Group Helps To Preserve, Promote Battlefields


Holding a unique place in our nation’s collective memory, the Nez Perce War of 1877 was unlike any other Indian war in American frontier history.  Chief Joseph and his people displayed remarkable skill and tenacity as they fought the U.S. Army over a distance of about 1,500 miles through what are now four states, including the (then) newly-established Yellowstone National Park. The courageous and almost chivalrous manner in which the Nez Perce conducted their side of the war created an unusual sympathy for their cause by a large portion of the American public even during the time of the war, a sympathy that was expressed as well by many of the army pursuers.

The final destination for the Nez Perce was Canada, where they hoped to find shelter with Sitting Bull’s band of Hunkpapa Lakota.  During their long journey, they fought at least three major battles with the army, the sites of which have been designated by the National Park Service as important components of the Nez Perce National Historical Park.

In order to help preserve and promote these significant, historic sites, a group of private citizens, public servants and historians came together in late 2003 to form Friends of Bear Paw, Big Hole and Canton Creek Battlefields, a non-profit association that operates under a Memorandum of Agreement with the National Park Service.  The Friends group supports NPS management programs and objectives relating to these battle sites through monetary support, membership activities, and other events. The organization is made up of members from across the United States from Maryland to California, with many members and officers here in Montana.

Friends President Robert Luppi of California tells of his own personal interest in the group:

“As a descendent of two Medal of Honor winners at the Big Hole, I have long held a keen interest in the battle. At the ceremonies held during the 125th anniversary of the battle, I was asked by the battlefield’s superintendent, Jon James, if I was interested in assisting in the formation of a Friends group, directed to not only the Big Hole, but also to other Nez Perce Montana Battlefield sites at Canyon Creek and Bear Paw.  I felt honored to have been invited to help.”

Luppi goes on to relate the purpose and plans of the Friends group. “Our organization was formed as a support group to these battle sites.  It is our plan to promote the history of these battles, with an eye toward balance and diversity in the views and stories told about them and their participants. Besides education, we hope to assist both financially and perhaps through some volunteer labor, in the maintenance and improvement of the facilities and grounds of these historic battlefields.” 

Tami DeGrosky, current Superintendent of the three battlefields, outlines the growth of the Nez Perce National Historic Park and how it ties in to the Friends group. “In 1992, the Bear Paw, Big Hole, Canyon Creek and Camas Meadows battle sites became the Montana Unit of the Nez Perce National Historical Park (NEPE).  The park preserves and interprets not only the Nez Perce War of 1877, but also the rich and varied culture of the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) people. 

“Over the last couple of years, the Friends and the National Park Service worked to complete the Canyon Creek interpretive shelter exhibits and are currently working on long term planning for resource preservation and education programs at the Bear Paw Battlefield.”

Ranger Robert West of the Bear Paw Battlefield commented on another project of the group that is just now coming to completion. “This past spring and summer, the Friends group acquired two park benches; one for Big Hole and the other for Bear Paw. Benches may sound simple, but they will be appreciated by those who are visiting the parks and walking the interpretive trails. We will place two plaques on each bench, each inscribed with a quote from an important figure of the opposing sides of the Nez Perce War.”

Both Superintendent DeGrosky and Ranger West work closely with the board of the Friends group, and personify the partnership between the group and the National Park Service.

The benches were acquired with funds that were obtained with the first memberships in the group. Bob Inman of Chinook serves as the Treasurer for the Friends group and expressed gratitude for the founding members of the organization. “We want to thank our first time members who joined our organization – your donations and dues provided us the funds that enabled the Friends to succeed in its first endeavor.”

Currently, the group is engaged in acquiring the funds for a Traveler’s Information System (TIS), which is a radio transmitter allowing drivers on Highway 2 in Blaine County to tune in and listen to radio messages about the park. Several local and area firms have made substantial donations to the completion of this system and the city of Chinook has pledged matching funds for the project. Inman explains the generosity that is making this possible:

“[The project is receiving] $7656.00 from the Community Transportation Enhancement Program (CTEP), which is matched in the amount of $6000 from Friends of the Bear Paw, Big Hole and Canyon Creek Battlefields. The CTEP funds are administered by Craig Erickson of Bear Paw Development for the City of Chinook.

“The Friends group would like to thank the following: Devon Energy ($1500), Burlington Northern Santa Fe ($1000) The Blaine County Community Foundation ($1000) and the Western Bank Charitable Endowment ($1000). We hope to raise the balance ($1500) soon. We can’t thank these organizations enough for their support of this project. Their contributions will help to truly put the Bear Paw Battlefield on the map.”

Luppi made clear that without membership, the group would be dead in the water. “The most important asset to help us grow and reach our goals is our membership. By becoming a member of this Friends organization, you show that you care about the historical places that make-up part of the Nez Perce story.” Luppi encourages anyone who is interested in the Nez Perce War and Montana History to look into the group and consider joining. “Membership can be as simple as $25; we also give “corporate partner” status to those organizations and firms that donate time, equipment, services and funds to the completion of our goals.”

For more information on the Friends group, you can call Bob Inman at 357.2227 or visit the group’s website at


Group Helps To Preserve, Promote Battlefields

Group Helps To Preserve, Promote Battlefields