Old Missoula

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Catlin: Part 4, Section C - Nez Perce Treaty - 1855 - Isaac Stevens - Treaty Parley and Lawyer - The Nez Perce 'Solon' - Yellow Serpent and Kamiakin - Speaking Hard - Yellow Serpent - Speak Straight - Old Looking Glass - "My People, What Have You Done?"

E-mail Print PDF


In June, 1855, the Nez Perces were included in a series of Indian treaties negotiated by Washington Territorial Governor, Isaac I. Stevens. The town of Stevensville, Mt. is named for him. He made ten separate treaties with numerous Northwest tribes over a short period of thirteen months, from 1854 to 1856. The process is now referred to as “The Treaty Trail”.
(See - http://stories.washingtonhistory.org/treatytrail/ )

The Nez Perce Treaty was the seventh in this series, followed by the Hell Gate Treaty near Missoula, and then the Treaty with the Blackfeet near the mouth of the Judith River. By the time Stevens arrived at Walla Walla it is probable that the Columbia Plateau Indians were well informed of the travails of their brothers west of the Cascades.

A distinguished West Point graduate, Major Stevens resigned his army commission in March, 1853, and quickly assumed a threefold role as the first Washington Territorial Governor, Superintendent of Indian affairs, and leader of the Pacific railroad survey. The Stevens railroad survey would have a lasting impact on the region somewhat comparable to the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Stevens first entered the region in 1853, intent on locating the best route for a transcontinental railroad from Minnesota to Puget Sound. Departing from St. Paul in early June of 1853, he journeyed across the Territories staying above the 47th parallel, and arrived in Vancouver on the Columbia on November 19, 1853. His complement included 240 men: 11 officers, 76 soldiers - and a team of natural scientists, artists, a surgeon, teamsters, guides, hunters and interpreters. One detachment, commanded by Captain George B. McClellan, was dispatched to Vancouver on the West Coast where it traveled east, meeting with the main expedition in Northern Idaho. Ironically, Stevens would serve under General McClellan in the Civil War.

On June 12, while on the Sauk River in Minnesota, Stevens addressed his men regarding his expectations as they started their survey. Some would later refer to him as “little Napoleon”:

Assembling both officers and men to-day, I caused to be read camp regulations which I had prepared for the government of the party, and made a short address, in which I informed them that every man would be expected to look to the safety of his comrades; that all alike, whether soldier or civilian, would be expected to stand guard, and in case of difficulties, would be expected to meet them promptly. I exaggerated the difficulties which lay before us, and represented that the country through which they would pass was intersected by bogs, marshes, and deep morasses; that rivers were to be forded and bridged, mountains and valleys to be crossed; that the first 180 miles of the journey was reported to be through a continuous marsh, barely practicable, where every man would have to go through mud and water, and apply his shoulders to the wheel; that in ten days we would reach the Indian country, where heavy guard duty would have to be performed to protect property and preserve lives; and still further on we would probably be compelled to force our way through the country of the Blackfeet Indians, a tribe proverbially treacherous and warlike; and then the snows of the mountains would have to be overcome, and that every man would be expected to follow wherever he might be led; that no one would be sacrificed, nor would anyone be subjected to any risk, which I would not freely incur; and that whoever was not willing to co-operate with us had better at once retire. After these remarks the camp regulations were read by Mr. Kendall, and my views were cordially approved.” (See Stevens report in EXPLORATIONS AND SURVEYS FOR A RAILROAD ROUTE FROM THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER TO THE PACIFIC OCEAN, WAR DEPARTMENT – VOL XII, p. 42
http://international.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpcoop/moahtml/afk4383.html )


Stevens was known to be ambitious to a fault. In, Let Me Be Free: The Nez Perce Tragedy, author David Lavender asserted that Stevens’ ambitions led him to curry favor with President Pierce while Pierce was still a candidate. “Openly disobeying army regulations, he worked hard at helping his friend, Franklin Pierce win election as the dark-horse candidate for the Presidency of the United States.” (p. 142)

Rewarded with the Washington Territorial governorship, Stevens’ goals were now directed at exploring and developing the vast region that he would soon govern. A transcontinental railroad with its western terminus at Puget Sound - his bailiwick - was achievable and his survey could prove it. Thousands of new homesteaders - supported by the commercial arteries of a new railroad - were now a possibility, especially when backed by government funding.

