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Mother Earth smiled upon the Chief Joseph Trail Ride participants during the 50th anniversary of the historic trail ride, held July 20 through 26. The starting point for the 2014 ride was Powell, Wyo. 

Each summer, my horse and I travel from our Three Rivers home a round trip of 2,800 miles to take part in this historic trek. I am on my 11th year of the 13 years it takes to complete the nearly 1,300-mile route. 

Ride history— People came from all over the United States and from overseas to honor the Nez Perce and the rich history of the Appaloosa horse. The ride started with a handful of dedicated Appaloosa enthusiasts in 1964 who followed the Trail of Tears, created when Chief Joseph led his people away, about 2,900 in all with about 2,000 Appaloosa horses, from their homeland in eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Valley.  

Today, the Nez Perce National Historic Trail follows the route taken by this large band of the Nez Perce tribe in 1877 during their attempt to flee the U.S. Cavalry and get to Canada to avoid being forced onto a reservation. The 1,170-mile trail was created in 1986 as part of the National Trails System Act and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. 

The trail traverses through portions of the U.S. states of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana and connects 38 separate sites across these four states that commemorate significant events that took place as the Nez Perce tried to escape capture by the U.S. Cavalry. The sites are part of the National Park Service’s Nez Perce National Historical Park, managed overall by the National Park Service, with some sites managed by local and state-affiliated organizations.

Chief Joseph and his followers, starving and exhausted, surrendered in Montana’s Bear Paw Mountains on October 5, 1877, just 40 miles away from the Canadian border and safety. 

The Chief Joseph Trail Ride is on its fourth 13-year rotation of going the 1,300 miles from Joseph, Ore., through Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. It travels 100 miles each year. 

Ride 2014— It is like a family reunion as camp crew, riders, and drivers gather at the assembly camp. Jim and Anne Mischel of Amity, Ore., have participated in the ride the entire 50 years. This year, Anne was a scout and Jim was the official photographer. 

Mike Howard of McKinney, Texas, joined us again after being retired as our head scout for many years. Mike is the great-great-nephew of O.O. Howard, who was the general in charge of the pursuit of Chief Joseph.

The 50th anniversary of the ride had some special highlights as one property owner opened his pasture gate that had been locked for over 50 years and allowed participants access to the property. 

Another property owner welcomed us back. His daughter was eight years old when she remembers the ride coming through their property. The daughter welcomed riders again this year, along with her dad, and she is currently  expecting the next generation of family rancher. When the ride comes back through in another 13 years, her child will see the spotted horses and hear the laughter and dancing once again.

On the trail— The ride challenges horse and rider as we make our own hoof prints through history. With each mile we ride we are reminded how the Nez Perce desired  to be free and live in peace on their homeland with their beautiful and hardy Appaloosa horses. The 1,300 miles is bittersweet. Participants are required to ride a registered Appaloosa. We have had treacherous moments on the sides of canyons, some with 4,500 foot drops; slogged through bogs; and descended hills so steep that I was lying parallel on my horses back. But through it all, the Appaloosas stay calm and carry us through. I truly believe that they sense their heritage. 

It takes me three 12-hour days of driving each year to reach the start point of the ride. This year, I was interviewed by the Billings Gazette and asked why I would put myself through all this hard work.  

“Don’t let this blonde hair fool you,” I told the reporter. “My heart is as red as the Nez Perce!”

 

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