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Anniversary of final battle marked by weekend ceremonies

 

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"From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."

Those words were spoken in 1877, about 16 miles south of where Chinook now stands, by Chief Joseph of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce. Joseph said the words at the end of a 1,400-mile flight, during which his small band about 200 warriors and 500 others had successfully fought with more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers and Indian Auxiliaries.

The commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the Battle of the Bear Paws, considered the last major military battle in the area, will begin tonight with a grand entry of a memorial powwow at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, followed by a candlelight vigil at the Bear Paw Battlefield with 162 luminaries for the people believed killed and wounded in the battle.

The battlefield is one of 38 sites that make up the Nez Perce National Historic Park. Staffers from the Big Hole National Battlefield, one of two locations in the Nez Perce park that have a major visitors center, will be on hand for the ceremony, said Tim Fisher, lead ranger at the Big Hole Battlefield. They will be joined by members of the Chinook Lions Club and local 4-H clubs and the Blaine County Extension Office to light the luminaries and provide interpretive information.

Visitors are encouraged to walk the 1 -mile trail, and commemorative flashlights will be available, Fisher said.

A traditional pipe ceremony by the Lapwai Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10933 will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at the battlefield. No photography or filming of the ceremony will be allowed, Fisher said, although the Nez Perce may grant permission to be photographed before or after.

The VFW post is in Lapwai, Idaho, on the Nez Perce Reservation, Fisher said. Many descendants of Joseph and the survivors of the battle live there, he added.

The Chief Joseph Veterans Memorial Powwow begins tonight at 7 p.m. with a grand entry in the Red Whip Center in Fort Belknap, powwow committee flagbearer Anna Hoops said.

The second grand entry is 1 p.m. Saturday, with the final grand entry at 7 p.m. There will be contest specials for dancers, and feeds tonight and Saturday.

The retreat of the Nez Perce began after more than a decade of strife between the Native Americans and the United States. Joseph the Elder, father of Chief Joseph, had long been an advocate of peace with the government and citizens of the United States.

In 1863, gold was discovered in Nez Perce territory. The U.S. government took back most of the original reservation, restricting the tribe to a reservation in Idaho about one-tenth its original size.

Joseph was elected to succeed his father when Joseph the Elder died in 1871. First Joseph the Elder, then Chief Joseph, refused to leave the band's native Wallowa Valley in Oregon and move to the new reservation.

In 1877, Gen. Otis Howard threatenedo lead a cavalry assault to drive the Nez Perce from the Wallowa Valley. Joseph began leading his people back to the reservation in Idaho, but about 20 of his tribe raided a settlement and killed several white people before they arrived.

Howard pursued the Nez Perce for three months, and the Nez Perce won four battles with the U.S. soldiers before they were surprised at Snake Creek in the Bear Paws, about 40 miles from their goal of crossing the border into Canada.

After a five-day battle, during which about 150 Nez Perce fled during the night, Joseph surrendered because of a lack of food and shelter for the children and elderly in his band.

"Hear me, chiefs! My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever," Joseph said.

Everyone is welcome to attend the ceremonies and powwows. Members of the Nez Perce Tribe will join the Fort Belknap Indian Community. Members of the Rocky Boy, Blackfeet, Fort Peck and Crow reservations are expected to attend. The powwow has been advertised on the Internet, and guests from across the country and Canada usually attend, Hoops said.

Native American veterans will bring flags from every branch of the service, from the United States and Canada, and the seals of different reservations to the grand entries, Hoops said.

The Blaine County Museum, open 1 to 5 p.m. today and Saturday, will offer its "40 Miles to Freedom" multimedia presentation about the battlefield.

 
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