Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Bear Paws, Chief Joseph, and fall color

Nez Perce tribal elders gather for battle commemoration ceremonies

Tribe members ride the battle ground

Offerings left at spots where warriors fell
This was a weekend for exploration and enjoyment of fall color.
Our main goal was the 133rd commemoration of the surrender of Nez Perce Chief Joseph at the Bear Paw Battlefield.
But, along the way we also enjoyed color in the Bear Paws, an isolated volcanic range south and east of Havre.
We stayed overnight Friday in Chinook, a formerly prosperous farming and industrial community 20 miles east of Havre on the Hi-Line. While there we took in a Class C football game where the Chinook High “Sugarbeeters” (named for the former sugar beet plant there) drubbed the combined and formerly unbeaten Power-Dutton-Brady football team.
On the way back from the battlefield we stopped in Havre for some of Nalivka’s famous pizza and the MSU-Northern-Carroll football game that we left after the Saints had built up a more than 30 point lead after the first quarter.
We headed home via Beaver Creek county park south of Havre in the Bear Paws and the Rocky Boy recreational area and Rocky Boy itself.
I’ve long been interested in the story of the Nez Perce, the tribe that had helped Lewis and Clark and who were rewarded by being driven off their ancestral homelands in Oregon, Idaho and Washington. They fought back and were chased by the U.S. Army, engaging the army in a series of skirmishes with the final one being in the Bear Paws as the Nez Perce tried to escape to nearby Canada.
It was here that an exhausted Chief Joseph surrendered and made a famous speech that he would, “fight no more forever.”
That final battle is remembered each year during the first weekend in October and Nez Perce descendants of the warriors gather, tell stories, pass the pipe and dine together on the battleground.
The weather was stunningly beautiful Saturday, unlike the actual battle when it was snowy and cold.
Ceremonial horses rode around the circle gathered.
Katie and I toured the battlefield, touched by Nez Perce desperation in flight and fight.
It is a solemn, lovely place in bald foothills in sight of Bear Paw peaks.
I was struck by the irony that the Indians displayed evidence of their own service in the U.S. military. Many wore hats signifying their branch of service. The pipe circle was restricted to veterans.
Those participating were openly proud of their warrior tradition carried on from their unfortunate ancestors.
I was surprised by their lack of bitterness about how the Nez Perce and other Indian tribes were treated by the U.S. government.
The battlefield is justifiably a national park.
I will return often to remember this piece of local history.
Fishing on the lake at Beaver Creek County Park

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