as line art or photos of signs, for the purpose of making readers aware of the logo’s meaning and significance. Use of the logo on the cover of a publication will be limited to those developed in formal partnership agreement with the administering agency.

Design Aids.

The Forest Service will periodically produce camera-ready art related to the Nez Perce Trail to assist graphic designers. This camera-ready art will be carefully reviewed for historic and cultural accuracy; for example, images of Nez Perce people will be reviewed by members of the Nez Perce Tribe. When possible, images produced by tribal members will be included. Similarly, images of troops will be reviewed when possible by military historians. Where appropriate, adding the NPNHT logo to existing agency publications can increase public awareness that each individual site is part of a greater whole.

White Bird Battlefield Auto Tour brochure - click to enlarge Big Hole National Battlefield brochure Nee-Me-Poo National Recreation Trail brochure

B. Markers and Signs

Markers and signs direct visitors to destinations, tell them how far they have to travel to reach destinations, and show them when they have arrived. Markers and signs may include place names, distances, directional arrows, and simple graphic elements.

Advantages:  Signs are an efficient way to promote awareness and use of an area. They are inexpensive and durable, and relatively easy to design and install.

Disadvantages:  Signs and markers tell only where a place is; they do not provide historical perspective. Signs may attract undesired types of use and may also add a visual intrusion into a pristine setting.

Standard:  The series of uniform trail markers will be used at all components of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail and Auto Tour Routes. The NPNHT logo may be used on signs identifying certified historic sites and directional signs. Where the Nez Perce National Historic Trail coincides with other national historic trails, the logos of each may be shown on the same sign.

C. Interpretive Signs

Interpretive signs include wayside exhibits, kiosks, self-guided trail and road signs, and vista signs.

Advantages: Interpretive exhibits are always on the job. They can be creative and colorful, straightforward and eloquent. They can show artwork, photographs, and maps. They can also ask questions, point out subtle features, and explain complicated events. Because they can be made of wood, fiberglass, steel, plastic, and other materials, interpretive exhibits can blend into nearly any setting. Visitors can enjoy them at their own pace.

Disadvantages:  The greatest challenge with interpretive exhibits is getting people to stop and read them.

Standards: Interpretive sign systems should be coordinated to achieve a consistent presentation among agencies managing adjacent areas. Even though most agencies will have their own design standards to maintain identity and internal site cohesion, every effort should be made to incorporate design elements on adjacent areas to avoid jarring contrasts across artificial boundaries such as agency, regional, or district boundaries. The public expects different agency facilities to appear somewhat different, but will be pleasantly surprised at obvious evidence of interagency cooperation in trail interpretation.

An extensive network of outdoor interpretive panels (wayside exhibits and other signs) will provide visitor information, orientation, and site-specific interpretation. The key to a successful sign and wayside program will be the creation of a distinct and easily recognizable design; consistent use of the NPNHT logo will ensure continuity. It is important that a full array of products be designed as a "family" of products to serve the variety of needs evident along the trail. Furthermore, the overall program must be flexible enough to withstand the diversity of environmental conditions encountered along the trail.


Wayside exhibits are most effective when they highlight an observable site, such as a vista or prominent landmark, a structure, or the tangible evidence of a structure (e.g. foundations), or conspicuous trail features such as springs, ruts, and river crossings. Because wayside exhibits are a highly visual medium, a successful exhibit often consists of a richly illustrative graphic element combined with succinct text. The source material for the graphics might be historical drawings or sketches, photographs, artwork, or specially commissioned art.

Some Nez Perce Trail events were well documented by artists chronicled in contemporary periodicals such as Harper's Weekly. This type of material may form the basis for much of the graphic element of interpretive wayside exhibits, but must be used cautiously because of possible inaccuracies and stereotypical portrayals common to the period.

In the absence of tangible resources or documentary evidence, quotations or first-person accounts might be used to provide a sense of time and place.

For sites where no suitable graphic documentation exists, other alternatives might be used to provide a perspective of events or add flavor of the period. For example, selected passages from historic accounts might be used to provide a sense of time and place. Prominent commentators such as General Howard, Chief Joseph, and Yellow Wolf could be used, but an effort would be made to make use of lesser known perspectives. The goal will be to provide insightful perspectives from a multi-cultural point of view. Quotes of this nature can elicit high reader interest and can add a personal dimension to learning.

There are several topics that lend themselves to repetition at numerous sites. For example, one exhibit might focus on the identification of trail remnants. These features are found across the entire length of the trail, and it might be helpful to develop a generic guide to assist viewers in identifying these features. The guide would point out the differences in soil color, contour, and vegetation that mark even subtle ruts — and could also provide perspectives such as aerial views that are impossible to observe on the ground. Similarly, an exhibit explaining the effect that terrain had on route selection could aid visitors' understanding of the realities of trail travel.

Waysides might also advise visitors of the type of terrain they will encounter and alert them of potential safety hazards. In those cases where the site is beyond view at the access point, for example at the beginning of ranch roads, an advisory might be provided to visitors regarding the distance and the terrain. This would be especially helpful for visitors with mobility impairments, who could use the information to determine whether they have the abilities to match the terrain.

Visitors also need to be aware of their responsibilities. It will be prudent to remind them to respect private property where appropriate, to ensure that all gates are kept closed, etc.

