No one is sure exactly what route the Nez Perce managed to take, back in 1877, to elude the U.S. Army as they fled to Canada.
The hunt was on this week for clues about where the exact escape path lies.
Billings Gazette reporter Martin Kidston followed a group hoping to find route:
“We want to figure out how the Nez Perce got off that mountain and crossed into Montana,” said Jim Evans, director of the Nez Perce Trail Foundation. “We want to figure out where the route is so we can preserve and protect it for future generations.”
Led by archaeologists from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, a team of volunteers set out recently to carefully walk several miles of terrain near the Absaroka Front, hoping to find artifacts that might pinpoint the route taken by the Nez Perce during their 1877 flight.
The teams walked transects along the Montana-Wyoming border, covering several miles of ground in rattlesnake country. They turned up a stone cairn built to mark the border by an earlier geological survey, along with a few rusting artifacts likely stemming from mid-20th century agricultural activities.
Three different maps show different routes the Nez Perce may have taken.
On this trip, organized in part to celebrate National Trails Day, volunteer crews didn’t find any evidence indicating the passage of the Nez Perce or of the 7th Cavalry.
But in a landscape this large and varied, results don’t come overnight. Crume plans to continue the investigation, working with private landowners who farm along the Clarks Fork.
“The cavalry may not have been right behind them,” said Crume. “Different bands may have gone different ways. There’s also a good chance they were down there in the bottoms, as close to the river as they could get.”