With the acquisition of the horse in the early 1700's the Nez Perce Indians began traveling the Lolo Trail from their homes in Idaho to the buffalo hunting grounds of western Montana. Their friends, the Flatheads, lived in the upper Lochsa River. Other tribes, such as the Blackfeet, at times used the trail as a warpath to Nez Perce villages and an opportunity to seize horses and hostages.
On September 9th, 1805, the Lewis & Clark Expedition reached Lolo Creek after leaving their dugouts at the headwaters of the Missouri and securing horses from the Shoshonis. The party now included Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, twenty-six hand-picked army troops, Clark’s slave York, interpreters Charbon-neau and Sacajawea and their infant son Baptiste, and two of Sacajawea’s fellow Shoshonis. The explorers rested for a day and a half on a small flat they called “Traveler’s Rest” on the south side of Lolo Creek directly across from The Lolo Creek Steakhouse. Nine months later, on June 30th and July 1st and 2nd, 1806, they again camped here, delighted to have survived a blustery winter on the Pacific coast and to have once again successfully crossed the rugged Bitterroots.
In the same month, 71 years later, more than seven hundred anti-treaty Nez Perce crossed the mountains on the Lolo Trail following several skirmishes and two major battles with the U.S. Army in Idaho. Believing they were not at war with the whites in Montana, the Nez Perce hoped to find refuge in familiar haunts on the east side of the Bitterroots. A little over four miles west of The Lolo Creek Steak House, advance scouts discovered Captain Charles Rawn and a contingent of soldiers and citizen volunteers manning a hastily constructed brush and log barricade across the trail. Rawn had been dispatched from Fort Missoula with the mission of stopping the Indians until General Howard could attack them from the rear.