Lavender stated, “Working yet again through President Pierce, the new governor had himself appointed superintendent of Indian affairs for Washington Territory. Normally, governors did not hold both jobs simultaneously, but Stevens, being Stevens, was determined to exert as much control as possible over what he envisioned as the new rush to the Northwest.”  (p. 143)

One impediment to opening a new railroad needed to be resolved as quickly as possible and Stevens had authority to do it - the Columbia plateau Indians needed to be brought under control.

Isolated geographically, the Nez Perces had generally avoided the conflicts that their neighbors to the west had suffered as whites poured into the Northwest. In 1843, Marcus Whitman, the soul saving Presbyterian minister, led the first real wagon train back to fertile Oregon and the Willamette valley. Whitman and fellow Presbyterian missionary, Henry Spalding, along with their wives, first arrived in Oregon in 1836 and they then quickly began converting Indians - Whitman near Walla Walla at Waiilatpu, and Spalding in the heart of Nez Perce country at Lapwai - Place of the Butterflies - along the Clearwater River.

Trained as a physician, Whitman had successfully treated fur trappers for cholera on his first journey through future Montana and Northern Idaho in 1835, and while he performed his duties as a missionary, he also treated the Indians as he could. His Indian charges recognized his talents, but the effect of a measles epidemic in 1847 caused them to suspect his motives when their children began dying rapidly, while whites survived. The epidemic was cited as the prime cause of the subsequent massacre of Whitman and his wife, Narcissa, along with twelve other white settlers, by an enraged group of Cayuse Indians in November 1847.

Henry Spalding, who narrowly escaped the Whitman massacre, had successfully introduced agriculture to the Nez Perces at Lapwai. He started an irrigation system, built a gristmill, sawmill, and blacksmith shop. His wife, Eliza, learned the Nez Perce language, published a small dictionary, and encouraged others to learn the language as well. Until the Whitman massacre, Spalding was able to convert a number of Nez Perces to Christianity. Three of these were especially important in the future of the Nez Perces.

One of Spalding’s first conversions, in 1838, was Old Joseph (Tuekakas), leader of the largest Nez Perce band - the Alpowas who lived in Wallowa Valley. Also, Timothy (Tamootsin), whose Alpowa band lived at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, and Lawyer (Hallalhotsoot) whose ‘upper’ band lived along the Clearwater River. Young Joseph, (Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt) was born in the Wallowa Valley in North Eastern Oregon in 1840. Initially, Old Joseph endorsed the Christian life and supported the Spalding’s mission to the point of moving nearby. When later faced with the effects of the ephemeral promises of the U.S. Government, he would renounce his Christian ties and move back to the Wallowa Valley.

In late May of 1855 Governor Stevens, along with Oregon superintendent of Indian affairs, Joel Palmer, met with an estimated 5,000 Columbia Plateau Indians at Mill Creek, in the Walla Walla valley not far from the old Whitman mission. He had already concluded four treaties with smaller tribes in western Washington. However, in February he had failed in making a treaty with seven small tribes at the Chehalis River Treaty Council. The council at Mill Creek was his first involving the Plateau Indians and they were represented in larger numbers than he had seen yet. A total of eighteen Shahaptian-speaking tribes would sign the treaties produced by this council.

The Nez Perces were the largest contingent and the friendliest. They had known whites for fifty years, beginning with Lewis and Clark. They were credited with saving the lives of these first intrepid travelers. Many of the Nez Perces had traveled well over a hundred miles to attend this council. They entered in a grand procession bearing a flag they had been given for their friendship in helping soldiers against the Cayuses after the Whitman massacre.


Hazard Stevens, Izaac’s  thirteen year old son, accompanied his father to Mill Creek and later wrote brilliantly about the Mill Creek council: (See – THE LIFE OF ISAAC INGALLS STEVENS, by his son HAZARD STEVENS, Vol. 2, pp. 30 – 60)

The council ground was situated on the right bank of Mill Creek, a tributary of the Walla Walla River, and about six miles above the site of the unfortunate Whitman Mission, in the midst of a wide fertile valley, bounded in the distance on either hand by high, bare, rolling hills, and extending, fan-shaped, far eastward to the Blue Mountains, whose lofty and wooded heights bounded and overlooked the plain. The valley was almost a perfect level, covered with the greatest profusion of waving bunch grass and flowers, amidst which grazed numerous bands of beautiful, sleek mustangs and herds of long-horned Spanish cattle belonging to the Indians... Now every foot of this rich valley is under cultivation, a dozen gristmills run their wheels by these streams, and the very treaty ground is the center of the thriving town of Walla Walla, with a population of six thousand souls.

