Aubrey L. Haines,
An Elusive Victory:
The Battle of the Big Hole

(Falcon, 1999)

An Elusive Victory is a different kind of book about the Nez Perce Flight for Freedom. Instead of dealing with the entire "war," the author focuses on only one of the battles and puts the incident under a microscope.

This battle occurred on Aug. 9, 1877 when the 7th U.S. Infantry and citizen volunteers attacked the Nez Perce in Big Hole Valley in western Montana Territory. They caught the Nez Perce sleeping and inflicted heavy casualties and losses on the natives, though they suffered equally. The battle lasted two days and ended with no clear victory for either side. It simply reinforced the Nez Perces' determination to find freedom from the pursuing military!

This incident is said to be the "best-documented battle of the Indian Wars." I find it amazing that with all this documentation, three-fourths of the natives shall remain nameless. I wonder if the author bothered to speak with any of the Nez Perce at the Lapwai reservation. I have.

Perhaps I began the book with a pre-conceived notion that this was to be just one more account written from the white man's perspective -- which to date has been one that tries to minimize the egg on the face of our government. I came to this conclusion on the third page of the introduction when I read: "Among a number of compiled works used, the following were found to be the most useful: ... I Will Fight No More Forever, by Merrill D. Beal (1963)." I have a low opinion of that book due to omission of facts and just plain slanted writing. You will also find that there was a controversy following the book's release that resulted in the production of another book, which was not mentioned by Haines. With Haines' extensive credentials, I am certain that this is not an oversight. Obviously, this was a willful omission. That indicates a purposeful slant.

As for the narrative, the author spins a good tale. The action is strong and the writing brisk. You are propelled forward through the pages. The heavy use of quotation makes the characters somehow more "personal" and "alive." It is a well-written book and quite enjoyable.

This book includes a prologue and epilogue written by Jack R. Williams, several maps and illustrations, and a listing of the persons present at the battle broken down into groups of Nez Perce, Army officers, soldiers and civilians. Several photographs accompany this listing. The listing for the Nez Perce states that less than one quarter of those present are known.

My advice is for you to enjoy the war story without placing absolute credence in anything that you read here. Do your own referencing and check the "facts" against several other sources without placing blind faith in this manuscript simply because the author is highly credentialed.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 30 August 2003

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