  1. Wayside Exhibits are interpretive signs located beside a travel way. They are very useful in interpreting specific historic sites, events, or features,and are most effective when placed where there is something significant visible from the sign’s location. Most certified historic sites will have at least one Wayside Exhibit, and some may have many. It's best to place Wayside Exhibits along trails or roadways and at nearby vistas or recreation sites, leaving room for passing traffic. Generally, use no more than 50 to l00 words and two to three graphics on a single sign — the goal is to interpret one concept or theme within the sign. If signs are solitary and within a major historic site, the NPNHT logo and agency identification should be included. Wayside Exhibits can be any shape or size, as long as it's appropriate to the setting and visible from a car. The colors chosen should also be suitable to setting and be designed to blend in.

  2. Kiosks are covered or uncovered structures that contain several interpretive signs. Typically kiosks at trailheads or historic sites contain two or three panels, but some larger kiosks may have many panels, brochure racks, and museum exhibits containing real or replicated historic objects. At least one interpretive panel should feature the NPNHT logo.

  3. Gateway Stations or Portals are special kiosks designed to orient visitors to the Nex Perce Trail attractions and promote use. They tell what happened in the general area of the station, and they show where visitors can see and do more to learn about the Trail. These mini visitor centers can be staffed or unstaffed — depending on  visitor use, partnership with local chambers of commerce, and proximity to other visitor centers. They are located along major travelways, rest areas, chamber of commerce areas (for example, along Interstate 15 in Idaho, near Fort Fizzle or Lost Trail Pass, etc.). Gateway Exhibits should be designed to include these elements:  a map showing the entire NPNHT and interpretive sites, a standard interpretive panel relating history and some interpretation of a specific Trail-related event or feature, and interpretation of how the Nez Perce journey affected the local history and culture.
    Trail logos

  4. Self-Guided Roads and Trails:  These include a series of wayside exhibits that tell a sequential story. The first wayside encountered should prominently display the NPNHT logo, but its use at subsequent waysides is optional and usually discouraged unless there are multiple approach routes. On Self-Guided Roads, signs are generally designed to be read from the vehicle, unless there is an important feature that is worth a prolonged stop or which is not visible from the vehicle. Self-Guided Roads and Trails often include audio tours and accompanying brochures with corresponding numbers on the trail and brochure.

  5. Vistas or Overlooks are developed where there is a single place from which visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of an historic landscape or site. Vistas may be adjacent to a road, but are most effective when at least a short and accessible trail separates the parking area from the vista. At the vista, visitors typically find a bench, safety barriers (if necessary), and several waysides interpreting what can be seen. Wayside exhibits at vista points are most effective when they include perspective drawings that point out features in the landscape. Special efforts will be made to direct attention to the authentic Nez Perce Trail Route where it can be seen from the vista.

Many sites related to the NPNHT have already been interpreted.

National Trails System guide Lewis and Clark Trail guide
Big Hole Park guide Mormon Pioneer Trail guide
Grant-Kohrs Ranch guide Bear Paw Battlefield guide
Nez Perce Trail official map and guide

The official Nez Perce National Historic Trail guide/brochure will be similar in appearance to existing National Trails brochures and National Park Service publications.

Many waysides exhibits (such as these examples from Idaho) have been placed along major highways.


Hwy 95, milepost 227, sign #294
Near the base of this hill, over 100 cavalrymen and volunteers met disaster in the opening battle of the Nez Perce War. Rushing from Grangeville on the evening of June 16, 1877, Captain David Perry planned to stop the Indians from crossing the Salmon River to safety. At daylight the next morning, he headed down the ravine below you. Some 60 to 80 Indians wiped out a third of his force, and the survivors retired in disorder. No Indians were killed.

Nez Perce War site marker

Hwy 95, milepost 233.6, sign #100
Named for the blue flowering camas — an important root food for all interior Northwestern Indians — the Camas Prairie is a traditional Nez Perce cultural site. Tolo Lake — visible below — provided a campground for Chief Joseph's Wallowa band and White Bird's Salmon River band when war broke out on the Salmon River directly south of here on June 14, 1877. Both of these bands were under military pressure to settle on the Camas Prairie when three young men from White Bird's band avenged a long series of past wrongs and Army authorities retaliated.

A Gatling gun, firing from the top of a low hill a mile northwest of here, beat back a Nez Perce attack on July 4, 1877. The next day, Indians just east of here surrounded 17 Mount Idaho volunteers:  Two were killed and three wounded before cavalrymen from Cottonwood came out to rescue them. Meanwhile, Chief Joseph's people, screened by this well-planned diversionary skirmish, crossed the prairie to join their allies on the Clearwater. From there the Indians headed across the mountains to Montana, where the Nez Perce War ended three months later.

Hwy 95, milepost 267.6, sign #163
Named for the Nez Perce Indian leader who served as head chief from 1848 to 1871 and who lived near the lower end of the canyon. Called "The Lawyer" by early fur traders for his exceptional talents in languages and oratory, he was a friend of the whites. He had learned English before the missionaries came in 1836 and helped them prepare dictionaries and translate the Bible into Nez Perce. He played an important part in all the treaty negotiations with his people before his death in 1876, a year before the Nez Perce War.

Hwy 12, milepost 75.9, sign #347
During General O.O.Howard's 1877 Nez Perce campaign, Looking Glass and his band were camped up Clear Creek near here. Looking Glass told Army authorities:  "Leave us alone. We are living here peacefully and want no trouble." But after a July 1 military attack that destroyed his village, ruined his gardens, and captured 750 Nez Perce horses, Looking Glass and his band joined other Nez Perce refugees and soon headed for Montana's buffalo plains. Howard spent three more months pursuing Joseph, White Bird, Looking Glass, and their warriors after that fiasco.

