The Nez Perce have played a pivotal role in the history of the Northwest. The War of 1877 was such a defining event for the tribe that Idaho Public Television producer John Crancer and Montana Public Television producer Dennis Aig say they felt a strong pull to do a program about the conflict.

In 1995, Crancer was working at the IPTV studios on the University of Idaho campus in Moscow.The location provided access and exposure to both tribal members and the archives of the Nez Perce National Historic Park at Spalding, Idaho, less than an hour away by car. While considering the development of a program about the historic event, Crancer learned that Aig, who is also a professor at Montana State University, had already begun work on a similar project. The story would be from the perspective of the Nez Perce oral tradition.

The two producers first proposed a short feature, which focused on the final encounter of the war, the Bear Paw Battle in northern Montana. The ten-minute piece was included in a Wisconsin Public Television special called AMERICA'S BATTLEGROUNDS, which has aired on public television stations nationwide.

"We felt the project would be a good way to do some preliminary research and get the ball rolling on what we hoped would be a much longer and in-depth documentary," Crancer says.

Pacific Mountain Network responded with partial funding for the longer documentary. Additional grants from the Idaho Humanities Council, the Montana Arts Council, the Montana Committee for the Humanities and the Idaho Public Television Foundation enabled production to get underway.

Diane Miles, Otis Halfmoon, Soy Redthunder, the late Joe Redthunder and other Nez Perce who had made significant contributions to the BATTLEGROUNDS production also agreed to assist with SACRED JOURNEY OF THE NEZ PERCE. Several academic advisors were added to the team, including professors Alan Marshall and Steven Evans of Lewis Clark State College, Lewiston; William Swaggerty of the University of Idaho; Michael Sexson of Montana State University, Bozeman; and independent scholar Cheryl Wilfong.

Historic photographs were acquired from the libraries at the University of Washington, Seattle; Washington State University, Pullman; University of Idaho, Moscow; Museum of North Idaho, Coeur d'Alene; Idaho Historical Society, Boise; Montana Historical Society, Helena; Blaine County Museum, Hailey; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and Nez Perce National Historical Park, Spalding.

The staff of the National Historical Park was especially cooperative, and Nez Perce tribal members Diane Miles and Otis Halfmoon are both National Park employees.

"They not only provided invaluable assistance with archives and research, they also helped us make contacts with tribal members who were willing to share their feelings about the history of their people, and in particular the period of the 1877 War," IPTV's Crancer said.

"As the format of the program took shape, it was decided that it should be the Nez Perce themselves who would tell their own story, and that the television program should be put together in an oral history style. Various tribal members and descendants of those who participated in the war would each fill in particular parts of the story."

The sheer logistics of videotaping the various battle sites and other locations associated with the Nez Perce history presented major challenges. The Nez Perce homelands covered parts of three states _ northeastern Oregon, southeastern Washington, and northern Idaho. The multiple battles and skirmishes of the War were fought along a route covering more than 1,600 miles through Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. After the final battle, some Nez Perce escaped into Canada. Joseph and other Nez Perce eventually were exiled to Colville, Wash.

Video shoots were scheduled around various other Idaho and Montana Public Television productions and responsibilities, eventually covering much of what is now known as the Nez Perce National Historic trail. To add a contemporary element and a positive view of a story that too often ends with the tragic losses of the war, crews shot scenes of root gathering, language classes and dancing. Crews also attended Nez Perce annual gatherings at White Bird, Big Hole and Bear Paw to honor those who fought in the war, and traveled to Canada to attend a special reunion of Nez Perce living there.

Narrator and host Hattie Kauffman was another key element of this production. Because this was a Nez Perce program, it was important to have a Nez Perce host. Kauffman, a national CBS news anchor, and a Nez Perce formerly of Grangeville, agreed to participate despite the challenges of network constraints, limited budget, and her own busy schedule.