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Catlin: Part 4, Section G - Lewiston A Violation - Inverted Conquest - Nation Dissolved - Dreamers - Old Joseph Dies - Murder Unpunished - General Howard - Lapwai Commission - Leave Mr Washington Alone - Toohoolhoolzote - Deadline - War Begins

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LEWISTON IDAHO – A VIOLATION


As noted earlier, the activity near the new towns of Orofino and Lewiston (as well as in most other prominent gold strike communities) would have been remarkable. By late 1861 some of the Nez Perce people were taking advantage of the circumstances for their own economic gain. One of the more notable of these was Rueben, a Christian subchief who lived in Lapwai, and whose sister was one of Joseph’s wives. In, Let Me Be Free, David Lavender wrote that Rueben quickly adapted to the influx of miners. “The fever grew so intense that Old Joseph’s relative, Chief Rueben, entered into a partnership with William Craig to build a ferry across the Snake River close to its junction with the Clearwater. He even tacked up notices about the improvement on the doors of Walla Walla’s cavernous warehouses. Soon he was rich enough that he left his tipi for a log cabin from which he oversaw the management of hundreds of new horses.” (p.177) Rueben was known to hire whites in the course of his business with Craig.

Sometimes called the ‘Father of Idaho’, William Craig became one of Idaho’s first white settlers after a storied career as a trapper and guide with the American Fur Company. He started out from St. Louis in 1825, fought at the battle of Pierre’s Hole near the Tetons in 1832, and worked with the likes of Jedediah Smith, the Sublettes, Joe Meek, and Benjamin Bonneville. After marrying a Nez Perce woman, Isabel, he homesteaded near Lapwai and became an Indian agent. By 1861, Craig’s exploits were legendary.
(See http://www.xmission.com/~drudy/mtman/html/craig.html )

In response to the clashes that were occurring and the prospect of even more conflict, Indian agent A. J. Cain, along with Edward Geary, the superintendent of Indian affairs for Washington Territory, met with Lawyer and others in April of 1861. They came to an agreement detailing the areas to be allowed access by the whites and provided that troops would now be stationed at Lapwai to enforce the agreement. Old Joseph and others from the anti-treaty bands did not participate in this 1861 agreement.

Lavender wrote that the town of Lewiston was founded in violation of this agreement: (pp. 178-80)

...During May 1861, the stern-wheeler Colonel Wright twice entered the Clearwater River from the Snake and thrashed up against the current, aiming for the mouth of the North Fork. The boat was 110 feet long and on both trips was jammed with freight and passengers. Agent Cain was on the second trip, as was Lawyer, who was picked up at Lapwai so he would be impressed by this show of white power.

Because of the headlong curve the river describes around Rattlesnake Point, thirty-seven miles above the confluence with the Snake River, both efforts fell short of their goal. The cargo, most of it belonging to a merchant named Seth Slater, was dumped ashore on the north bank. Slater covered the freight with a tarpaulin, named the shelter Slaterville, and hoped he was proprietor of a new supply town. Not so. The river was too strenuous. A roomier, more approachable flat on the south side of the Clearwater at its junction with the Snake was chosen instead, even though the decision violated the April agreement that whites would stay north of the river. The agency staff and several Indians protested, but not Lawyer. Agog over this new evidence of the white’s might, he not only agreed to the landing, but stepped off a site for a warehouse. A hurly-burly tent city, later dignified with brick and wood and named Lewiston after the explorer Meriwether Lewis, inevitably followed.

Within a year Lewiston was populous enough to be named the seat of newly formed Nez Perce County, Washington Territory...

During the same period, the Oro Fino district was so overrun with miners that latecomers could not find claims. Strong parties of them turned illegally toward the South Fork. Straightaway they made rich strikes that burgeoned into Elk City and its satellite camps. Later, in the fall of 1861, the richest district of all, named Florence, was illegally born in the mountains just north of the Salmon River. Eagle-from-the-Light, White Bird, and other antitreaty chiefs tried in vain to halt the influx. The army offered no help, although the agreement of 1861 said it should. There were simply too many hard-case, determined whites in country too rough to be patrolled by Lapwai’s small garrison...

How many prospectors were actually involved cannot be estimated with much accuracy... Guesses about the numbers range as high as thirty thousand people roaming the various districts in the spring of 1862. Few made much money, but in the aggregate many millions of dollars were torn from the reservation in the years 1861-63...

