120 Appaloosa riders retrace the Nez Perce trail

2014-07-25T17:45:00Z 2014-07-26T21:32:04Z 120 Appaloosa riders retrace the Nez Perce trailBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Taprisha Seifert, a storyteller from New Forest, England, will return home with a few new stories — stories she often tells to English children inside the comfortable confines of a tepee.

As a member of a group of 120 riders and their Appaloosa mounts, Seifert participated in this week’s 100-mile leg of the Chief Joseph Trail Ride, which concluded Friday a few miles north of Laurel. The ride, which traverses about 100 miles each year and is sponsored by the Appaloosa Horse Club, commemorates the 1,300-mile flight taken in 1877 by about 600 nontreaty Nez Perce fleeing the U.S. Army from their reservation in Oregon’s Wallowa Valley near Enterprise.

The trip took them through Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The Nez Perce were trying to flee to the safety of Canada, but didn’t quite make it, said Steve Taylor, chief executive officer of the Appaloosa Horse Club, who participated in the ride.

The Nez Perce bred Appaloosas, horses known for their endurance. The breed’s name comes from the Palouse River in northern Idaho.

The trail ride, which takes 13 years to complete, will conclude in two years in the Bear Paw Mountains near Havre, the spot where the army finally caught up with the Nez Perce. In 2017, it’ll resume from its beginning point in eastern Oregon.

“Native American culture is very important in England,” Seifert said, seated alongside Jackie Taylor, a retired third-grade teacher and an enrolled member of the Nez Perce Tribe who lives in Lapwai, Idaho. “Native Americans are environmentalists, and so people in England want to learn from them.”

Seifert joked that there’s one story her Nez Perce friends still haven’t shared with her. “How did the raccoon get its stripes? No one will tell me,” she said with a laugh.

Taylor promised to relate that story later, and said that the more she learns along the ride, the more meaningful it becomes to her.

“As I travel, I hear German and Spanish-speaking people all speaking their own language, but our language is almost lost,” she said. “They call it the Nez Perce War, but it wasn’t a war. At Bear Paw, they killed a woman and her baby.”

Mike Howard’s great-great-great uncle was Gen. Oliver O. Howard, the officer ordered to pursue Chief Joseph. Howard, 83, is retired from the United States Secret Service.

“General Howard was a friend of Chief Joseph, but the army told him to catch up with him or they’d take away his star, and he was a good soldier,” Howard said.

Howard was on his 39th trail ride, but he’s a relative newcomer compared to the couple he was visiting Friday afternoon, a day of rest after four hard days along the trail, which began in Clark, Wyo.

Anne Mischel, 87, of Amity, Ore., has been on all 50 trail rides, 47 of them as a rider. Her husband, Jim, 89, took most of the photographs in a handsome coffee table book written by George Hatley, “Riding the Nez Perce War Trail Twice.”

Anne Mischel said the ride “gets in your blood, because of all the camaraderie. These are friends you only get to see once a year.”

Asked if she misses riding her Appaloosa along the trail — she’s now relegated to a support role in a vehicle — she replied, “You bet I miss it. Pretty near every time they go out, I start crying.”

Another trio — Seymour Young Dog, an Oglala Sioux and retired electrical engineer; Lannis Bergsgaard, a retired banker from Crookston, Minn.; and Christy Wood, who trains horses and writes books from her home in Three Rivers, Calif. — spoke of honoring the Nez Perce spirit as they take to the trail every year.

“Don’t let this blond hair fool you — my heart is as red as his is,” Wood said, giving Young Dog a hug. “People ask me what the trail ride is like, and I tell them it’s a cruise on horseback.”

For Young Dog, the ride is one of remembering a string of broken promises.

“We are asking the government to live up to its treaty obligations,” Young Dog said. “You said you would do this — now do it.”

Young Dog, whose ancestors include both Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, offers up a daily blessing for the riders in the Sioux language.

“Seymour is our spiritual guide,” Bergsgaard explained.

Wood said she’s dressed up in Indian regalia to participate three times in the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif. The Appaloosas are attentive and calm when she’s aboard dressed in her costume, she said.

“I think those horses know their heritage,” she said.

Laurel Russell, a cook working for Chef Norman Shaw in a specially designed trailer, knows one thing about the 120 riders — they appreciate a quality meal and the cooking crew’s attention to detail after riding in the hot sun for 25 miles or more.

“They appreciate us, and we work our butts off for them,” said Russell, a livestock care manager from Prineville, Ore. “Every day they give Norman a standing ovation.”

Russell and her colleagues rise at 3 a.m. to cook breakfast and distribute sack lunches, then break camp to set up at the next stop, where they get to work preparing dishes like Cajun pork chops, chicken marsala and sweet chili catfish. One evening, Russell hand-decorated every slice of cheesecake specifically for each participant.

“Variety is the key,” she said, a sentiment shared by Wood, who was in her 11th year of the ride — two installments from the complete 1,300 mile circuit. This week’s ride was the 50th in club history, a ride history that dates back to 1965.

“I like the terrain, and I like the challenge of riding in difficult terrain,” Wood said. “And I really like that these guys are sympathizers” to Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce people he led.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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