Under the energetic hands of [James] Doty and C. P. Higgins [Emphasis added - a founder of Missoula], the packmaster, - a position corresponding to the chief mate on shipboard, or the orderly sergeant of a company of troops, - the camp was found pitched, and everything in readiness for the council...The scanty treating party of whites were now all assembled, and awaited the arrival of the Indians with interest, not unmixed with apprehension; for it seemed a bold and perilous step to meet so many brave and warlike Indians, many of whom were known to be disaffected and ready to provoke an outbreak, in the heart of Indian country, two hundred miles from the nearest settlement or military post, with such a mere handful. They numbered barely a hundred men, - the governor’s party of thirty-five, twelve with General Palmer, the military guard of forty-seven, two Catholic missionaries, and a few settlers.

The second day after reaching the valley Governor Stevens, learning that General Wool had just arrived at Vancouver, wrote him a letter urging the importance of occupying the Walla Walla valley with a strong military force, preferably of cavalry, pointing out the central location of the point, and its strategic advantages for protecting the emigrant road, the trails to the Missouri on the east, the Puget Sound of the west, and for controlling the disaffected Indians, particularly the Cuyuses and Snakes. This, like other sound and indeed necessary measures recommended by the governor, was ignored by the self-sufficient Wool and his officers, until they were obliged to adopt them from necessity.

[General John E. Wool was the military Commander of Department of Pacific, based in California. A veteran of the War of 1812, and second ranking officer in the U.S. Army, he had little tolerance for Governor Stevens. “By the time he reached California, Wool already held the opinion that the problems between Indians and whites were generally the fault of the whites.” (See - Historical Figures – Washington State Historical Society) http://stories.washingtonhistory.org/leschi/wool.htm ]

The Nez Perces, the first to arrive, came the next day, May 24, 2500 strong. Hearing of their approach, the commissioners drew up their little party on a knoll commanding a fine view of the unbroken level of the valley. The standard of the Nez Perces, the large American flag given them by officers engaged in the Cuyuse war, was sent forward and planted on a knoll. Soon their cavalcade came in sight, a thousand warriors mounted on fine horses and riding at a gallop, two abreast, naked to the breech-clout, their faces covered with white, red, and yellow paint in fanciful designs, and decked with plumes and feathers and trinkets fluttering in the sunshine. The ponies were even more gaudily arrayed, many of them selected for their singular color and markings, and many were painted in vivid colors contrasting with their natural skins, - crimson slashed in broad stripes across white, yellow or white against black and bay; and with their free and wild action, the thin buffalo line tied around the lower jaw, - the only bridle, almost invisible, - the naked riders, seated as though grown to their backs, presented the very picture of the fabled centaurs. Halting and forming a long line across the prairie, they again advanced at a gallop still nearer, then halted, while the head chief, Lawyer, and two other chiefs rode slowly forward to the knoll, dismounted and shook hands with the commissioners, and then took posts in the rear of them...

Hal-hal-tlos-sot or the Lawyer, the head chief of the Nez Perces, was an Indian solon in his efforts to improve the condition of his people. Without any advantages of birth of wealth, he made himself the first in his tribe, while yet in middle life, by his unrivaled wisdom and force of character. His first acts were directed against gambling, which was indulged in to great excess, and against polygamy. Finding, however, that his influence as head chief was insufficient to carry out his plans for the improvement of his people, he reorganized the government of his tribe, appointed an additional number of chiefs from the young men, and, having thus increased and strengthened his influence, was enabled to accomplish his reforms. He early perceived that the growing power of the whites, which threatened to swallow up all before it, could not be resisted by force, and in consequence all his efforts were directed to inducing the Indians to adopt the customs and civilization of the whites, and to preserve the unbroken friendship between the two races. From the effects of the wound received at the battle of Pierre’s Hole he was still suffering, and his right arm had been twice broken in a battle with a grizzly bear. Wise, enlightened, and magnanimous, the head chief, yet one of the poorest of his tribe, he stood head and shoulders above the other chiefs, whether in intellect, nobility of soul, or influence...


