Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Lessons from Montana’s Big Hole Battlefield


Star trails intended to create feeling of eternal life at Chief Joseph Battlefield.

©Bert Gildart: Several nights ago I sat outside the framework of a tipi located at Montana’s Big Hole Battlefield. The tipi is thought to be located at the exact site where Chief Joseph slept one night while attempting to elude an army initially lead by General Howard.

Howard was attempting to force this band of Nez Perce onto a reservation site that was not to the tribe’s liking. Now, 150 years later I was attempting to create an image that might symbolize the pathos of a band of men and women doing nothing more than attempting to maintain their freedom.


I sat there for four hours with my tripod mounted camera pointed at the North Star, and as I lounged in the darkness I could hear all sorts of night sounds that suggested peace and a certain degree of security.  How that contrasted with the horror that followed in the predawn light as Howard’s soldiers fired on the sleeping camp, directing their bullets low so as to intentionally kill women and children as well as the men.

They were guilty of absolutely no crime at all, other then that they wanted freedom.

The government’s cause was Manifest Destiny and the maintenance of the comfort of settlers who had bullied their way into the traditional country of the Nez Perce. These settlers had discovered gold and wanted no conflict from the Indians herding their horses or tending their crops, and though the Nez Perce regrouped that horrible morning and sent Howard and his soldiers retreating, the ultimate story for the Nez Perce, which ended some 2,000 miles later, was a tragic one.

Because Joseph was a good man (probably a brilliant man), respected by all, I had to question the power of a Divine Being looking after all of his children.  Is the ultimate test of right determined by the might of a people and the power of their leaders at a given moment in time?


What lessons do we take with us from this chapter in American history, and how do we apply them to contemporary times?

In Chief Joseph’s Own Story, he asks in his narration about the conditions that prompted his tribe to rebel.

Who was first to blame? They (referring to individuals in his tribe) had been insulted a thousand times; their fathers and brothers had been killed; their mothers and wives had been disgraced; they had been driven to madness by the whiskey sold to them by the white men… they were homeless and desperate.


Does Joseph and his band wander in new more peaceful land? We will never know.

Ultimately Joseph capitulated to General Miles in Montana’s Bear Paw Mountains. Miles. Miles was sympathetic to the Nez Perce and assured Joseph that he would send his tribe back to the land where his father’s bones rested. However, the U.S. government did not honor the Miles’s promise of 1877.

In his narration Joseph said he would never have surrendered if “I had not believed Miles.” Instead, Joseph and his band were shipped to Fort Keogh and then to a swampland located about four miles from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  None of these new areas resembled their homeland in the Lapwai Country or present day Idaho and 21 died from various diseases.

Joseph died September 24, 1904 and physicians of the time said the most probable cause was “a broken heart”; and as I sat beneath the various constellations of the night and the millions of stars creating the mystery of the Milky Way, my hopes went out to this good man.

Though I’m inclined to believe that compassion is a product of the here and now, I nevertheless hoped that Joseph and his band ultimately found the freedom they so sought somewhere in the cosmos that appeared so dramatic from the skeletal lodges located now at the Big Hole Battlefield.

I am not sure what lessons we take from the Big Hole, and suspect I never will.

NOTE: Venturing onto the Battlefield at night is illegal unless one has a special permit.  The area is also a burial ground and sensitivity and respect for various local restrictions is paramount.



*Lilies In Glacier National Park



2 Responses to “Lessons from Montana’s Big Hole Battlefield”

  1. Bill D. Says:

    You’re at your finest here, Bert, with your writing and images that passionately convey the story of Chief Joseph and the plight of Nez Perce.

    Thank you for asking what the lessons may be and how they might relate to contemporary times.

    Chief Joseph was an American… a Native American. Today, Jose Antonio Vargas considers himself to be an American… “I just don’t have the right papers,” he says.

    Read and hear Jose’s moving story:


  2. Bert Gildart Says:

    Always delighted to hear from you, Bill, and always value your thoughts.