After the Civil War, several Union generals went west to subdue and remove Indians, notably in the 1876-77 campaigns in Montana.
"Battles throughout the Northern Rockies and Northern Plains within those months were fateful for both United States expansion and the lives of thousands of American Indians," according to the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, which is co-sponsoring a program at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Missoula.
Tate Jones, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History (RMMMH) at Fort Missoula, will give the talk, entitled "Blue Coats Under the Big Sky." It is being held on the front lawn of the museum.
Subjects include George Armstrong Custer, Gettysburg veteran and Big Hole battle commander Col. John Gibbon (photo), Fort Missoula founder Capt. Charles Rawn, New England Civil War volunteer and later U.S. Army Commander in Chief General Nelson Miles, and Army of the Potomac field commander Gen. Oliver O. Howard.
After the Civil War, Howard headed the Freedman's Bureau for assistance to freed slaves and engaged in action against the “non-treaty” Nez Perce in 1877.
Jones told the Picket that the generals came out of the Civil War "determined there would be one central government" and an end to Western conflicts.
Howard, Jones said, had a somewhat humanitarian, but patriarchal view of the Native Americans. According to Jones, Gibbon was a competent workaday soldier, and "Custer got all the press but Miles did most of the work."
Miles played a major role in the Indian Wars and intercepted Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce in 1877. The campaign of scouring the West of Indians effectively ended with the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. Miles was not directly involved with that incident and criticized the commander.
Generals out West had much more local autonomy then under the Union command structure during the Civil War, said Jones. Soldiers from Fort Missoula participated in the 1877 campaign.
The national historic trail follows the 1,170 mile route of the 1877 war and flight of the Nez Perce.
• More details on the program