Two of the more famous chiefs who came prepared to argue with Stevens were Peopeomoxmox (Yellow Serpent) and Kamiakin. Their lives would forever change after the councils. Hazard Stevens continued:

The Cuyuses, Walla Wallas, and Umatillas next arrived, and went into camp without any parade or salutations on a stream on the other side of Mill Creek, and over a mile distant from the camp of the whites, from which the intervening fringes of trees completely hid them. The head chief of the Walla Wallas and Umatillas was Pu-Pu-mox-mox or Yellow Serpent, who held despotic sway over his own people, and great influence with neighboring tribes. He owned thousands of horses and cattle, and had amassed a large sum in specie, from trade with settlers and emigrants. Some years before one of his sons, a youth of promise, was murdered by a miner in California, and although he had always been on friendly terms with the whites, not even allowing his people to take part in the Cayuse war, it was believed that the outrage rankled his heart. He was well advanced in years, and somewhat childish and capricious in small things, but his form was as erect, his mind was firm, and his authority as unimpaired as ever...

The day after their arrival many of the Nez Perce chiefs came to see the commissioners, and after much friendly conversation were invited to dine. Governor Stevens and General Palmer presided at opposite ends of the long table, at which were seated some thirty chiefs, and, having heard of the enormous appetites of the Indians, piled the tin plates, as they were presented, to the brim. Again and again were the plates passed up for a fresh supply; the chiefs feasted and gorged like famished wolves...

During the morning an express was received from the Yellow Serpent. He sent word that the Cuyuses, Walla Wallas, and Yakimas would accept no provisions from the commissioners, but would bring their own, and proposed that the Young Chief, Lawyer, Kam-i-ah-kan [Yakima Chief], and himself, the head chiefs of the Cuyuses, Nez Perces, Yakimas, and Walla Wallas respectively, should do all the talking for the Indians at the council. The messenger would accept no tobacco for the chief, a very unfriendly sign...

Every effort was made by the other Indians to induce the Nez Perces to refuse provisions, but without avail. The latter took great pride in their unwavering friendship to the whites, and were fond of contrasting their course with that of the Cuyuses. Considerable jealousy sprung up between them in consequence...

Two of the priests, Father Chirouse, of the Walla Walla, and Pandosy, of the Yakima Mission, arrived for the purpose of attending the council. They reported that these Indians were generally well disposed towards the whites, with the exception of Kam-i-ah-kan. The latter said, referring to the proposed council: “If the governor speaks hard, I will speak hard, too.” Other Indians had said, “Kam-i-ah-kan will come with his young men with powder and ball.” They were opposed to selling their lands; and when Secretary Doty visited and invited them to council, Kam-i-ah-kan refused the presents offered him, saying that he “had never accepted anything from the whites, not even to the value of a grain of wheat, without paying for it, and that he did not wish to purchase the presents.” He was a man of fine presence and bearing, over six feet in height, well built and athletic. Governor Stevens said of him, “He is a peculiar man, reminding me of the panther and grizzly bear. His countenance has an extraordinary play, one moment in frowns, the next in smiles, flashing with light and black as Erebus the same instant. His pantomime is great, and his gesticulation much and characteristic. He talks mostly in his face, and with his hands and arms.”

Reports were flying about that these tribes had combined to resist a treaty, and fears were expressed that an attempt to open the council would be the signal for an outbreak.

The following day a body of four hundred mounted Indians, supposed to be Cuyuses and Walla Wallas, were observed approaching, armed and in full gala dress, and uttering their war-whoops like so many demons, and, after riding three times around the Nez Perce camp, they departed. Soon after the Young Chief, accompanied by his principal chiefs, rode into camp, and being invited to dismount, did so with evident reluctance, and shook hands in a very cold manner. They refused to smoke, and remained but a short time. “The haughty carriage of the chiefs,” remarks Governor Stevens in his journal, “and their manly character have, for the first time in my Indian experience, realized the descriptions of the writers of fiction.”

Garry, the head chief of the Spokanes, came, not to take part in the council, but as a spectator. When a boy he had been sent to the Red River settlements in Manitoba by Sir George Simpson, then the governor of the Hudson Bay Company, where he acquired a common-school English education. It being impractical to assemble so distant and widely scattered a tribe as the Spokanes in time for the council, Governor Stevens designed making a separate treaty with them later in the season on his return from the Missouri.

Father Menetrery, from the Catholic mission among the Pend Orielles, also arrived to attend the council, - a cultivated man, who spoke English fluently.

A member sent to invite the Palouses returned accompanied by only one of the chiefs, who reported that his people were indifferent to the matter, and would not come. A number of scattered and insignificant bands, who lived at different points on the Columbia, also arrived.

