Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, also known as Wyoming Highway 296, is a beautiful drive through the Absaroka Mountains and Dead Indian Pass. It’s about a 46-mile drive in northern Park County, and is certainly worth a cruise for a weekend trip. However, this highway is more than just some scenic road, it has a great story behind its name.
Fleeing several hundred U.S. army soldiers led by General Howard during the Nez Perce War in 1877, Chief Joseph bravely led 700 men, women, and children on this road through Yellowstone Park and into the Absaroka Mountains. General Samuel D. Sturgis and 600 cavalries attempted to intercept the Nez Perce at the base of the Absaroka Mountains, where they believed the Indians would break out into the Great Plains. Fortunately for the Nez Perce, their scouts went ahead and spotted the soldiers from about six miles away.
Chief Joseph cleverly fooled the army by running their horses in a circle to kick up dust and mislead Sturgis that they were heading south, while they headed north through thick forest into the Dead Indian Gulch. The bait work brilliantly. Once Sturgis and his soldiers took the bait rode south to Shoshone, Chief Joseph and his tribe came back out of the Gulch and on to the Great Plains, unchallenged.
While they cleverly won about a 50-mile head start, Sturgis eventually caught on and quickly turned around. He joined forces with General Howard’s army, and together they followed Chief Joseph’s tracks. The U.S. army finally cornered and defeated the Nez Perce at the Battle of Bear Paw about a month later.
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