For its first assignment, the fledgling Fort Missoula was called upon to halt the progress of about 700 Nez Perce and their 2000 horses.
Commanding Officer, Post of Missoula Montana:
Sir: AII reports seem to indicate that what are left of the hostile Indians, with their stock and plunder, have escaped by the Lolo Trail, and may reach you before this dispatch.... if you simply bother them and keep them back until I can close in, their destruction or surrender will be sure.
Gen. O.O. Howard
July 25, 1877
The commanding officer of Fort Missoula, Captain Charles C. Rawn, responded as best he could with five officers, thirty enlisted men, and one hundred and fifty volunteers.
The people of Missoula also formed volunteer associations for the purpose of protecting themselves. The excitement increasing, I on the 25th of July with every available man that could be spared, proceeded to Lo-Lo, entrenched my command in what I considered the most defensible and least easily flanked part of the cañon....
Capt. Charles C. Rawn
September 30, 1877
Fifteen Flathead warriors had accompanied Rawn to act as intermediaries. To emphasize their neutrality, they were without arms or ammunition. But the Nez Perce were dismayed to see their friends on the side of the soldiers.
I saw Salish Indians at the soldiers' fort. They seemed quite a bunch. AII had white cloths tied on arm and head. This, so as not to shoot each other. So the soldiers would know they were not Nez Perces. They were helping the soldiers. Always friends before, we now got no help from them, the Flatheads. No help any time.
On the 27th of July, I had a talk with Chiefs Joseph, White Bird and Looking Class, who proposed if allowed to pass unmolested, to march peaceably thru the Bitter-root valley, but I refused to allow them to pass unless they complied with my stipulations as to the surrender of their arms.... We separated without agreement...
Capt. C.C. Rawn
September 30, 1877
The Nez Perce were absolutely insistent in their position: they would not lay down their arms.
Rainbow called out loudly from where he sat his bay war horse, "Do not tell me to lay down the gun! We did not want this war! ... General Howard kindled war when he spoke the rifle in the peace council! We answered with the rifle and that answer stands to this sun! Some of my people have been killed, and I will kill some of the enemies and then I shall die in the battle!'
We must go to buffalo country. If we are not allowed to go peaceably we shall do the best we can. If the officer wishes to build corrals for the Nez Perces he may, but they will not hold us back. We are not horses. The country is large. I think we are smart as he is and know the mountains and road as well.
Chief Looking Glass
The Nez Perce did not accept Rawn's proposal that they lay down their arms. Instead Looking Glass made a proposition of his own which was not assented to by Rawn and his thirty troops but to which the one hundred and fifty volunteers acquiesced.
Looking Glass promised the volunteers that if they would let his followers pass unmolested he would see to it that the Indians should shed no blood in the Bitter Root Valley. This disgraceful proposition was accepted by the volunteers....
Although accepting the proposal of peace was considered disgraceful by the troops who were two weeks behind the Nez Perce, the offer sounded good to the people who lived in the Bitterroot Valley.
Exspected an atack from the Indians. They like sane cible falows found a way around us and let us alone.
John P. Martens
July 28, 1877
While a few warriors climbed among rocks and fired down on the soldier fort the rest of the Indians with our horse herd struck to the left of main trail. I could see the soldiers from the Mountainside where we traveled. It was no trouble, not dangerous, to pass those soldiers.
Nobody was hurt, but the truth was, some of our citizens were pretty badly scared.
The spot now known as Fort Fizzle