The following is from Governor Steven’s journal: -

“May 27, Sunday. There was service in the Nez Perce camp and in the Nez Perce language, Timothy being the preacher. The commissioners attended. The sermon was on the Ten Commandments. Timothy has a natural and graceful delivery, and his words were repeated by a prompter. The Nez Perces have evidently profited much from the labor of Mr. Spalding, who was with them ten years, and their whole deportment throughout the service was devout.”

The next day agent Bolon, with an interpreter, was sent to meet the Yakimas, who were thought to be near at hand. He soon returned, having met Kam-i-ah-kan and also the Yellow Serpent. The latter said that he was very sorry to hear that the chiefs and others in the commissioners’ camp had said that he was unfriendly to the whites, - that his heart was with the Cuyuses, whose hearts were bad. He had always been friendly to the whites, and was so now, and he would go to-day to see the commissioners, and ask why such things had been said of him. Accordingly, soon after Bolon’s return, Pu-pu-mox-mox, Kam-i-ah-kan, Ow-hi, and Skloom, the latter two being chiefs of the Yakimas, accompanied by a number of their braves, rode into camp. Dismounted, they shook hands in a friendly manner, and seating themselves under the arbor, indulged in a smoke, using their own tobacco exclusively, although other was offered them.

Governor Stevens addressed them, saying that he had important business to lay before them, and proposed to open the council the next day at noon. The Yellow Serpent replied that he wanted more than one interpreter at the council, that they might know they translated truly. Being assured on this point, and invited to designate an interpreter in whom he had confidence, he said, in a scornful manner, “I do not wish my boys running around the camp of the whites like these young men,” alluding to some young Nez Perces present and feeling quite at home. He added that he had only ridden over to see the commissioners, and soon withdrew his party.

In the morning the commissioners and Secretary Doty visited the Lawyer at his lodge, as, his wound having broken out afresh, [Lawyer was wounded at the Battle of Pierre's Hole - west of Teton Peaks - in 1832] he was unable to walk without great pain and difficulty. He exhibited and explained a map of his country, which he had drawn at Governor Stevens’ request. During the conference several chiefs came in, and suddenly one of them, U-u-san-male-e-can or Spotted Eagle, said: -“The Cuyuses want us to go to their camp and hold a council with them and Pu-pu-mox-mox. What are their hearts to us? Did we propose to hold a council with them, or ask for advice? Our hearts are Nez Perce hearts and we know them. We came here to hold a great council with the great chiefs of the Americans, and we know the straightforward path to pursue, and are alone responsible for our actions. Three Cuyuses came last night and spoke to me and two other chiefs, urging us to come to a council at the Cuyuse camp to meet Pu-pu-mox-mox and Kam-i-ah-kan. We did not wish to go. They insisted. Then I said to them, ‘You had best say no more. My mind is made up. Why do you come here and ask three chiefs to come to a council, while to the head chief and the rest you say nothing. Have we not told your messenger yesterday that our hearts are not Cuyuse hearts? Go home! Our chiefs will not go. We have our own people to take care of; they give us trouble enough, and we will not have the Cuyuse troubles on our hands.’”

The Lawyer then opened a book containing in their own language the advice left them by their former head chief, Ellis, and read as follows: - [Ellis attended the Hudson's Bay Company Red River Mission School in Canada, as had Spokan Garry]

“Whenever the great chief of the Americans shall come into your country to give you laws, accept them. A Walla Walla heart is a Walla Walla heart, a Cuyuse heart is a Cuyuse heart, so is a Yakima heart a Yakima heart, but a Nez Perce heart is a Nez Perce heart. While the Nez Perce are going straight, why should they turn aside to follow others? Ellis’s advice is to accept the white law. I have read it to you to show my heart.”

At two P.M., on May 29, 1855, the council was formally opened by Governor Stevens. Under the roomy arbor in front of the tent were seated the commissioners, secretaries who kept the records, interpreters, and Indian agents, while the Indians were seated on the ground in front in semicircular rows forty deep, one behind another. Timothy, the chief and preacher, concerning whom the Governor said, “He and others are very devout, and seem to form a theocracy in the tribe, and like old New England fathers, to require every one to worship God in some visible way,” this Timothy, assisted by several of the young men, who were very tolerable penmen, kept the records of the council for the Nez Perce. They were accommodated with a table under the arbor, where everything could be seen and heard. Some two thousand Indians were present, fully half of whom were Nez Perce. The pipe having been smoked with due solemnity, two interpreters were appointed and sworn for each tribe, some preliminary remarks were made, and the council was adjourned until ten o’clock the next morning. Before adjourning Governor Stevens renewed the offer of provisions to the recusant Indians, proposing that each tribe should take two oxen to its own camp and slaughter for themselves.

