The Tragic Destruction of the Nez Perce Itinerary

A 2019 BGES Americana Field University Program

August 16-24, 2019

Of the many shameful episodes of Indian harassment and containment, none is more telling than the 1877 flight of the Nez Perce. Your trip chronologically follows the bands of the Nez Perce as they depart their naturally beautiful homelands in Idaho and are eventually cornered and defeated on the stark plains of northern Montana.

While most of the Indian Wars are disjointed and take place over a long period of time, this campaign is continuous and cogent, with each day in chronological order. Easily understood and appreciated as we experience the homeland of the migrant tribe and the hundreds of miles they traverse to escape Federal oppression.


Friday, August 16, 2019

5:00 PM: Check in at Ramada Inn at your leisure. If you have driven in, work out where you will be leaving your car. Let’s meet at 5 in the lobby to pick up your name tag and reading book and to receive introductory remarks from Len and Neil about the program that is to come. Hotel included. The food in the hotel restaurant is very good. Breakfast the next morning is included with your hotel room.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

8:00 AM. Have your bags onboard for an 8 AM departure for Lewiston, Idaho. We’ll stop en route at the Steptoe Battlefield where, in 1858, 160 American soldiers engaged Indians from three tribes in a running fight until nightfall, when the Americans escaped. Following lunch on your own in Lewiston, you will go to the Nez Perce National Historic Park to learn about the Nez Perce and examine the mission site close by. After visiting Fort, Lapwei you will return to the hotel in Lewiston for dinner on your own. Breakfast and lodging at the Red Lion Inn is included.

Sunday August 18, 2019

8:00 AM. Bags up by 7:45 and away at 8 AM, with our travels starting with the July 1877 battle at Cottonwood. Here Chief Joseph fought a series of successful small battles using approximately 150 warriors as they covered the retirement of the Nez Perce tribe after the battle of White Bird. We then head to the remote White Bird battlefield, stopping en route at the Tolo Lake camp. Here we will walk the grounds of the unsuccessful American attack against the Indian camp, and you will see the success of the double envelopment that the Indians displayed. Lunch will be on your own. We will then head toward our overnight in Orofino, Idaho, following the southern group of Nez Perce. Along the way, we’ll stop at the Clearwater site of a successful American army attack against Chief Joseph and Looking Glass, in which 600 Americans attacked and defeated some 200 Nez Perce warriors, who still managed to escape after the fight. Lunch and dinner will be on your own. Breakfast and lodging at the Best Western at Rivers Edge is included.

Monday August 19, 2019

8:00 AM. Departing again at 8 AM, today we follow the trail of the Nez Perce as they cross Weippe Prairie and Lolo Pass. The scenery along this ride is breathtaking, and you will marvel at the tenacity of the Indians and their pursuers when we visit OO Howard’s camp, Packers Meadow, and Lolo Hot Springs. We will stop at Fort Fizzle, where the Nez Perce successfully evaded a trap set by the local militia, and then continue on to our overnight near Lolo. We will enjoy a group lunch and dinner at the Lolo Creek Steakhouse. Breakfast and lodging at the Days Inn are also included.

Tuesday August 20, 2019

8:00 AM. This morning we travel through the Bitterroot Valley en route to the Big Hole battlefield. Here, another familiar Civil War name, Col. John Gibbon, assaulted the Nez Perce camp being commanded by Looking Glass. We will bring our lunch, and afterward walk the battlefield. The fighting was severe, with the Indians escaping destruction and retreating through Bannock Pass as Howard continually attempted to cut them off. We will finish the evening in Rexburg, where you can have dinner on your own. Breakfast, lunch, and lodging at the AmericInn are included.

Wednesday August 21, 2019

8:00 AM. We start our day traveling 10 miles of unpaved road to see the remote but important Camas Meadows battlefield. Here in late August 1877, Federal cavalry were ambushed and a company was encircled, holding on until reinforcements arrived. The Indians escaped without casualties. After lunch on your own, we will cross Yellowstone National Park, with the Indians capturing tourists from Radersburg. You will see plenty as we pass through, but this is not a trip to the park, merely an afternoon passing through. We will overnight in Cooke City, Montana. Dinner is on your own, and breakfast and lodging at the Alpine Hotel are included.

