The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story

The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story

The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story

The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story


This newest volume in Oxford's acclaimed Pivotal Moments series offers an unforgettable portrait of the Nez Perce War of 1877, the last great Indian conflict in American history. It was, as Elliott West shows, a tale of courage and ingenuity, of desperate struggle and shattered hope, of short-sighted government action and a doomed flight to freedom.

To tell the story, West begins with the early history of the Nez Perce and their years of friendly relations with white settlers. In an initial treaty, the Nez Perce were promised a large part of their ancestral homeland, but the discovery of gold led to a stampede of settlement within the Nez Perce land. Numerous injustices at the hands of the US government combined with the settlers' invasion to provoke this most accomodating of tribes to war. West offers a riveting account of what came next: the harrowing flight of 800 Nez Perce, including many women, children and elderly, across 1500 miles of mountainous and difficult terrain. He gives a full reckoning of the campaigns and battles--and the unexpected turns, brilliant stratagems, and grand heroism that occurred along the way. And he brings to life the complex characters from both sides of the conflict, including cavalrymen, officers, politicians, and--at the center of it all--the Nez Perce themselves (the Nimiipuu, "true people"). The book sheds light on the war's legacy, including the near sainthood that was bestowed upon Chief Joseph, whose speech of surrender, "I will fight no more forever," became as celebrated as the Gettysburg Address.

Based on a rich cache of historical documents, from government and military records to contemporary interviews and newspaper reports, The Last Indian War offers a searing portrait of a moment when the American identity--who was and who was not a citizen--was being forged.


In late July 1877, about eight hundred Nez Perce Indians made their way in a long column up a steep and twisty trail into the Bitterroot Range of the northern Rocky Mountains. The column included what had been several villages—warriors, women, children, and elderly—as well as more than two thousand horses, dozens of dogs, and all that they would need to start their lives over. Just where that might be, or how long they might be there, they didn’t know.

They were leaving home, eastward out of central Idaho toward Montana. Already they had fought two battles and several skirmishes with the U. S. army, and several more times over the next two months they would confront hundreds of troops pulled together from much of the northwestern quadrant of the nation. Their running would take the Nez Perces three times over the continental divide, through arid valleys and beds of lava, past geyser basins, along great rivers, and across the rolling, grassy expanse of the northern Great Plains. Their final goal was asylum beyond what they called the “medicine line,” the international boundary with Canada. Some would make it. Most would be caught barely forty miles shy of the border.

All told, they would travel roughly fifteen hundred miles. For an equivalent, imagine that after the Civil War the residents of a small town in Culpeper County, Virginia, feeling alienated and threatened, decided to pick up and head west. Imagine them led by Confederate veterans, chased by Union troops, crossing the Appalachians and pushing on beyond the Mississippi, driving large herds of livestock and pulling wagonloads of wherewithal. To cover the same distance the Nez Perces did, the Virginians will have to go as far as Denver.

That remarkable odyssey alone makes the Nez Perce War one of the most compelling stories of nineteenth-century western history. It was . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.