Nez Perce Military Campaign

Nez Perce War, Frank Leslie's Newspaper, 1877

Nez Perce War, Frank Leslie’s Newspaper, 1877

The Nez Perce Military Campaign occurred in 1877 when the southern branch of the Nez Perce, led by Chief Joseph, refused to give up their ancestral lands on the OregonIdaho border and move to a reservation.

When negotiations broke down, and several Nez Perce warriors killed settlers in early 1877, the 1st Cavalry was sent to compel them to come into the reservation. Chief Joseph resisted and undertook an epic retreat of some 1,600 miles through Idaho, Yellowstone Park, and Montana.


Revealing remarkable skill as a tactician, Chief Joseph engaged in 11 separate commands of the Army in 13 battles and skirmishes in 11 weeks. His braves demonstrated exceptional discipline in numerous engagements, especially those on the Clearwater River on July 11, in Big Hole Basin on August 9-12, and in the Bear Paw Mountains, where he surrendered with the remnants of his band to Colonel Nelson Miles on October 4, 1877.

Nez Perce Chief Joseph

Nez Perce Chief Joseph

Major General O.O. Howard, commander of the Department of the Columbia, and Colonel John Gibbon also played a prominent part in the pursuit of Joseph, which, by the end of September 1877, had involved elements of the 1st, 2d, 5th, and 7th Cavalry, the 5th Infantry, and the 4th Artillery.


Compiled & edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated January 2023.

Also See:

Battles and Massacres of the Indian Wars

Chief Joseph – Leader of the Nez Perce

Indian War List and Timeline

Nez Perce – A Hard Fight For Their Homeland

Nez Perce National Historic Trail

Nez Perce War

Source: U.S. Army Center of Military History