Young Chief: “We have plenty of cattle. They are close to our camp. We have already killed three. We have plenty of provisions.”

General Palmer to the interpreter: “Say to the Yakimas, ‘You have come a long way. You may not have provisions. If you want any, we have them, and you are welcome.’”

Young Chief: “Kam-i-ah-kan is supplied at our camp.”

The Yellow Serpent and Kam-i-ah-kan dined with the commissioners, and remained in their tent for a long time, smoking in a friendly manner, but the Young Chief declined the invitation to dine.

The two following days Governor Stevens explained the proposed treaties at length, item by item. There were to be two reservations, - one in the Nez Perce country of three million acres, on the north side of the Snake River, embracing both the Kooskooskia and Salmon Rivers, including a large extent of good arable land, with fine fisheries, root grounds, timber, and mill-sites, and was for the accommodation of the Cuyuses, Walla Wallas, Umatillas, and Spokanes, as well as the Nez Perces. The other embraced a large and fertile tract on the upper waters of the Yakima, and was for the Yakimas, Klikitats, Palouses, and kindred bands. The reservations were to belong to the Indians, and no white man should come upon them without their consent. An agent, with school teachers, mechanics, and farmers, would take charge of each reservation, and instruct them in agriculture, trades, etc.; grist and saw mills were to be built; the head chiefs were to receive an annuity of five hundred dollars each, in order that they might devote their whole time to their people; and annuities in clothing, tools, and useful articles were to be given for twenty years, after which they were to be self-supporting... As it was evidently impracticable to make so radical a change in their habits suddenly, the Indians were to have the privilege of hunting, root-gathering, and pasturing stock on vacant land until appropriated by settlers, and the right of fishing... By having so many tribes on the same reservation, the agent could better look after them...The staple argument held out was the superior advantages of civilization, and the absolute necessity of their adopting the habits and mode of life of the white man in order to escape extinction...The third day the Young Chief for the first time dined at Governor Stevens’s table with the other head chiefs...There were now assembled on the ground between five and six thousand Indians...



Hitherto the Indians had listened in grave silence, but now the opponents of the treaties took the lead in the discussion. The Yellow Serpent, in a speech marked by strength and sarcasm, uttered the prevailing reluctance to part with their lands, and their dread and distrust of the whites: [p. 45]

We have listened to all you have to say, and we desire you to listen when any Indian speaks. It appears that Craig [Nez Perce interpreter] knows the heart of his people; that the whole has been prearranged in the hearts of the Indians; that he wants an answer immediately, without giving them time to think; that the Indians have had nothing to say, so that it would appear that we have no chief. I know the value of your speech from having experienced the same in California, having seen treaties there. We have not seen in a true light the object of your speeches, as if there was a post set between us, as if my heart wept for what you have said. Look at yourselves: your flesh is white; mine is different, mine looks poor; our languages are different. If you would speak straight, then I would think that your spoke well.

Should I speak to you of things that happened long ago, as you have done? The whites made me do what they pleased. They told me to do this, and I did it. They used to make our women to smoke. I supposed then they did what was right. When they told me to dance with all these nations that are here, then I danced. From that time, all the Indians became proud, and called themselves chiefs.

Now, how are we here as at a post? From what you have said, I think you intend to win our country, or how is it to be? In one day the Americans become as numerous as the grass. This I learned in California. I know it is not right; you have spoken in a roundabout way. Speak straight. I have ears to hear you, and here is my heart. Suppose you show me goods, shall I run up and take them? That is the way with all us Indians as you know us. Goods and the earth are not equal. Goods are for using on the earth. I do not know where they have given lands for goods.

We require time to think quietly, slowly. You have spoken in a manner partly tending to evil. Speak plain to us. I am a poor Indian. Show me charity. If there was a chief among the Nez Perces or Cuyuses, if they saw evil done they would put a stop to it, and all would be quiet. Such chiefs I hope Governor Stevens and General Palmer have. I should feel very much ashamed if the Americans did anything wrong. I have but a little to say, that is all. I do not wish to reply to-day. Think over what I have said...

