College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Liberal Arts Matters

Because Ideas Matter...

The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences presents

Recommended Readings

Battle -of -the -Big -HoleThe Battle of the Big Hole:  The Story of the Landmark Battle of the 1877 Nez Perce War

by Audrey L. Haines,Twodot, 2006

Reviewed by George Geib

I put off reading Major Pettigrew's Last Stand since it looked like a mere romance novel.

In August of 1877, several bands of the Nez Perce fled government attempts to force them on to an Idaho reservation. At the Big Hole in western Montana, their camp was attacked at dawn by U. S. soldiers in the bloodiest action of the pursuit. One of the few Amerindian actions to be declared a National Battlefield Park, the battle sheds little credit upon the frontier army forces. They killed mostly women and children, fled from their position under return fire from the Nez Perce, and suffered the ignominious loss of their lone artillery piece to the tribal fighters. But the battle, as Haines demonstrates, also illustrated deep problems of leadership and diplomatic skills among the Indians -- who misunderstood the strengths and determination of white civilians and of the army officers charged with their distasteful duties. First issued as An Elusive Victory in 1991, this reprint edition is an excellent example of a new style of frontier history that acknowledges both the achievements and the shortcomings of the conflicting cultures of the pioneer West. Reports of journalists and public officials (including a heroic poem by the commanding US general) are balanced against oral histories of the Nez Perce survivors, diaries and letters of other participants, and subsequent archaeological studies of the battlefield. The contemporary military park, which recognizes tribal as well as army perceptions, owes much to such research and analysis.

- George Geib is professor of History at Butler University.