If you are looking for a pleasant, yet close, Sunday drive or summer evening trip, check out the Canyon Creek Skirmish Site.
Located about 7 miles north of Laurel, a stone marker notes the general area where Col. Samuel Sturgis and the Seventh and First Cavalry bumped into Nez Perce fleeing their Idaho reservation. The marker is part of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, which twists 1,100 miles through Western Montana, down into Wyoming's northwest corner and back up into northern Montana.
A bullet-riddled bronze and black plaque is fastened on to a slab of burnt red sandstone at the site. The Yellowstone Historical Society placed the marker at the intersection of Buffalo Trail and Lipp Road in 1958. To the south is a bluff atop which Calamity Jane was said to have cached her horses. So it is now appropriately named Horse Cache Butte.
The marker details the general facts of the Sept. 13, 1877, battle that injured 11 soldiers, killed three and left at least three Nez Perce dead.
The Nez Perce, hoping to move into Canada to avoid U.S. troops, crossed the Yellowstone River east of Laurel and burned a stage station and killed two men before moving on. When the cavalry caught up to the Indians in the Canyon Creek country, warriors hiding in the rocks started shooting. The soldiers dismounted and advanced on foot. The fight, which went into the night, gave the main band of Nez Perce time to flee north across the plains.
No war hoops are heard now, only the trill of a meadowlark atop a power pole. There are no blue coats except those worn by brilliantly colored bluebirds. But it is an interesting place to pause, if only for a minute or two, and contemplate the incredible journey that the Nez Perce took, and their relentless pursuit by the U.S. Cavalry.
Road bikers will be happy to know that Buffalo Trail, from Laurel to the intersection with Lipp Road, is all new blacktop, great for pedaling on.
To reach the historic site from Laurel, take 1st Avenue north out of town, past the cemetery until it turns into Buffalo Trail Road, Route 532 North. It's about 7 more miles to the marker.
You can loop back to Billings by taking Lipp Road east 3 miles to 88th Street. Turn right, south, onto 88th and travel 1 mile to King Avenue West. Turn left, east, onto King Avenue and follow it into town.
The Friends of Canyon Creek Inc. are planning to build an interpretive shelter at the site. For more information, or to help out, contact Milt Wester, publisher of the Laurel Outlook and president of the group.
For more information on the battle of Canyon Creek, log on to the Yellowstone Genealogy Forum at www.rootsweb.com/~mtygf/county/nezperce.htm. More condensed information can be found at The Real America Tour Guide to the American Rockies site at www.rmi-realamerica.com/nez_perce.asp
Out and About is a weekly column written by Brett French. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 657-1387.