Horses and riders made history this year as they retraced the final leg of the route taken by Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe as they attempted to escape the US Cavalry in 1877.
More than 250 riders, drivers and spectators from across the nation and around the world took part in last month’s 52nd Annual Chief Joseph Trail Ride, organized by the Appaloosa Horse Club (ApHC).
The Chief Joseph Trail Ride is a progressive trail ride tracing, as closely as possible, the route taken by the Nez Perce as they fled the cavalry in 1877. A different segment of the monumental journey is covered each year, with the ride broken into 13 annual five-day segments of 100 miles or more. The entire ride is 1350 miles.
This year’s ride marked the fourth time the ride reached the final leg at Bear Paw Battlefield near Chinook, Montana where the historic Battle of the Bear Paw took place. The first sequence was completed in 1977; it takes 13 years to reach the end of the trail.
It is a historic pilgrimage for the Nez Perce and those who love the appaloosa breed that was developed by the tribe.
In 1877, about 750 Nez Perce and a small allied band of the Palouse tribe fled toward freedom, heading north in an attempt to reach asylum with the Lakota band led by Sitting Bull, who had fled to Canada in 1876. For over three months, the Nez Perce outmaneuvered and battled their pursuers across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
General Howard, leading the opposing cavalry, was impressed with the skill with which the Nez Perce fought, using advance and rear guards, skirmish lines, and field fortifications. Finally, after a devastating five-day battle during freezing weather conditions with no food or blankets, with the major war leaders dead, Joseph formally surrendered in the Bear Paw Mountains of the Montana Territory, less than 40 miles (60km) south of Canada in a place close to the present-day Chinook, in Blaine County.
This year, the Appaloosa Horse Club worked closely with the Nez Perce Tribe to coordinate a variety of special presentations and ceremonies in respect of this significant event where after five days of battle with the US Calvary, Chief Joseph spoke the everlasting words: “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
Riders from 20 US states as well as Germany, Britain and Norway attended this year’s event. Some participants, such as Anne Mischel, have attended all 52 years of the ride.
Participating in this ride is a remarkable experience that has been described as moving and unforgettable.
Riders battled the elements this year in their historic ride, because an extreme amount of rain prohibited riders from leaving Monday’s campsite until Wednesday.
Because of this riders and horses were hauled to Wednesday’s campsite, skipping Tuesday’s campsite altogether, which was a huge logistical undertaking.
Those taking part had the opportunity to enjoy two wagon wheel rides from Monday’s camp just north of the James Kipp Recreation Area.
Extreme conditions prevented them from undertaking that portion of the trail because of safety concerns.
Images below © Kristen Reiter, courtesy of the Appaloosa Horse Club, from the 52nd annual Chief Joseph Ride.