Hwy 13, milepost 21.2, sign #259
After the Clearwater battle on the heights above here, July 11-12, 1877, the Indians crossed the Lolo Trail to Montana. Advancing northward along the high ground with 600 troops and artillery, General Howard found the Indian camp on the flat across the river. But 24 brave Indians blocked his advance and 100 more pinned his men in rifle pits for a day. Then the Indians, camp and all, moved slowly northward past Kamiah, while Howard folowed without fighting; there the Indians decided to move east away from the troops.

Hwy 29, milepost 13.6, sign #238
This traditional Indian route provided access from Montana's buffalo country to the Snake and Salmon River fishing streams. Hudson's Bay Company trapping expeditions came this way after 1822, and prospectors followed, searching for mines. In 1877 the Nez Perce War combatants returned from Montana to Idaho through Bannock Pass on their way from the Big Hole battleground to Yellowstone Park and Canada. From 1910 to 1939, railroad trains from Dillon to Salmon steamed through here. Old Gilmore and Pittsburgh railroad tunnels and grades still can be seen from this highway.

Interstate 15, milepost 167, sign #427
When General Howard tried to get more than 600 Nez Perce Indians to settle on a north Idaho reservation in 1877, he ran into a lot of trouble here. On their way to Yellowstone Park, Chief Joseph's Nez Perce people reached Hole in the Rock Station (four miles north of here) on August 16, and they shut down stage service to Montana. Howard's cavalry and volunteers folowed only a day behind until August 20, when an Indian force made off with over 100 Army mules. That raid halted military pursuit and forced Howard to continue his Nez Perce campaign for six more weeks.

D. Personal Services

For most visitors, nothing replaces the enjoyment of speaking with a knowledgeable interpreter. Interpreters may lead guided walks, show slide programs, demonstrate the use of historic tools or firearms, reenact historic events in authentic clothing, or just visit casually with visitors. Personal services will be an important part of NPNHT interpretive programs at major visitor centers and historic sites. Personal services may be provided by commercial guides, historical societies, nd universities — as well as federal and state agency employees.

When interpreting Nez Perce Traditional culture or presenting a "Nez Perce perspective," the use of Nez Perce interpreters is strongly suggested for greatest authenticity. Similarly, a historian who specializes in military equipment, technology, or sociology can bring the daily routine of common soldiers vividly to life.

E. Audiovisual Programs

The audiovisual medium includes such products as motion pictures, slide and video programs, audio recordings, and interactive computer presentations. Each medium has particular strengths that can be effectively used in specific applications. Audiovisual programs are well suited to the presentation of chronological and sequential material, and are very effective in presenting an overview or introduction to a broad topic such as the history and significance of the Nez Perce Trail.

The use of audio, both natural sounds and personal narratives, can add a measure of authenticity to programs. The medium also provides an alternative experience for those who may be limited by disabilities and are physically unable to experience some sites.

The visual nature of many programs provides a degree of access to inaccessible areas, or to fragile sites where human contact could damage sensitive cultural resources. Audiovisual programs should be captioned to convey information to hearing impaired viewers. Similarly, the medium offers the capability of multilingual audio tracks to meet the needs of the diverse cultural community. As with the other media recommendations, audiovisual programs will be designed to operate on a variety of levels to meet multiple needs. Some of the specific proposals are outlined below.

Video Program

A 20-25 minute video program will be developed to provide a broad overview of the history and significance of the Nez Perce Trail and provide insight into the two-way nature of traffic. It can be used at various locations along the trail and will be produced with both English and foreign language soundtracks. It will also be captioned to aid the hearing impaired. The objective of the program will be to provide insight into the multi-cultural heritage of the trail, to show how the military use of the trail touched upon and was influenced by contact among people of diverse cultural backgrounds. The storyline will be developed through the liberal use of first-person accounts. The voices of Nez Perce people will relate much of the story.

F. Visitor Centers

Staffed visitor centers will be a key public contact point for interpreting the details of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. Visitor centers often feature elaborate museum exhibits, audio-visual programs, ceremonies, demonstrations, book sales, and other opportunities for visitors to explore historic themes in depth. While there will be only a few visitor centers because of their great expense, they will be a highlight of most visitors’ Nez Perce Trail experience.

Standard: Staffed visitor centers on the Nez Perce Trail will be primarily interpretive rather than informational in emphasis. The goal will be to provide detailed interpretation of events in the vicinity of the center rather than attempting to tell the story of the whole trail in detail, but each visitor center will protray the basic history and location of the National Historic Trail.

G. Traveling Exhibits:

Portable exhibits for display in buildings near or off the trail. These exhibits will travel to schools, fairs and other public gatherings. A traveling exhibit which shows where the Trail goes, relates the major interpretive themes and highlights major interpretive opportunities will be produced. Additional traveling exhibits may be designed to meet specific needs. When possible, traveling exhibits will be staffed by an interpreter who can provide brochures and detailed information about the National Historic Trail.

H. Museum Exhibits:

Elaborate museum-quality exhibits can display original historic objects and provide in-depth interpretation of cultural practices and historic events. This quality of exhibit will generally be featured only at staffed visitor centers — Spalding, Lolo Pass, Bighole Battlefield, and potentially Wallowa Lake, Canyon Creek, and Bear's Paw Battlefield. Permanent exhibits may also be developed and displayed in non-government museums. Federal agencies and the Nez Perce Tribe will work closely with historical societies and museums to encourage accurate museum exhibits on the Nez Perce Trail. Simple, modular exhibits using interlocking panels are an inexpensive and easy way to display items for short-term viewing. Cooperative agreements with nearby colleges and museums can lower exhibit costs. Museum-quality exhibits may also be prepared by a government agency and loaned for display.

