Big Hole National Battlefield: A Second Look

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On this wintery day I return to Big Hole National Battlefield, one of the most solemn and sacred places in Big Sky Country, out of a request from a MTSU graduate student who is trying to come to grips with western battlefields and their interpretation.  In 2013 I posted about the new visitor center museum exhibits at Big Hole, lauding them for taking the “whole story” approach that we have always attempted to take with our work in Tennessee through the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area.

Beaverhead Co, Big Hole Battlefield

The Big Hole Battlefield exhibits, how at least 5 years old, do the whole story approach well, as you can see from the panel above where voices from the past and present give you the “straight talk” of the Nez Perce perspective.

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One of the most telling quotes on how the military viewed the original residents of the northern Rockies is not that of Sherman–damning enough–but the one above by General O.O. Howard, best known in the American South for his determination and leadership of the Freedman’s Bureau and its attempt to secure civil rights for the newly emancipated enslaved of the nation.

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The exhibit panels, together with a new set of exterior interpretive panels scattered across the battlefield, do an excellent job of allowing visitors to explore, reflect, and decide for themselves.  The more comprehensive approach to telling the story is nothing really new.  NPS historian Robert Utley called for it decades ago, and Marc Blackburn recently reviewed efforts across the country in his excellent book, Interpreting American Military History (2016).  For the Big Hole itself, all scholars can benefit from Helen A. Keremedjiev’s ethnographic study of this park and other military sites in Montana in his now decade old master’s thesis at the University of Montana.

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Of course Big Hole Battlefield is now part of a larger thematic effort, the Nez Perce Historical Park, to mark and tell the story of Chief Joseph and his attempt to find a safe haven in land that once the tribe had dominated.  These few images, which, as many of you regular readers know, can be enlarged and viewed intently, only start the exploration–you really have to go to the Big Hole to understand what the events of 1877 meant to the new residents flooding the country and those who had lived and thrived there for centuries.


Montana’s Civil War Veterans: Dillon’s Mountain View Cemetery

As a series of feature articles in the Great Falls Tribune have emphasized for the past 3 years, Montana does have a Civil War story, just one that has been forgotten, even neglected over the decades.  To be sure like most people exploring the Montana landscape, I too had trouble seeing those elements–outside of General Thomas Meagher’s commanding statue in front of the State Capitol in Helena.  But as I have been back in the Big Sky Country the last three years, I have found many places that help tell the state’s story in the years that transformed the United States into the country we know today.  It is more than the the Civil War Sesquicentennial that drove my greater attention–in Tennessee I am the co-chair of the state’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, and here in the Volunteer State it is often all about the Civil War.

To mark Montana’s Civil War landscape, and to honor the many veterans who have served their communities, their state, and their country in this week before Veteran’s Day, I want to draw your attention to a truly exceptional place–the Mountain View Cemetery in Dillon, Montana.


The cemetery contains a wealth of grave markers and statuary from the late 19th and into the 20th centuries.  The view from the cemetery is truly inspiring as well–it is among the best maintained community cemeteries in western Montana.



What is most striking about Mountain View Cemetery is its attention to veterans and the number of former Union soldiers buried within the cemetery.  The standardized U.S. Army shield grave marker, with the soldier’s name and his unit listed, is found in abundance at Mountain View throughout the older parts of the cemetery.


Here is just a sampling of the Civil War veterans memorialized at the cemetery:

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The most remarkable tribute to the veterans at Mountain View Cemetery comes from the mid-20th century:  a somber tree-lined path to veterans from more recent wars, heralded by a statue calling for freedom, honor, and justice, values that drove those federal soldiers in the Civil War and values that our veterans today take into fields of conflict across the

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the world.  Thank you all veterans for your service to our nation.