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Billings community members celebrate improvements at Canyon Creek Battlefield

Posted at 6:11 PM, Jun 15, 2024

BILLINGS — It's been 147 years since the United States Army attempted to forcibly relocate the Nez Perce people onto a reservation in Northern Idaho. Community members met at Canyon Creek Battlefield in West Billings Saturday to acknowledge the Nez Perce War and recognize improvements that have been made at the historical site.

Canyon Creek Battlefield is one of 38 Nez Perce National Historical Park affiliated sites across the country. The battlefield tells part of the story of the 1,300 mile trek made by Chief Joseph and his followers. The site was in complete disarray up until 2021, but has been cleaned up thanks to Billings resident Dave Wanzenreid and The Friends of Canyon Creek Battlefield.

"It was trashed. There was a couch that was sitting over here that somebody had dumped off, thinking it was a dumping place," said Steve Thede, the superintendent of Nez Perce National Historical Park.

Thede traveled from Idaho to join Mayor Bill Cole and other community members for the occasion. He said the site looks very different from when he first visited.

Superintendent of Nez Perce National Park, Steve Thede

"It's been re-roofed. The parking lots been fixed up. The place where you park your car and bump up against, those were falling and all torn apart. There was a cattle guard here that was kind of, kind of not, anyway. It's gone, 'cuz we don't need one here. And as you can see, the place has been taken care of," Thede said.

Mayor Bill Cole shared some history on the significance of the Nez Perce War, emphasizing the importance of improving sites like Canyon Creek Battlefield.

"I think that if we invest in the accurate curation and the faithful curation of sites like this, and we take care of them, that they'll be here for future generations and for our local economy," said Cole.

The Friends of Canyon Creek Battlefield also collaborated with the Nez Perce National Historical Park, the Montana Department of Transportation, and Cole to install new information signs along the approach of the battlefield.

"Being able to look at it from the other guys point of view and sort of walk in the other person's shoes is something we're able to do now, and it adds so much to the richness of this site and this story," Thede added.

Yellowstone County Museum also recently unveiled a display of the Canyon Creek Battle.