As increasing numbers of whites used the trails that threaded the reservation between Lewiston and the mining camps, ugly clashes erupted. Lawless members of each race stole the other’s livestock. Indian women were violated; men of both colors robbed, beaten, and occasionally murdered. Law enforcement was almost nonexistent. The Civil War was raging in the East, and troops at garrisons had been cut to the bone. The territorial capital at Olympia, Washington, was hundreds of difficult miles away. Indian protests, led by Lawyer, brought no results, and fears grew among the isolated Americans and Nez Perces that unless some remedy was provided, a frenzied revolt might erupt.

STRONGER THAN PARCHMONT – INVERTED CONQUEST

The table was now firmly set for further intervention by the white government. In 1862 a military fort was built at Lapwai and manned with a small garrison, but it fell far short of its goal. Protecting the Nez Perces was impossible, especially given that they occupied a territory the size of a small state. Something more had to be done.

Historian Elliott West wrote in, The Last Indian War, that the logic behind the government’s next proposal was dubious, to say the least: (p.87)

Now everything that had happened—the surge of trespassers, the battering of the Nez Perce economy, the abuses, the pitiful floundering of authorities—was said to sum up to one conclusion. The Nez Perce treaty of 1855 was called untenable. Sticking to the 1855 agreement, it was said, would bring about an “exterminating war.” Whites would die by the thousands. Indians would suffer beyond measure. Promises had to be undone and tribal holdings severely reduced. As a correspondent put it, "the logic of events is stronger than parchment."

From today’s perspective, such talk, and that around Indian policy generally, seems deeply strange. The historian Richard White has called one rhetorical theme “inverted conquest.” As whites rolled over and devastated Indian peoples, they described the Indians as the predators and themselves as set-upon victims, “badly abused conquerors.” Public talk of the Nez Perce crisis followed a different vein, just as odd, a flip-flop from inverted conquest. It might be called confessional conquest. White aggression and policy failures were fully, passionately admitted, but the lesson of all the mea culpas was not to reverse course. It was to push ahead and insist that Indians give up still more.

In November of 1862 government representatives again visited the Nez Perces’ reservation and announced their desire for a new treaty council the following spring. There was now mention of a change of reservation boundaries.

Coincident with this, another significant Indian conflict occurred in Southern Idaho on January 29, 1863. Sometimes called the Bear River Massacre, over 200 Shoshones were killed in retaliation for perceived attacks and depredations against whites in Southern Idaho. White migration had taken a heavy toll on Shoshone life and starvation was cited as the cause of their behavior. This brutal news reinforced the notion that the use of U.S. military force weighed heavily on any negotiations. Old Looking Glass died the same month and Old Joseph was approaching 80 years old.

The new council began at Lapwai in May 1863, without Old Joseph in attendance. As news spread of the proposed reservation boundaries Old Joseph came to realize the Wallowa country would now be excluded from the reservation. Distraught and realizing he was running out of options, Old Joseph turned the whole affair over to two of his sons, Young Joseph and Ollokot [Frog], counseling them to resist any new treaty that deprived them of their land.

With Young Joseph present at this Lapwai council, even Lawyer began objecting with plenty of vitriol. Lawyer recounted the many instances in which the Nez Perces had aided the whites when they were threatened by other tribes. Nez Perce loyalty was unquestioned, yet they were now being treated like children. Desperate, Lawyer finally made a counter-proposal. Make the new towns and the ferries a white man’s domain and leave the rest of their reservation as it was.

Government representative, Calvin Hale, was the new superintendent of Indian affairs for Washington Territory, and like his predecessors, his mission was to deliver the bad news, not to bargain with the Indians. Content that the Christian Lawyer represented the entire tribe, all Hale could offer was standard fare; a new stipend, new farms, a new school, another mill, and a new home for Timothy. Military protection would be more effective with a smaller reservation.

As the meetings wore on Lawyer’s objections began to soften and his faction and others began to waver. One group of anti-treaty “upper bands,” led by Chief Big Thunder, would not openly support the treaty, yet, since none of his land was in question he remained uncommitted. 

1863 TREATY CREATES A SPLIT - NATION DISSOLVED

Enraged, Young Joseph and White Bird demanded a private tribal conference. At this council, which included fifty-three Nez Perce chiefs and sub-chiefs, the Nez Perce nation was “dissolved.” The result was a decisive split, treaty versus nontreaty factions, and a renunciation of any new treaty by the nontreaty faction. Representing five tribal groups, Joseph and other nontreaty adherents then walked out of the council.