Late that evening the Lawyer came unattended to see Governor Stevens. He disclosed a conspiracy on the part of the Cuyuses to suddenly rise upon and massacre all the whites on the council ground, - that this measure, deliberated in nightly conferences for some time, had at length been determined upon in full council of the tribe the day before, which the Young Chief had requested for a holiday; they were now only awaiting the assent of the Yakimas and Walla Wallas to strike a blow, and that these latter had actually joined, or were on the point of joining, the Cuyuses in a war of extermination against the whites, for which the massacre of the governor and his party was to be the signal. They had conducted this plotting with the greatest secrecy, not trusting the Nez Perce; and the Lawyer, suspecting that all was not right, had discovered the plot by means of a spy with the greatest difficulty, and only just in time to avert the catastrophe.

The Lawyer concluded by saying, “I will come with my family and pitch my lodge in the midst of your camp, that these Cuyuses may see that you and your party are under the protection of the head chief of the Nez Perces.”  He did so immediately...

Governor Stephens on his part imparted his knowledge of the conspiracy to Secretary Doty and Packmaster Higgins, and to them alone, for he feared that, should the party generally learn of it, a stampede would ensue. Having through these efficient officers quietly caused the men to put their arms in readiness, and posting night guards, he determined to continue the council as usual...

On Monday the governor opened the council by inviting the Indians to speak their minds freely, and, no one responding, finally called on the Lawyer. He expressed himself in terms favorable to the treaty, and was followed by several of the chiefs in a similar strain. Kam-i-ah-kan, on the other hand, avowed his distrust of the whites, and alluded in a contemptuous manor to the speeches of Lawyer and the others...

The feature of the treaties which met with the greatest opposition was the provision that the Cuyuses, Walla Wallas, and Umatillas should relinquish the whole of their own lands, and remove to a reservation in the Nez Perce country. The commissioners therefore decided to establish a separate reservation for these three tribes on the headwaters of the Umatilla, at the base of the Blue Mountains...

The change of reservations was brought forward in council the next day...The Yellow Serpent was given the privilege of establishing a trading-post for trade with the settlers and emigrants, and an annuity of one hundred dollars a year for twenty years was given his son. Young Chief and Yellow Serpent were the principal speakers, and in lengthy and rambling speeches gave their assent to the treaties...Kam-i-ah-kan was sullen, and refused his assent...


Some commotion was now observed among the Indians, and suddenly a small party of warriors were seen approaching, painted and armed, singing a war-song, and flourishing on top of a pole a freshly taken scalp. It proved to be a party of Nez Perce, headed by Looking Glass, the war chief, just from the Blackfoot country, where they had been for three years hunting the buffalo. Looking Glass was old, irascible, and treacherous, yet second only to Lawyer in influence... He had reached the Bitter Root valley on his return home, when he heard that the Nez Perce were at a great council, and concluding a treaty without his presence. Leaving his party to follow more slowly, he pushed on with a few chosen braves, crossed the Bitter Root Mountains, where for some distance the snow was shoulder-deep on their horses, and having ridden three hundred miles in seven days at the age of seventy, reached the council ground while Governor Stevens was urging Kam-i-ah-kan to give his assent to the treaty, for the Governor, hearing the arrival of Looking Glass announced, seized the occasion to call upon the Yakima chief to sign the treaty in the name of Looking Glass, there being great friendship between these two. Scarcely had he concluded when Looking Glass, surrounded by his knot of warriors with the scalps tossing above them, rode up, excited and agitated, received his friends coldly, and finally broke forth into a most angry philippi against his tribe and the treaty: -

“My people, what have you done? While I was gone you have sold my country. I have come home, and there is not left me a place on which to pitch my lodge. Go home to your lodges. I will talk to you.”

The council was immediately adjourned. Governor Stevens consulted Lawyer, who was of the opinion that Looking Glass would calm down in a day or two... He said, however, that the latter’s return would make it impossible to reduce the Nez Perce reservation, which, originally intended for the Cuyuses, Walla Wallas, and Umatillas, in addition to the Nez Perces, was larger than they alone required, and it was determined to make it a general reservation for other tribes, not exceeding in numbers those for whom it was first designed.

In the evening Governor Stevens assembled the Yakima chiefs in his tent, and discussed the treaties with them until one o’clock in the morning. Kam-i-ah-kan was not present, but Skloom acted as the principal spokesman. The governor remarks in his journal, “Skloom was desirous that his land should first be surveyed.”

The council of the following day, however, soon made it evident that Looking Glass had not calmed down. He declared himself the head chief of the tribes present; that the boys had spoken yesterday, but that he would speak to-day. He made many inquiries, raised many objections, and finally marked another line for the reservation, including nearly the whole of the Nez Perce territory. The Cuyuses seized the occasion to retract their assent to their treaty... At length Lawyer abruptly left the council in the midst of one of Looking Glass’s philippics, and retired to his lodge. Governor Stevens refused to submit to the demands of the angry and grasping old chief, and adjourned the council until the following Monday.

