I have recently returned from riding the 6th leg — Darby to Big Hole National Monument, Montana — of the Chief Joseph Trail Ride. The Chief Joe is a consecutive 13 year ride [100 miles each year for a total of 1300 miles] that retraces the route of the Nez Perce flight from the US calvary in the late 1800’s and is sponsored by the Appaloosa Horse Association. It originates in Joseph, Oregon and ends in Bear Paw Meadow, Montana just 40 miles shy of the Canadian border.
I was introduced to this ride by my friend and horse trainer, Christy Wood, six years ago when she started her first 100 miles. For the next three years I would see her photos, hear the stories and become more informed as to the history of the Nez Perce Indians and their horses. The Appaloosa is the breed of the Nez Perce so this ride only allows registered Appaloosas.
My first trip was the 4th leg, two years ago, over the Lolo pass. It challenged and changed me and was an experience I will never forget. I came home, as one friend said “completely expanded.”
It is awe-inspiring country and a challenging trail — one cannot help but think about those 800 or so Nez Perce who rode and traveled with 2000 Appaloosa horses. It must have been a sight as they went through towns that gave them safe passage.
This year was particularly emotional as we rode into the Big Hole National Monument. Seymour Young Dog, an Oglala Sioux [who is on his 16th year of the ride] sat on the hill above us and sang us onto this sacred ground. It was a profound experience for which I am very grateful. That Friday afternoon, Nez Perce Elders from Lapwai, Idaho officiated a moving ceremony that presented their young riders and honored students, the trail riders, veterans and international guests.
Touring the Monument was also something that I will not forget. To walk among the tepee structures and see the river winding through the valley and then look over to the hill where the 2000 horses grazed that morning…all left me very solemn. It is a battlefield, yes, and sacred ground.
It is an honor and priviledge to ride this trail and I am humbled by the history of the Nez Perce and the Nez Perce who ride with us. I have learned many things and have met many lovely people on this ride.
This ride also helps to raise money for the Chief Joseph Foundation, which promotes Nez Perce cultural preservation, community pride, and community healing through activities primarily centered around the Appaloosa horse.
Clearly this ride is huge [this year almost 180 riders] and so a huge thank you to the Appaloosa Horse Association, the ranchers who let us ride and camp on their properties, the US Forest Service, the National Park Service, the town of Darby, the cook and camp crews, the picket line crew, the trail guides [including the Doc, the Vet, his assistant and the farrier], the potable water [showers!] and portable toilets in camp.
Many many thanks to Seymour Young Dog, Bonnie Ewing and the Foundation’s young riders, the Nez Perce Elders, the guest lecturers from the Nez Perce tribe, the Confederate Tribes of Kootenai/Flathead/Salish, Diana Mallickan, the National Park Sevice and the Nez Perce National Historic Trail Museum.
A heartfelt thank you to Christy, Stacy, and the lovely friends who I have reconnected with and made on this ride! [Tatiana and Bridget, you were greatly missed!]
If you are at all interested, there are a number of great books you can read. [Yellow Wolf: His Own Story / LV McWhorter; Dreamers, On the Trail of the Nez Perce / Martin Stadius; I Will Fight No More Forever — Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War / Merrill D. Beal; The Last Indian War — The Nez Perce Story / Elliot West]
Below are a few photos…
Assembly Camp picket line…
A Tuesday that started out as a 25 mile ride…ended up as a 30.9!
I think we have about 4 more miles to go…
Through lodgepole forest and lupine covered ground…
One of the few times Sierra and I are in front of Christy and Dollar!
Entering Big Hole National Monument.
Big Hole Battlefield.
Hill where the horses were that morning…
Big Hole camp picket line.
Stacy, me and Christy last night on the road home!
more photos can be seen at the Appaloosa Horse Association Blog.