Nevertheless, Lawyer and fifty-two other Nez Perces signed the new treaty on June 9, 1863. Ninety percent of the old reservation was now gone. Those Indians living outside the new reservation boundaries would be required to move to the new reservation within one year.  When word reached Old Joseph it is said that he gathered a group of his people and ceremoniously destroyed both his copy of the treaty of 1855 and his translated copy of the gospel of Matthew.

DREAMERS

At about the same time that white settlers began invading their territory many of the Nez Perces became influenced by a new prophet, or shaman, from the Wanapam people in the Columbia River basin. Described as a very short hunchback, he was known as Smohalla, which became translated as dreamer or prophet. It was said that he disappeared from his people for a time and then reappeared bearing unusual messages and views. He was reported to have predicted both an eclipse and an earthquake which occurred in the Northwest on Dec. 14, 1872.  A good deal of his message advocated a return to the pre-white days before cattle and European agricultural methods.

In, Nez Perce Summer, 1877, author Jerome Greene explained their influence: (p. 11)

The period immediately following the missionary presence brought continued unrest. Angered by the perceived transgressions of missionaries and intruders into their lands, the Cayuses and Palouses in 1848 resisted troops raised and sent by the provisional government into their Columbia Valley domain in present eastern Washington to punish them for the Whitman murders. Throughout these conflicts, most of the Nez Perces, professing neutrality, remained friendly toward the white Americans. Concurrently, many non-Christian Nez Perces sought spiritual relief from the pressures wrought by the presence of whites through renewed identification with the land. The movement, which affected other Plateau peoples, too, inspired acceptance of the Dreamer religion, a hopeful nativistic theology advocating a return to more traditional tribal beliefs. The Dreamers practiced ritual dances accompanied by rhythmic drumming, and the term, “Drummers,” was often applied to them. Strongly adhering to conventional Nez Perce precepts about the land, the Dreamers advocated rejection of white ways and a return to fundamental tribal values.

Green also wrote that the new Treaty of 1863 increased the appeal of the Dreamers: (p. 12)

Most important, however, the redesignated [reservation] area (now 784,996 acres- formerly over 7 million acres) coincidentally encompassed only the lands of the Christianized Nez Perces—about three-fourths of all the tribesman—whose government-supported leaders readily acceded to the treaty, while excluding those of the isolated Nez Perce bands from the Wallowa and Salmon River regions, whom it nonetheless directed to move onto the new reservation within one year of ratification. By their omission from the newly prescribed boundary, those people lost legal recognition altogether in the Treaty of 1863; in turn, they never recognized the accord... By reaffirming nontraditional forms of government and leadership, the treaty further aggravated fragile intratribal relations, causing the remote lower bands to more completely reject acculturation and to more firmly embrace the Dreamer faith.

In, Let Me Be Free, author Lavender wrote that Smohalla preached vehemently against white agrarianism: (p. 195)

My young men shall never work. Men who work cannot dream, and wisdom comes to us in dreams... You ask me to plow the ground. Shall I take a knife and tear my mother’s bosom? Your ask me to dig for stone. Shall I dig under her skin for her bones? You ask me to cut the grass and make hay and sell it and be rich like the white man. But do I dare cut off my mother’s hair?

Many male followers demonstrated their dreamer faith by combing their hair in front to the pompadour style often seen in photographs that survive.

HOPE DASHED – OLD JOSEPH DIES

Following the Treaty of 1863 the hopes of nontreaty Nez Perces were buoyed and then dashed more than once. Tacitly allowed to remain off the reservation, they struggled to preserve their lands and culture in what was becoming a precarious existence. Increasingly, white intruders acted as if no treaty existed at all. If the white government seriously intended that nontreaty Nez Perces must move to the reservation it was not following up with forceful action. Desultory and ineffective policies only produced more tension. It seemed that government interests lay elsewhere - quieting a rebellion and rebuilding the war-torn nation.

With his sons, Old Joseph soon erected a makeshift barrier of poles on the trail that divided the Wallowa country from the Grande Ronde – his message to the encroaching whites was, ‘No Trespassing’. But that didn’t stop a team of government surveyors from performing their job. Beginning in 1866 they entered the Wallowa Valley and began surveying it into townships and sections. One month after the treaty was ratified in 1867, the General Land Office officially listed the Wallowa Valley as public domain and white settlement became legal.