Thursday August 22, 2019

8:00 AM. As expected we leave at 8 AM. General Howard, believing he was losing the scent, called for reinforcements to intercept the Indians’ flight. Civil War names Sam Sturgis and Frederick Benteen, survivor of the Little Big Horn fight, came with remnants of the 7th Calvary, where they tangled at the Battle of Canyon Creek. Near present-day Billings, the Nez Perce turned to the north toward Canada. The pace of the Nez Perce retreat was such that Howard could not catch them, and so at Ryegate he ordered his column to slow in expectation the Indians would slow as well. This action permitted the troopers of yet another Civil War officer, Nelson Miles, to get in front of the fleeing Indians. We will close the day at the Reed and Bowles Trading Post in Lewistown, Montana. Breakfast and lodging at the Yogo Inn are included.

Friday, August 23, 2019

8:00 AM. The scenery changes dramatically as we enter northern Montana near the Canadian border. We will move deliberately to Cow Island, where the Nez Perce crossed the Missouri River. As elements of the tribe made for Canada, a substantial force lagged behind under Chief Joseph, and the U.S. Cavalry finally got ahead of them and their encampment at Bear Paw. Here, after a siege and battle, Chief Joseph surrendered. Our understanding will be enhanced by a visit to the Blaine County Museum. We will then move to visit Fort Benton and have dinner there before heading to our hotel in Great Falls. The Nez Perce will have surrendered. Lunch, dinner, and lodging at the Crystal Inn is provided.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Breakfast before you depart. The program has ended. The hotel will provide transportation to the airport a mile away. Great Falls has much to see, and so if you don’t think you will ever get there again and are planning to fly out, you may consider going to the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center or the C.M. Russell Museum of Western Art before catching your flight. Safe travels.

About the Faculty

Neil Mangum, one of the nation’s foremost historians, is an expert on frontier life. However, he is a Virginian who grew up in the shadow of the Petersburg National Battlefield, which was one of his very first assignments in the NPS. He still has deep ties. A retired National Park Service official, Neil served as Superintendent at the Little Big Horn National Battlefield as it transitioned from Custer National Battlefield. He is author of The Battle of the Rosebud: Prelude to the Little Big Horn. The popular Mangum only allows himself four or five tours a year, and BGES is fortunate to enjoy his favor. He enjoys the clientele and the small folksy nature of the group that is usually well prepared. He has a following, and most people on this trip will have traveled with him before, which makes this event even nicer.

Travel Details

Hotel Information

The headquarters hotel is the Ramada Inn Spokane Airport. It is located just outside of baggage claim at Spokane, about a 2-minute walk from the terminal. They do have a van that will pick you up if need be. Your registration fee includes 8 nights, single or double occupancy lodging.


Our servicing airports are Spokane International (GEG) for your arrival and Great Falls, Montana (GTF), for your departure. The Ramada Inn Spokane Airport is our headquarters. It is literally a 2-minutes’ walk outside of the baggage claim at Spokane. Your registration fee includes lodging there. If you drive in, you will need to make arrangements to park there. It may be possible to make arrangements for you to ride back to Spokane as the bus deadheads back, but that would need to be worked out with the company. We will engage if it becomes an issue.

Recommended Reading

You will be provided with a reading book and maps upon arrival. The following books are suggested to enhance your readiness for the program. has a program to support non-profits IF YOU SIGN UP to support Blue and Gray Education Society (EIN 54-1720582) at AmazonSmile. When you sign up there rather than the normal Amazon site, one-half of one percent of your purchase price will be provided to BGES as a donation from Amazon. This will apply not only on this purchase but others you may make at other times.

Jerome Greene and Alvin Josephy: Nez Perce Summer, 1877
Francis Haines: The Nez Percés: Tribesmen of the Columbian Plateau
Daniel Sharfstein: Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard, and the Nez Perce War

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Registration Type

To register by mail or fax, download this printable registration form: The Tragic Destruction of the Nez Perce