Because Ideas Matter...
The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences presents
The Battle of the Big
Hole: The Story of the Landmark Battle of the 1877 Nez Perce
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.