Wilfred and Bessie Scott: Battle at Big Hole

Wilfred and Bessie Scott (Nez Perce) talk about military action against the Nez Perce that killed several children, including Bessie’s then-five-year-old great-aunt. 3:22.

The 1877 Nez Perce War occurred when the refused to be forced to move to an Idaho reservation, because the removal violated the June 11, 1855, Treaty with the Nez Perce. The treaty had reserved 7.5 million acres of land in the Washington and Oregon Territories for the Nez Perce. The Battle of Big Hole occurred in August 1877. The US Army, led by Col. John Gibbons attacked a Nez Perce encampment in Wisdom, MT. The band was on their way to join Sitting Bull in Canada. Sixty to ninety Nez Perce were killed.


Wilfred Scott (or Scotty) is a respected Nez Perce elder and veteran. Wilfred Scott became involved in the early days of Confluence Project. At that time he was on the Nez Perce Tribal Council (NPTC). Scotty grew up in Montana and was in the Navy between 1951-72. He is ½ Nez Perce on his father’s side. He became interested in Nez Perce culture as a young man and later became involved in tribal politics. He is still involved in fishing issues through CRITFC. Scotty was instrumental in initiating the Red Heart Band Memorial ceremony at Fort Vancouver, that honors and mourns the loss of the Nez Perce who were imprisoned there.

Bessie is his high school sweetheart and wife. She speaks Nez Perce and is part of the staff for the Nez Perce Language program keeping the language and culture alive.


“This one particular family, they heard the shots, then they realized what was going on. The soldiers are here. And the woman told her husband, ‘Take your rifle, your shells and go join the braves, fight the soldiers. So he grabbed his rifle, his bandolier, and took off, he told her, ‘You get the baby and you go down that way and hide in the willows.’ And he took off, out the teepee he went. She started looking all over, looking for the baby, and she couldn’t find the baby! Took all the blankets, thought maybe she was hiding. Finally she turned around, she went out the teepee door, and she saw that little girl, walking towards the soldiers, and she could see the red from the gun flashes, from the rifles. And she could hear them hitting the teepee and wizzing. She went running over to pick up her daughter — before she got there the little girl was shot. Shot in the hip. Down she went. Her mother went over and picked her up. Turned around, and started running, and then she was shot. The mother was shot in the back and the bullet came out her breast. And she went down to the willows, took her baby with her. Just like she was, no blankets, no nothing. Just right out of bed they got. And she was in the river, that’s where they had to get to hide under the bank, where the willows were leaning over the bank, she was trying to hide under there. And there were other children, and she was gathering these kids. Trying to keep them warm and quiet. And she had seen a little boy laying on the sandbar right across from them. He was laying there, and he was dead. These are the things that she experienced and witnessed. Two days after that particular battle, they drove the soldiers out and they broke camp and were heading south. And two days later that little girl died. That woman and her husband went on through the rest of the war, all the way from there to the battle at Bear Paw, both of them went into Canada. They stayed in with Sitting Bull, and later on they came back home. And years later there’s a little five year old girl, and she used to play with this old lady. And this girl, she was only five years old, but how kids are, she’d jump on her bed, hide under her blankets and tease her, you know how you tease them, just playing. In 1938, that old lady passed away. She was 98 years old and that little girl was five years old. And that little five year old girl was her, my wife. That old lady that was wounded and lost a little girl was her great-grandmother.”


Bruce Hampton, “Battle of the Big Hole,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 44:1 (1994):
Jerome A. Greene, Nez Perce Summer, 1877: the U.S. Army and the Nee-Me-Poo Crisis (Helena: Montana Historical Society Press, 2000), 374, online at nps.gov/parkhistory/ online_books/nepe/greene/appb.htm.

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