Before entering the landscape of the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana, Joseph’s people survived fierce fighting at Canyon Creek and left the battlefield with General Howard far behind. They were unaware, however, of a new threat coming toward them from the southeast. Moving rapidly were about 520 officers, soldiers, scouts and civilians under the command of Colonel Nelson A. Miles.
The Nez Perce made camp on September 29, 1877 along Snake Creek in the Bear Paws. They now numbered about 700 people, with more than 200 warriors. The weather turned cold, but as they made a place to sleep they felt somewhat secure protected by the rolling hills and their belief that Howard’s soldiers had given up the chase at last. Knowing Canada was only about 40 miles north, they began at last to feel as if they would reach safety. But unknown to the sleeping Nez Perce, Miles' Cheyenne and Lakota scouts were searching frantically for their camp. Many of these scouts had fought against Miles only a year earlier during the Sioux War of 1876.
The Nez Perce Village Is Found
Early the next morning, scouts Young Two Moon, Hump and Starving Elk under command of Louis Shambo crept close to the ground, being careful not to expose themselves as they followed a few Nez Perce back to the village. The scouts carefully peered over the brow of a hill and for the first time spotted the Nez Perce pony herd. They did not see the village, sited on lower ground, but they had found the horses and that was enough. They rushed back to tell Miles they had at last found the elusive Nez Perce.
Like Custer before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Miles worried that the Nez Perce, which the army had tried to drive into a corner for 1,500 miles, might slip away as they had so many times before, only this time across the border into Canada.
The Battle of Bear Paw Begins
Miles placed the 2nd and 7th Cavalry on the front line from left to right with the 5th Infantry (mounted on horseback) covering the rear. With the village at last in view the scouts veered left toward