Nez Perce National Historic Trail
|Nez Perce National Historic Trail|
IUCN category V (protected landscape/seascape)
|Location||Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, USA|
|Nearest city||Lewiston, ID|
|Governing body||U.S. Forest Service|
|Website||Nez Perce National Historic Trail|
The Nez Perce National Historic Trail follows the route taken by a large band of the Nez Perce Indian tribe in 1877 during their attempt to flee the U.S. Cavalry and get to Canada, to avoid being forced on to a reservation. The 1,170-mile (1,883 km) trail was created in 1986 as part of the National Trails System Act and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The trail traverses through portions of the U.S. states of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana and connects 38 separate sites across these four states that commemorate significant events that took place as the Nez Perce tried to escape capture by the U.S. Cavalry. The sites are part of the National Park Service's Nez Perce National Historical Park, managed overall by the National Park Service, with some sites managed by local and state affiliated organizations.
A band of 750 Nez Perce warriors accompanied women, children and elders; the entire band numbered more than 2,900. They were parties to the Treaty of Walla Walla with the U.S. Government, and fought numerous engagements with the 7th Cavalry. Their maneuvers had several objectives: To avoid the initial violence they faced when trying to surrender to the 7th Cavalry and proceed to the reservation; to evade the 7th cavalry and reach a territory of the US where they could continue their traditional lifestyle; to escape to Canada.
Beginning near Wallowa Lake in eastern Oregon, the Nez Perce headed east into Idaho. They crossed Lolo Pass into Montana and fought a major battle at what is now known as Big Hole National Battlefield. After that, the Nez Perce continued traveling south and east, back into Idaho and then into Wyoming entering Yellowstone National Park near West Yellowstone, Montana. The tribe left the park crossing Sylvan Pass and followed the Clarks Fork River back into Montana. From there the Nez Perce headed almost straight north for Canada and almost made it. The Nez Perce were near starvation and exhaustion after fighting their last battle north of the Bear Paw Mountains, less than 40 miles (64 km) from the Canada–US border, when they surrendered to U.S. authorities. Chief Joseph is widely credited with leading the Nez Perce on this journey. He served as a camp supervisor and guardian, who was entrusted with handling the logistics of camp and travel, and taking care of the women and children.
At the time of the surrender, Chief Joseph was the most prominent surviving leader among the group; he decided it was time to surrender. A few members of the tribe did reach Canada, but the vast majority were relocated to Kansas and Oklahoma for eight years before being allowed to relocate to the reservation in Idaho, near their ancestral home.
The trail passes through numerous National Park Service managed areas, National Forests, and Bureau of Land Management Public Lands. While Oregon was already a state, the other three states the trail now passes through were still merely territories. None of the forest lands were managed by the federal government, but Yellowstone National Park was created 5 years before the Nez Perce journey. The trail also passes through privately owned property and it is best advised to obtain permission to enter these areas from local landowners. Little of the trail is actually a foot trail although much of the journey can be closely followed by roads. Attempts are underway to continue to preserve right of way to allow greater access for visitors.
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