I. Education Program

Education is a key component of the NPNHT interpretive strategy. It consists of an array of special programs and media prescriptions for interpretation and focuses on educational goals that cannot be adequately addressed in the traditional interpretive program. Educational groups generally desire more in-depth information, associated facilities, and specialized opportunities for study — more than what most recreation visitors seek. Educational programs include education packets for schools and talks and activities led by uniformed personnel (U.S. Forest Service or other government agency) at a school or community. They also include museum or tribal members or other guest speakers who present demonstrations, dances, and other programs.

Educational group visits to the Nez Perce Trail currently consist of groups affiliated with schools at the elementary, secondary, and university levels, church and civic groups, youth organizations, and classes conducted by local museums and private institutions. The Elderhostel program and interpretive associations have expressed interest in establishing field seminars on the Nez Perce Trail. Several groups and individuals have indicated a desire to develop educational curricula. A number of private guide services currently offer educational trips related to NPNHT history. There are many opportunities for partnerships to help meet these educational goals. The value of this environmental education programming cannot be underestimated for its long-term commitment to meeting the interpretive goals and objectives of interpretive services of the Nez Perce Trail. Increasing awareness, understanding, and appreciation of historic resources is at the heart of Trail management.

The following possibilities constitute a vision for development of an education program for the Nez Perce Trail designed to meet the needs of teachers and their students of all ages. This is only the beginning of a long-term relationship between Trail managers and the educational community. Environmental education programs encourage people to work together, which is extremely important for the future of the Nez Perce Trail.

Education Goals :

To promote the Nez Perce Trail as an outdoor classroom offering unique education opportunities, and to provide innovative ways for educators to supplement existing curriculum and learning materials.


Goal 1:  To promote the Nez Perce Trail as an outdoor classroom offering educational opportunities to the surrounding community.


The purpose of this program is to promote a continuing link between NPNHT managers and elementary school students along the Nez Perce Trail. This would encourage respectful attitudes toward historic resources, and would foster actions of stewardship by students. Ideally, the program would link schools with trail interpretive sites nearby. Trails, study areas, and curriculum could be developed to encourage appreciation of the scenic, cultural, and natural values found in the Nez Perce Trail environment. Students might also be mentors for visiting groups of students. These "mentor students" could accompany the visiting groups and assist in leadership and instruction.

Outdoor School Facility

This facility could be used on a reservation basis by schools or groups. It could be a group campsite with a covered cooking shelter that might have utensils and study materials provided. Accompanying study materials relating to the use of the site would be developed with nature trails, viewing blinds, and a covered study area such as an amphitheater or a group picnic shelter. Teacher workshops would be held to train teachers and leaders in the use of facilities.

Self-Guided Study Areas and Materials

Self-guided study areas are highly desirable for group leaders; they provide locations designated for educational use with prepared informational materials. Self-guided study materials such as teacher information sheets and student task-cards or student study journals would be developed. Pre- and post-curriculum should accompany all materials.

Teacher Handbook

Teacher handbooks can be developed for use in numerous locations along the Nez Perce Trail. Teacher workshops could be held to train teachers in use of these sites and materials. Local educators should be involved in design of an interdisciplinary curriculum using historic themes to teach required subjects such as math, English, and history. A teacher advisory group could ensure that curriculum meets state guidelines of curriculum objectives for determined grade levels.

Residential Facility

An environmental education facility for residential study programs which could be used year-round by educational institutions and during the summer months for teacher workshops, Elderhostel, field seminars, etc. This project would be an exciting catalyst for environmental education on the Nez Perce Trail. It would be a new project for the Nez Perce Trail, but not a new use of public lands. This type of facility has been operated for years in many National Parks and Forests with outstanding successes. There are a number of ways to approach this type of project. It is generally run by a non-profit organization, study institute, or school district under a lease agreement, with goals and objectives of promoting educational use of the Nez Perce Trail. A preferred site, considering the Northwest climate, would be an indoor structure. This should have overnight accommodations for groups of 15-60 students, with at least one large meeting room for use as a lab and classroom. Cultural items could also be used, such as reconstructed Native American dwellings, fish wheels, and orchard harvesting equipment. It is possible that outside funding might be obtained for construction of this type of facility by corporate or other interested sponsors.

Study Van:  "The Nez Perce Trail Traveling Interpretive Center"

A small van could be purchased to be used by interpretive staff to travel to designated study areas for interpretive demonstrations including hands-on learning experiences. This could be used at local schools along the Nez Perce Trail for programs during the school year. It could be used during the summer season for interpretive activities at campgrounds, resorts, and communities. This could be an excellent way to communicate and make contact with visitors along the corridor. It might also serve as a "bookmobile" of interpretive materials related to the Nez Perce Trail.

Goal 2:  To provide innovative ways for teachers to supplement existing curriculum and learning materials.

Educator Study Box or Pack

A back-pack could be developed with study materials for use by groups. This pack would be checked out by teachers for use in studying the Nez Perce Trail, and would contain copies of historic photographs, maps and documents, lesson plans, replicas of artifacts, field guides, hand lenses, and task cards for use by students. It would be returned when the groups departs. A small deposit or drivers license would secure its return.

Educational Curriculum

This type of curriculum should be multi-disciplinary and use Nez Perce Trail themes to teach existing subjects such as math, geography, writing, or other required course material. Existing resources should be compiled into reference lists. Videotapes, CD-ROMs, and other materials should be available to support the curriculum.

