Bob Peterson and NP take a break on the Chief Joseph Appaloosa Trail Ride.

Bob Peterson, of Sonoita, completed a journey of a lifetime with his appaloosa horse, Awesome Imagination AKA NP (which stands for Nez Perce Warrior).

NP was his mount for the final 900 miles of a 1,350-mile ride over the rugged mountains of the northwest. Starting in Washington state, over the next several years they climbed mountains, traversed canyons and forded rivers, ending in Montana just south of the Canadian border.

This pilgrimage began in 2006 on a rented horse, carrying on the tradition started by his aunt Evelyn Jones 54 years ago. Jones, an avid appaloosa horse breeder and enthusiast, and other concerned citizens founded the Chief Joseph Appaloosa Trail Ride. The organizers mapped out the trail, riding many miles and eventually put together this yearly event. Jones rode each ride for the first 33 years, well into her eighties.

The ride was started to commemorate a historic event. The trail traces the pilgrimage of the Nez Perce tribe as they escaped capture and internment by the U.S. Cavalry. This forced removal was in violation of the 1855 Treaty of Walla Walla, which had granted the tribe 7.5 million acres of their ancestral lands and the right to hunt and fish in lands ceded to the government.

After the treaty had been signed, however, gold was discovered, and in 1877 the government decided to ‘back out of the deal.’ Troops were sent to remove the Nez Perce from these lands and place them on a reservation. The Nez Perce, primarily led by Chief Joseph, fought to retain some of the lands before retreating to Canada to avoid any more conflict. The Cavalry pursued and tried to capture and/or annihilate the tribe.

Several battles were initiated as the Nez Perce fought their way to Canada with over 500 noncombatants (women and children) and only 250 warriors.

The war ended after a final five-day battle fought alongside Snake Creek at the base of Montana’s Bears Paw Mountains only 40 miles from the Canadian border. A majority of the surviving Nez Perce, represented by Chief Joseph of the Wallowa band of Nez Perce, surrendered to Brigadier Generals Oliver Otis Howard and Nelson A. Miles. The 418
Nez Perce who surrendered, including women and children, were taken prisoner and sent by train to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It was at the final surrender of the Nez Perce when Chief Joseph gave his famous “I will fight no more forever”speech.

The Chief Joseph Appaloosa Trail Ride is a ride like no other. It is a grueling test through rugged mountains, canyons and rivers starting in Wallaowa Lake, Washington, passing on into Idaho, across the northwestern tip of Wyoming and finally ending in Montana, just 40 miles from the Canadian border. The Nez Perce were horsemen noted for developing the appaloosa horse into a tough, rugged war horse. How they initially got the original horses is up for debate, but the Nez Perce claim that they were gifted to them by the Creator.

The ride is now sponsored by the Appaloosa Horse Club who provides the food and entertainment at each campsite. The number of riders at each event range from 100 to 400 depending on the year. The ride lasts five days, covering approximately 20-25 miles per day. Each year a different 100-mile segment of the trail is covered. The goal for each rider is to complete the 1350 miles in 13 years. All participants must ride an appaloosa and each ride also includes about 30 members of the Nez Perce Tribe. The evening camps include dances, music and food. The Nez Perce also hold ceremonies to retell the stories of their ancestors.

Peterson stated that he started out the first four years on horses that were available for rent but became so enthralled in the message and the magic of the history that he wanted to complete the rest of the ride on his own horse. This led to the purchase of NP as a weanling, whom he raised and trained himself.

Peterson completed his goal of riding the entire trail this year with the help of his wife Jeanne who was the truck/trailer driver, navigating the rig through the arduous switchbacks on the mountain roads from campsite to campsite while Peterson and
NP were navigating the mountain trails, a harrowing experience she does not want to repeat.

All have arrived safely back with memories of a lifetime, pictures and a handsome plaque presented to Peterson for his accomplishment. NP has returned to his little herd of horses, no worse for the wear after mountains climbed and rivers crossed and is back to trail riding around their little ranch in the hills of Sonoita.