After the adjournment the Yellow Serpent and Kam-i-ah-kan, who had at length yielded to the advice of the other chiefs, with all the prominent chiefs and prominent men of the two tribes, came forward and signed their respective treaties. The former had remarked in the morning that his word was pledged, and that he would sign the treaty no matter what Looking Glass and the Nez Perce did. It was thought that his example had great weight with Kam-i-ah-kan.

Late in the evening Governor Stevens had an interview with Lawyer, who said: -

“Governor Stevens, you are my chief. You come from the President. He has spoken kind words to us, a poor people. We have listened to them, and have agreed to a treaty. We are bound by the agreement. When Looking Glass asked you, ‘How long will the agent live with us?’ you might have replied by asking the question, ‘How long have you been head chief of the Nez Perces?’ When he said, ‘I, the head chief, have just got back; I will talk; the boys talked yesterday,’ you might have replied, ‘The Lawyer, not you is the head chief. The whole Nez Perce tribe have said in council Lawyer was the head chief. Your faith is pledged. You have agreed to the treaty. I call upon you to sign it.’ Had this course been taken, the treaty would have been signed.”

“In reply,” says the governor, “I told the Lawyer that we considered all the talk of Looking Glass as the outpourings of an angry and excited old man, whose heart would become all right if left to himself for a time...”

The council being adjourned, the Cuyuses and Nez Perces retired to their respective camps to hold councils by themselves, which lasted all night. The position of Looking Glass was determined by the latter to be second to Lawyer, who was reaffirmed head chief. The council was stormy, but the chiefs at length all agreed on a paper sent in by Lawyer, and read in council, which declared the faith of the tribe pledged to Governor Stevens, and that the treaty must be signed. “Those who would advise breaking their word were no better than the Cuyuses. Let them share the lot of the Cuyuses.” The morning after this council being Sunday, Timothy preached a sermon for the times, and held up to the indignation of the tribe, and the retribution of the Almighty, those who would coalesce with the Cuyuses, and break the faith of the Nez Perces.

The Governor had a conversation with Kam-i-ah-kan, who said: -

“Looking Glass, if left alone, will sign the treaty. Don’t ask me to accept presents. I have never taken one from a white man. When the payments are made I will take my share.”

Steachus, the friendly Cuyuse chief, expressed his earnest desire that his tribe should sign the treaty, and both Pu-pu-mox-mox [Yellow Serpent] and Kam-i-ah-kan used their influence to accept it.

Early Monday morning Governor Stevens saw Lawyer, and said to him, “We are now ready to go into council. I shall call upon your people to keep their word, and upon you as head chief to sign first. We want no speeches. This will be the last day of the council. Call your people together as soon as possible.” The Lawyer replied, “This is the right course,” and immediately summoned his tribe. The closing scene of the council is best given in Governor Stevens' own words: -

“The Looking Glass took his seat in council in the very best of humor. The Cuyuses and the Nez Perces were all present. Kam-i-ah-kan sat down near the Young Chief. The council was opened by me in a brief speech: ‘We meet for the last time. Your words are pledged to sign the treaty. The tribes have spoken through their head chiefs, Joseph, Red Wolf, the Eagle, Ip-se-male-e-con, all declaring Lawyer was the head chief. I call upon Lawyer to sign first.’ Lawyer then signed the treaty. ‘I now call upon Joseph and Looking Glass.’ Looking Glass signed, then Joseph. Then every chief and man of note, both Nez Perces and Cuyuses, signed their respective treaties..."

The council being completed, presents were made to all the assembled tribes, who began packing up and moving off. Eagle-from-the-Light, the Nez Perce chief, who at first opposed the treaty and refused to accept provisions, now presented a magnificent grizzly bear’s skin, with the teeth and claws intact, to Governor Stevens with the following speech: “This skin is my medicine. It came with me everyday to the council. It tells me everything. It says what has been done is right. Had anything been done wrong, it would have spoken out. I have now no use for it. I give it to you that you may know my heart is right.” Every day Eagle-from-the-Light had brought this skin to the council, and, placing it with the teeth and claws turned toward the commissioners, had used it as a seat, declining to roll the blankets offered him.


Last Updated on Friday, 09 December 2011 18:33