Community Art, Music and Literature

A project could be initiated to promote creative expression of Nez Perce Trail history through music, dance, drama, and art in local Nez Perce Trail communities. Resulting products could be shared with other areas along the Nez Perce Trail over the summer season. This might involve traveling displays of art, readings of poetry and literature, and original dramatic and dance productions. This type of outreach program could stimulate local economies and support local craftspeople and artists through entrance fees and by generating tourism visits. It would encourage development of cultural expression related to the Nez Perce Trail landscape. Partnerships and grants would be a source of funding.

Existing and Proposed Interpretive Facilities and Themes

Trail Overview

Creating and maintaining the recreation and interpretive facilities along widely separated individual Nez Perce historic sites into a coherent and coordinated National Historic Trail is a daunting task. It will involve the entire Trail community — federal and state agencies, the Nez Perce Tribe, communities, non-profit groups, and private businesses.

In the short term, the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service will focus their efforts on the high potential segments and historic sites.

The National Park Service will place its highest priority on developing the historic sites authorized for addition to Nez Perce National Historical Park in 1992:  Chief Joseph's Gravesite at Wallowa Lake, Canyon Creek Battlefield, and Bear's Paw Battleground. At the same time, NPS will maintain and upgrade the excellent interpretive programs at long established areas such as Big Hole National Battlefield, Spalding Visitor Center, and Heart of the Monster. The official NPNHT logo may be displayed on Park site bulletin boards, and at site entrances and on some wayside exhibits, to show the relationship between the National Historical Park and National Historic Trail.

The Bureau of Land Management will place a high priority on identifying the historic route and marking its location with standard Trail markers and signs. As Trail segments and sites become ready for public use, access and interpretation will be developed. NPNHT interpretation on the Missouri Breaks National Back Country Byway will be expanded in the vicinity of the Missouri Breaks segment. The BLM will work with local communities to coordinate marking of the auto tour route where it passes through private lands but provides access to National Resource Lands.

The Forest Service, as Trail administrator, will place highest priority on identifying the exact historic route on Forest segments and marking its location with Trail markers and signs. Forest Service employees will work with state and local governments and tourism promotion agencies to develop a series of Nez Perce Trail "gateway" exhibits along interstates and highways. Sources of NPNHT route markers will be available, so Trail marking can proceed across both public and private lands and along federal and state highways on the auto tour route. Wayside exhibits and kiosks will be added to existing recreation sites and along forest roads. Auto tour routes and recreation trails will be developed on lesser known parts of the Trail at Imnaha Canyon, Lolo Trail, Gibbons Pass, Overland Trail, and Clarks Fork Canyon.

The Nez Perce Tribe, Colville Confederated Tribes (Chief Joseph Band), and Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla will continue to lead Trail development as they promote and assist with planning of interpretive facilities and programs. They will assist with locating original Trail routes and identifying places where traditional Nez Perce culture can best be interpreted. They will counsel all the agencies on sensitive cultural and religious sites. They will place special emphasis on facilities and programs that will help Nez Perce children learn more about their own heritage.

Segment Proposals

Every part of the National Historic Trail has a unique interpretive story and potential for development. The Trail has been divided into four segments for ease in discussing interpretive potential and proposals.

These segments are similar to those defined in the NPNHT Comprehensive Plan, but differ in that they are defined by important thematic emphasis and storyline.

Interpretive Segment 1 includes "Plan" section 1. This is the area within the heart of traditional Nez Perce homeland where events led up to hostilities between the Nez Perce people and Euro-American settlers, and to the Nez Perce flight. This segment begins in the Wallowa Valley, where nontreaty Nez Perce were when they reluctantly decided to go to the Reservation at Lapwai. It ends at Weippe Prairie, where several nontreaty bands decided to travel over the mountains to avoid further fighting.

Interpretive Segment 2 includes "Plan" section 2 and half of 3. This is the area of the rugged Lolo Trail, Bitterroot Valley, and Gibbons Pass, where the Nez Perce travelled peacefully through settlements believing they could leave the fighting behind. It ends at the Big Hole National Battlefield, where the Nez Perce fought off Colonel Gibbon's attack.

Interpretive Segment 3 includes "Plan" sections with the remainder of 3, 4, and 5. This is where the Nez Perce, retreating with troops in pursuit, traverse the valleys of Montana and Idaho and pass through Yellowstone National Park. It ends at the canyon of the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone, where the Nez Perce realize they will find no refuge with the Crow, then turn north to make a dash for Canada.

Interpretive Segment 4 includes "Plan" sections 6 and 7. This is the area of passage through the plains and Missouri River breaks. It ends at the official end of the National Historic Trail, at Bear's Paw Battleground.

Specific sites, illustrated on the following maps, are proposed for interpretation. These sites include high potential Trail segments and places along major travelways. Development proposals were based on how well the sites contribute to interpretive goals and objectives, ease of access and visitor safety, potential visitation, and resource sensitivity.

Segment 1 - Wallowa Valley to Weippe Prairie

Decision to Leave the Homeland; Fighting Begins

The Route

This segment begins at Wallowa Lake, traditional home of the Joseph Band, and extends to Weippe Prairie. An estimated five nontreaty bands, totalling about 750 people, decided to leave their homelands temporarily and move to the Reservation at Lapwai. They expected to eventually return home. Other Chiefs who played central roles during the Nez Perce retreat included Chief Looking Glass, Chief White Bird, Chief Toohoolhoolzote, Chief Lean Elk, Chief Ollokot, Chief Husis Kute, Chief Hototo, and Chief Tolo. Two major battles were fought along this Trail section:  one at White Bird Canyon and one at Clearwater River.


