"Death of Wahlitits"

  24" x 36" Oil on Canvas

In mid-August of 1877 the Nez Perce, led by a War Chief named Looking Glass, encamped in Montana on a spot by the Big Hole River.  They thought that because they has crossed the Bitterroot Mountains and had entered Montana that their quarrel with Idaho Territory and the US Government was behind them. It was to be a costly error in judgment.  

Early the next morning, just as the coming daylight vaguely lit the eastern horizon and most of the camp was asleep, the US Army under Colonel John Gibbon, aided by civilian volunteers out of Missoula and surrounding areas, attacked the village.  An old man who was riding  across the river to check on some horses was the first causality.

 

Wahlitits was one of the young warriors who had precipitated the hostilities in Idaho by being party to the murder of a man whom they believed had routinely cheated the Nez Perce.  At the first sounds of gunfire, Wahlitits grabbed his carbine and ran toward the attacking soldiers.  He sought modest shelter behind a small log and began firing at the soldiers.  But he was soon mortally wounded by a bullet through his throat.  His wife, also wounded and following behind, grabbed up his weapon and killed the soldier who had shot her husband. 

 

She was then immediately shot and killed, falling across the body of Wahlitits.  Somehow, during the next two days, the Nez Perce rallied from the attack and mounted a counter-attack, driving the soldiers into the woods of the nearby hillside.  By holding them pinned down on the slope with sharpshooting snipers the ill-equipped warriors bought enough time for the people to pack up and escape to the South.

 

This painting hangs in the visitors center of the Big Hole National Battlefield.

 

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