Missing Section Of Nez Perce Trail Holds Little-Known Part Of History

Sep 11, 2014

Ruth Wapato of Spokane is the granddaughter of one of the members of the Nez Perce Tribe who fought alongside Chief Joseph in 1877.
Credit Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

The story most people learn about the Nez Perce Tribe and the capture of Chief Joseph doesn't tell the whole history, and now the federal government and Northwest Tribes are trying to fix that with a new historic site.

You may have heard about the Nez Perce’s epic 1,200-mile flight through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana in 1877. The U.S. Army caught up with them before they could reach Canada. And in history books and documentaries, this is how the story usually ends:

“With freedom just 42 miles away, the Nez Perce were forced to surrender,” a Discovery Channel documentary says.

But in fact, for about a third of the Nez Perce, it didn’t end there. Nearly 300 people escaped the battlefield and did cross into Canada.

Ruth Wapato’s grandfather was one of them. Wapato is part of a group that’s been working to get the federal government to recognize the final leg in the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

“They weren’t all off together, some up front, some way behind," says Wapato. "Their moccasins torn and worn out, you know. And it was cold -- in October. But they were on their way.”

Some stayed and their descendants remain in Canada. Wapato’s grandfather returned to the U.S. and was arrested and sent to Oklahoma.

The Forest Service is holding a series of public meetings in Oregon, Idaho and Washington through early October. They’re asking for public comment on adding an extra section and making other updates to the trail.

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