This segment lies entirely within Nez Perce traditional homelands. Here lie the heart and soul of the people, and, according to Nez Perce culture, the center of their world from the beginning. Most of the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) people live on the Nez Perce Reservation (Lapwai, Idaho) today, where their traditional culture is still visible. Some of the Nez Perce people live on the Confederated Colville Tribes Reservation (Colville, Washington). Many historic and cultural sites not related to the Nez Perce War of 1877 are also preserved and interpreted as part of Nez Perce National Historical Park. Visitors can ask Nez Perce interpreters at the Park about Nez Perce heritage and ways of life. Here, visitors can learn about the significant factors leading to misunderstandings between Nez Perce people, Euro-American settlers, and the U.S. Government.

The beginnings of conflict and its long-term effects are most apparent here on the Nez Perce Reservation. In the early days of conflict, both sides were optimistic that differences could be quickly resolved and peace restored. The nontreaty bands had originally decided to move to the Reservation at Lapwai to maintain peace. They escaped the battle of White Bird Canyon with few casualties. Only the persistence of U.S. military forces and the prolonged fighting at Clearwater persuaded them that a rapid resolution was impossible. They decided to escape east over the mountains and seek refuge with the Crow Tribe until things cooled down.

The military goal was to quickly subdue the nontreaty Nez Perce and move them from their homelands onto the Reservation at Lapwai. They were unable to carry out their orders, and suffered heavy casualties in both battles. The military attempt was completely thwarted when the Nez Perce bands fled east.

Existing Interpretation

This area contains the most complete interpretive facilities of the entire Trail — because of a long history of marker and sign placement, and efforts of the state of Idaho, Idaho Transportation Department, National Park Service, and Nez Perce Tribe. Most major sites and many minor areas have interpretive signs relating to both the 1877 War events and to traditional Nez Perce culture. The NPNHT route is not well marked over this segment, and is thus somewhat difficult to follow and understand through the rugged terrain. Because the Trail traverses a virtual maze of steep river canyons, there is no potential for an auto tour route that closely follows it. Auto access will be disjointed and distant except at a few points.

Adventurous explorers will find following the Trail a challenging but rewarding experience by foot, on horseback, or by boat. The two high potential segments in this segment are the Imnaha River and the segment at White Bird Canyon. Imnaha River (18 miles) may offer the greatest potential for new interpretation; however, it is in a rugged and remote part of the Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area and Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The segment at White Bird Canyon (16 miles) features a driving tour and numerous waysides.

Desired Future Interpretation and Services

Several key developments are proposed in these segments:

Wallowa Lake:  This site is now authorized as part of the Nez Perce National Historical Park. It is the Trail's starting point, and because of its proximity to major travel routes in Oregon, it can be reached by large numbers of visitors. An interpretive contact station is planned for the southern area of the Historical Park. The Wallowa Band Nez Perce Tribe Interpretive Coalition is developing a Nez Perce Interpretive Center at Tick Hill near Wallowa, Oregon.

Imnaha River high potential segment:  This rugged area will continue to provide low-key interpretation of the early days of the journey and Joseph's hardships in crossing the Snake River to join the others. It is also an excellent place to interpret traditional Nez Perce life before European contact.

Tolo Lake:  This significant site is close to highways and to Grangeville, Idaho. It's an ideal place to tell of the events leading up to the War and retreat as the nontreaty bands gathered, and of the first killings by the Nez Perce.

White Bird Canyon:  Update and revision of auto route and on-site interpretation is under way.

Segment 2 - Weippe Prairie to Big Hole National Battlefield

Peaceful Intentions

The Route

This segment begins at Weippe, where the nontreaty Nez Perce bands decided to leave Idaho. It passes over the Bitterroot Range through Lolo Pass, traverses the open farmlands of the Bitterroot Valley, and climbs over Gibbons Pass to Big Hole. Military encounters in this section occurred at Fort Fizzle and at Big Hole National Battlefield.


This segment passes through country familiar to the Nez Perce people. It follows one of two major travelways across the Bitterroot Mountains, and includes areas historically visited for hunting and gathering. Many Nez Perce people knew and traded with the Salish people in the Bitterroot Valley, and later with settlers living there. This is an ideal section to interpret traditional Nez Perce travel patterns and their use of natural resources. It is also an area to show how the Nez Perce people, Salish people, and settlers co-existed prior to the stress over Treaty reductions. It may be a place to show how early reports of “Indian uprising and hostility” in Idaho during the summer of 1877 quickly reached settlements in Montana, causing anxiety and fear among settlers.

The Nez Perce believed that once they left Idaho and the scene of the White Bird Canyon battle, they were leaving the fighting. They did not fight when they met Captain Rawn and his troops near the log barricade now known as Fort Fizzle. Instead, they slipped past the barricade, and the attempt to stop them thus "fizzled."

The Nez Perce traveled through the open Bitterroot Valley past some of the residents with whom they had traded before the fighting broke out in Idaho. These former allies were suspicious and nervous, but the Nez Perce bands passed through without incident. Montana's Territorial Government organized units of civilian militia and pressured military commands to pursue the nontreaty Nez Perce. The Nez Perce, believing they were in peaceful country, settled in the Big Hole area, on the North Fork of the Big Hole River. The Nez Perce called it Place of the Ground Squirrels or Place of the Buffalo Calves. Soon after the Nez Perce set up camp, Colonel John Gibbon surprised them, starting the most notorious battle of the Nez Perce War. This entire segment is accessible via Interstate 90 and Highways 12, 93, and 43. Visitors can follow most of this stretch by vehicle, over Lolo Pass, through the Bitterroot Valley, and across to Big Hole National Battlefield.

