Iconic statue commemorates the flight of the Nez Perce

Anniversary of Canyon Creek Battle is Friday
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph

The Chief Joseph statue in Fireman’s Park in the heart of downtown Laurel commemorates the flight of the Nez Perce Indians from Oregon, through Yellowstone Park, into Montana to the Laurel area where the Canyon Creek Battle was fought 7 miles north of town.

For generations, the Nez Perce Indians used a series of routes known as the Nee-Mee-Poo Trail as a travel-way to visit, hunt, and trade with other tribes. In 1877, it became a trail of sadness.

On Sept. 13, 1877, the U.S. Cavalry, under the command of Col. Samuel Sturgis, attempted to capture five bands of non-treaty Nez Perce Indians who had fled their homeland in eastern Washington and Idaho, rather than be forced onto a reservation there. In a military confrontation that lasted most of the day, Sturgis and his men failed to overcome the Nez Perce who used expert military maneuvers to escape the U.S. army and retreat into the safety of the coulees and draws of Canyon Creek north of present day Laurel.

The Friends of Canyon Creek, a Laurel organization, working with county, state, and federal officials, built a wayside interpretive site in the Canyon Creek battle area in 2003. The site is on the corner of Lipp Road and Buffalo Trail Road, approximately 7 miles north of Laurel and is a shelter with exhibits describing the events that occurred there 142 years ago.

The Nez Perce continued northward to the Canadian border near the Bearpaw Mountains where the majority of the tribe, starving and defeated, finally surrendered under Chief Joseph. Several tribal members continued into Canada where their descendants still live today.

When Chief Joseph surren- dered to his enemy, he delivered one of the great speeches in American history.

“I am tired of fighting,” he said. “Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ He who led the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

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