Leaving Yellowstone National Park from the northeast gate we drive through Cooke City and find Crazy Creek campground in the Shoshone National Forest. A remote and scenic campground about half full when we arrive in the late afternoon, we are thrilled to get a campsite with a view of the surrounding mountains.
Randy and Pam from Kentucky are volunteer hosts for the campground and walk over to greet us as we begin to set up camp. After hearing reports of grizzly bear attacks closer to Yellowstone, we are relieved to hear that no bears have been sighted in this area. They show us how to be bear-safe in camp.
While we set up camp, the gentle sound of crazy creek provides a soothing background as the sky darkens, and the sun sets over Index Peak. Jay builds a fire and we retire early with the comforting flickering glow of the fire lulling us to sleep.
We wake to sunshine after a chilly night-time low of 38 degrees… burrrr.
Jay sets up a breakfast area in the sun and we dine on cereal with nuts and fresh blueberries, warming our almond milk with hot water to ease the chill. As we sit munching our warm cereal we observe first one, then two, then three little ground squirrels basking in the sun on the rocks and then tunneling through the grass looking for seed. We are fascinated as we witness one pull over a stalk of grass to munch on the dry seed. Sketching ensues, while Jay does yoga in the warmth of the rising sun.
Soon we are packing up and leaving this idyllic site. But more beauty is in store as we travel along the Beartooth Hwy and connect with the Chief Joseph Scenic Hwy. This is Beartooth and Absaroka mountain country. We descend to the distant Wyoming plains through steep switchbacks, surrounded by stunningly scenic mountains. From Crazy Creek, we venture east along the beautiful Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (Rt 296) to the Cody area.
The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway is named after the Native American chief of the Nez Perce Tribe. In 1855, the Nez Perce signed a treaty establishing a reservation with the understanding that they would retain control over most of their territory. But in 1860, gold was discovered on their land creating pressure from Euro-Americans to change the reservation boundaries. In 1877, in what came to be known as the Battle of the Big Hole, the US cavalry attacked the Nez Perce tribe as they camped on the North Fork of the Big Hole River, Montana. The Calvary were trying to force the tribe onto a reservation so that gold miners and ranchers could take the Nez Perce lands.
After the attack, Chief Joseph led his people on an arduous 1,170 mile trek that came to be known as the Nez Perce Trail. Their journey wound south into Idaho, east through Yellowstone, and then north toward the Canadian border. Though Chief Joseph and 800 members of his tribe evaded capture, the exhausted tribe eventually surrendered after the six-day Battle of the Bear Paw in north-eastern Montana. The tribe was stopped just 40 miles from the Canadian border.
In his speech of surrender, Chief Joseph expressed dignity and defeat with his famous words, “Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” The Nez Perce tribe was forced onto reservations in Oklahoma and Washington despite promises to allow them back on their lands. Yellowstone’s Nez Perce Creek is named for this valiant attempt at freedom.
I Will Fight No More Forever: Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War by Merrill D. Beal is a vivid account of the flight of the Nez Perce as they struggled to survive, and includes unpublished letters and diaries by eyewitnesses, and interviews with decedents.