Existing Interpretation

Many of the major interpretive sites in this section are already marked and interpreted. The Lolo Pass Visitor Center tells the story of human use of the Lolo Trail from prehistoric times to the present, including details on the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, and the Lolo Trail. The Fort Fizzle site has a three-panel interpretive sign, and reconstructed breastworks and a rifle pit have been built. Four additional interpretive signs are under contract here. This site will serve as a major gateway to the Trail. Howard Creek has a three-panel signpost up. Interpretive signs are planned for the Lewis and Clark Campground and the Lee Creek Campground. Fort Owen and other sites in the Bitterroot Valley feature markers and simple interpretive signs. Big Hole National Battlefield interprets the historic battle with artifacts, self-guided trails, movies, and exhibits. The Lolo Motorway through the Clearwater National Forest closely follows both the Nez Perce and Lewis & Clark National Historic Trails and offers a driving, hiking, or horseback riding experience. A number of roadside signs and an excellent brochure point out interesting features.

Desired Future Interpretation and Services

Interpretive proposals:

Lolo Trail:  The unique character of the Trail corridor will be preserved while enhancing visitor opportunities by adding interpretive facilities and programs. Sites from the Nez Perce retreat will be marked. Access to vista points will be improved by construction of short trails and small parking areas. At a minimum, wayside exhibits will be installed at Musselshell Crossing, Howard Creek, and Packer Meadow.

Howard Creek:  An interpretive trail and brochure are scheduled to be in place by fall 1994 or spring 1995.

Ross Hole/Sula Ranger Station:   This site will remain a focal point for visitors seeking detailed information about the route and campsites in this area. Improvements to the existing signs are proposed. Nearby is the trailhead for the back-country driving and hiking routes over Gibbons Pass. Updated signage and publications will alert people to these opportunities.

Lost Trail Pass:  Though not on the actual historic route, this is a key spot on the auto tour route and will serve as a gateway for visitors approaching the Nez Perce National Historical Trail from the south. Existing waysides should be expanded. Interpretation of the NPNHT will be coordinated and integrated into that for the Lewis & Clark and Continental Divide Trails.

Segment 3 - Big Hole National Battlefield to Dead Indian Hill

Retreat and Pursuit

The Route

From the Big Hole National Battlefield, this segment follows the route of the retreating nontreaty Nez Perce south into Idaho, through Yellowstone National Park, to the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone, where they hoped to find  refuge with the Crow Tribe. This segment includes Camas Meadow, site of a minor battle.


In this area, both pursued and pursuers covered difficult terrain. Confronted with the reality that they could not escape the conflict from Idaho, Nez Perce leaders avoided Euro-American settlements. The Army containment strategy almost worked, but again and again the Nez Perce escaped the troops. The segment ends at the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone.

General Howard did not immediately follow the Nez Perce through Yellowstone, but ordered Captain Fisher and his Bannock scouts to follow the Nez Perce. Colonel Sturgis, Major Hart, and the Seventh Cavalry were to block the escape route into the plains while General Howard's forces pushed in from the Park. However, Colonel Sturgis misjudged the Nez Perce intention and ordered his troops to leave their position on the Clark Fork. His decision allowed the Nez Perce to escape the "Absaroka blockade." These repeated and seemingly impossible escapes began to create a reputation of military genius for Nez Perce leaders. General Howard's image suffered accordingly.

Skirmishes with settlers, soldiers, teamsters, and tourists show that the Nez Perce began to retreat less peacefully. As the Nez Perce bands became increasingly offensive, press coverage increased anxiety in nearby towns such as Bannack. This is a good section to compare the communications and logistics of the two groups, to interpret the nature of Euro-American settlement and settlers' reactions, and to relate how geography, timing, and chance played important roles in the success or failure of strategies on both sides. At Dubois, Idaho, the Trail crosses Interstate 15, and from Island Park to Madison Junction the Trail follows a busy tourist route. The remainder of the segment in Montana and Idaho is easily accessible but lightly traveled, and offers opportunities for relative solitude in rural landscapes. The high potential segment through the Beaverhead National Forest gives a strong feeling of what travel was like during the 1870s.

Existing Interpretation

Primary interpretation in this segment exists at Big Hole National Battlefield Visitor Center and Bannock State Park. A few historic markers have been erected in Montana and Idaho, and waysides provide information near I-15, close to Dubois, Idaho, and within Yellowstone National Park. In this section, the identity and story of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail outside these areas is minimal.

Desired Future Interpretation and Services

Eventually, all historic sites in this segment will be marked with the NPNHT logo and many sites should be marked with waysides. Kiosks and exhibits will be placed in West Yellowstone.

Interpretive Proposals:

Skinner Meadow / Horse Prairie:   A wayside at this site would interpret the clash of cultures in this meadow. The meadow historically provided feed for horses and buffalo. It is here that Lewis and Clark bought horses from Cameahwait, Sacagawea's brother. This is a good spot to work cooperatively with private owners to interpret other areas.

Junction City (Leadore):   The town was the site of a Nez Perce encampment and a stockade hastily built by town settlers in case of Native American attack. This would be an excellent spot to construct a stockade replica, either privately or cooperatively between private and government agencies. A wayside here might also show the daily life of settlers.

Hole-in-Rock Stage Station:   Success or failure of strategies on both sides depended on geography, among other factors. A wayside at this spot would explain why Hole-in-Rock Stage Station is the only spot until Beaver Creek where a stage could have crossed the stream.

Camas Meadow Battle:  A wayside on Kilgore-Yale Road might relay the story of this battle, where the Army caught up with the Nez Perce. The Nez Perce took the offensive and acquired nearly all the Army's pack mules.

Radersburg Party Capture / Nez Perce Creek:  This highly visible section of the Trail is located in one of the most popular tourist areas in the country, Yellowstone National Park. An existing wayside provides information on the capture of the Radersburg tourists and the Nez Perce route through the Park. An additional wayside would explain in more detail and allow for personal accounts by the captured party members.

Radersburg Party Release / Mud Volcano:  This undeveloped wilderness area is a good site to interpret the difficult terrain through which all parties passed. A wayside near Mud Volcano would interpret daily military life on the Trail.

Campsite (Yellowstone to Dead Indian Hill) and Cooke City:   An interpretive sign exists here, but needs some revision in language and content.

Crandall Creek / Chief Joseph Highway:   This is a good site to interpret Nez Perce strategy and to discuss theories about how the Nez Perce people escaped capture in the area's narrow canyons.

Segment 4 - Dead Indian Hill to Bear's Paw Battleground

Retreat to Canada

The Route

During the final push toward Canada, the nontreaty Nez Perce left the Absaroka Range and headed for the vast, unprotected lands between the mountains and Canada. Both the Nez Perce people and the military crossed the Yellowstone, Musselshell, and Missouri Rivers in a race for Canada. This segment includes Canyon Creek Battlesite and Bear's Paw Battleground, which have been authorized for addition to Nez Perce National Historical Park.


As the Nez Perce bands left the rugged Absaroka Range, their efforts focused on the long ride across the central Montana prairies to Canada. The Crows had sided with the Army, and the Nez Perce knew the Army would try to stop their final flight toward Canada. When Colonel Sturgis realized the Nez Perce had started down the Clark Fork, he hurried to join General Howard's forces. General Howard's forces had just crossed Yellowstone National Park, hoping to find the Nez Perce stalled ahead of them. Both commanders, marveling at the blockade escape, realized their shrinking opportunities to catch the Nez Perce before they crossed into Canada. The Nez Perce escape from containment at Clark Fork continues to amaze researchers today. They pushed rapidly through Judith Gap and north between the Judith and Snowy Mountains. Good water and forage and abundant wild game helped horses and people regain strength. Some of the Nez Perce warriors knew this area, as it was a traditional buffalo hunting ground.

In just 36 hours, the Nez Perce covered 70 miles through the rough Missouri "breaks" country, arriving at Cow Island Crossing. This crossing provided easy access to the north bank of the Missouri River. The Nez Perce had passed the last major physical barrier between themselves and Canada. However, Colonel Miles' cavalry, with a large number of Cheyenne scouts, swept down upon the Nez Perce's Snake Creek camp at Bear's Paw on September 30. They ran off most of the Nez Perce horses, but realized that direct assault was too costly, and so laid siege to the camp.

Some of the Nez Perce people escaped to Canada with White Bird. Of those who escaped, some found refuge with Chief Sitting Bull's band of Sioux, and with the Cree in Canada. Others, however, were killed by Assiniboine and Gros Ventre once they reached Canada. Chief Joseph was the only chief left to negotiate with General Howard and Colonel Miles, and to speak for the remaining nontreaty Nez Perce people. Chiefs Toohoolhoolzote, Lean Elk, Ollokot, and Looking Glass were dead. Joseph agreed to surrender on his own terms on October 5, 1877. His terms were:   If the Nez Perce gave up their arms, they would be returned to the Nez Perce Reservation with their remaining stock.

The terms for surrender were never kept. Eight years passed before Joseph and some of the estimated 267 of the nontreaty Nez Perce — some who surrendered with him, and some who were born in Indian Territory, Oklahoma — were allowed to return to the Pacific Northwest. Joseph never again set foot in his homeland, or on the Nez Perce Reservation. This section of the Trail represents the "final chapter" in the Nez Perce flight. Opportunities exist to interpret military and Nez Perce strategy, intertribal relations and conflict, ferries and the Nez Perce crossing, in addition to the aftermath of the flight. This section is easiest to follow by car, along Interstates 12, 87, and 191, Montana Highways 3 and 200, and County Roads 238 and 297.

Existing Interpretation

Current interpretation is minimal along this section of the Trail, and there are many opportunities for new interpretation. There is a monument at Riverside Park, Laurel, and one at Canyon Creek Battle Site, placed there by Eagle Scouts. Another marker near the Ryegate Area Monument denotes Colonel Sturgis's and General Howard's camps. At Bear's Paw Battleground, Montana State Parks Department has installed numerous wayside exhibits. The BLM's Lewistown District developed an interpretive booklet, "Missouri Breaks Backcountry Byway."

Desired Future Interpretation and Services

Canyon Creek Battle Site / Canyon Creek Monument:   This is a site in the Nez Perce National Historical Park. A wayside exhibit in addition to the existing marker would point out the site of General Howard's last camp. It is a possible site for partnerships between the Park and citizens who would like to help develop the site.

Sturgis and Howard Camps / Ryegate Area:   A wayside exhibit would supplement the existing monument. The marker would mention General Howard's plan to slow his pace, hoping the Nez Perce would slow theirs as well. In the meantime, he contacted Colonel Miles, to watch for the Nez Perce along the Missouri River.

Cow Island Crossing / Skirmish:  A wayside would discuss the ferry crossing and Nez Perce crossing on the Missouri River, and the result of the Stafford ferry military's refusal to supply adequate food to the Nez Perce people.

Bear's Paw Battleground:   The last site of the Nez Perce flight is commemorated at this battlefield. Interpretation here should maintain a respectful, thoughtful atmosphere. Future interpretation might include the aftermath of the Nez Perce War, the flight of White Bird and other Nez Perce people who escaped to Canada, and the Nez Perce who were moved to Indian Territory in Oklahoma before most were allowed to return to the Pacific Northwest.