Understandably, white settlers were reluctant to move there. The barriers seemed to work until Old Joseph died in 1871. Shortly before he died he had given his son, Joseph, a last reminder: “When I am gone, think of your country. You are the chief of these people. They look to you to guide them. Always remember that your father never sold his country. You must stop your ears whenever you are asked to sign a treaty selling your home.” (The Last Indian War, by Elliott West, p.106)

As if a curtain rose, within a year homesteaders were at work in the valley, building cabins, fishing, and herding their cattle. One settler stated that hay was so thick and heavy that there was no need to do any farming. Young Joseph visited these settlers and attempted to explain that they were trespassing on tribal land. They responded that as of the new treaty’s ratification the land was open for settlement and they refused to leave.

While some of his people advocated the use of force, Joseph chose the peaceful route. He continued to argue that since his people did not sign the 1863 accord, the original 1855 treaty was still in effect, and that his people were still the legal owners. Later, he would come close to winning that argument. 

In, Let Me Be Free, Lavender wrote that Young Joseph doggedly explored legal avenues to retain the Wallowa: (p.198)

Young Joseph, diplomat and pacifist, decided to rely on an appeal to the law to halt the trespassers. Because the Fourth of July celebrations would concentrate most of the Grand Ronde stockman in the town of La Grande and because the local people liked to have colorful Indians in their parade and thus would be disposed to listen, he chose to press his claim there. With Ollokot [his brother] joining in the arguments, he stated, as he would many times during the ensuing years, that his band had no wish for hostilities. Indeed, he saw no reason for conflict. The treaty of 1855 had clearly left the Wallowa country inside the huge Nez Perce reservation that Governor Stevens had outlined that year. Since the elder Joseph had rejected the 1863 treaty, the land still belonged to his band, by agreement with the whites themselves. Young Joseph and Ollokot respectfully asked, therefore, that no settlements be made in the Wallowa country and that work on the bridge and wagon road leading to the area be halted.

With equal politeness the whites replied, as they would many times during the following years, that a majority of the Nez Perce tribal leaders had signed the 1863 treaty. Therefore, its terms were binding on all the bands. On that basis, the United States government had made the Wallowa country part of the public domain and had opened it to settlement. The whites did not want war, either, and there would be none if Joseph, Ollokot, and their council recognized the legitimacy of the citizen’s claims.

Unable to grope a way through the impasse, both sides agreed to ask the new United States Indian agent at Lapwai, John B. Monteith, to meet with them at another council to explain the government’s views of the legalities involved. Each side believed, of course, that the agent would support its stand. After messengers had spent a good deal of time traveling back and forth between La Grande, the Wallowa, and Lapwai, the new council was scheduled to be held in the Wallowa Valley on August 22, 1872.

When he became the new agent in 1871, John Monteith represented the long held influence of Presbyterianism in the area. President Grant’s peace policy advocated that religious organizations should take a more prominent role in administering to the Indians. Presbyterian Reverend Edward Geary had earlier assumed that role when he became the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon Territory in 1859, and with Thomas and Walter Monteith, founded the Presbyterian College at Albany, Oregon.

Descending from this family of founders of Albany College, agent John Monteith zealously professed their doctrine in his dealings with the Nez Perces. While he emphasized the typical protestant ethic of hard work and the benefits of an agrarian lifestyle, he also railed against nomadic practices of the Indians and even sought to use the assistance of the army in stopping their wanderings - to no avail. Yet, early on, he had expressed to Joseph that white people probably could not legally support their land claims using the treaty of 1863 as the basis for their new settlements. He had even advised that the white Wallowa settlers should be bought out if necessary.

The results of the two-day meeting (August 1872) with Monteith were inconclusive, although Young Joseph was credited with presenting an impressive defense of his argument. Monteith stated that he could not make any decisions without the concurrence of his superiors.

External events again played a role. Lavender wrote that the recent Modoc war in California had an adverse impact on the talks and whites were now on alert: (Let Me Be Free p. 203)

A band of Modocs led by Chief Kintpuash (the whites called him Captain Jack), had defied an army unit that was trying to put them on their reservation. Fleeing south, pillaging and murdering as they went, the rebels found refuge in the honeycombed lava beds in the extreme northern part of California. When military units attacked in January of 1873, the Indians beat them back with heavy losses. A shiver of fear ran through Oregon. What if Captain Jack made contact with Joseph’s renegades?

In March 1873, agent Monteith requested another meeting with Joseph, asking him to come to Lapwai where they would meet with T. B. Odeneal, the superintendent of Indian affairs for Oregon. At this meeting came the first official mention of sharing the Wallowa with the whites. Amazingly, this council produced an agreement that did divide the Wallowa valley, with Joseph’s assent.

Dividing the reservation on a line north to south, the eastern half was to be preserved for the Nez Perces; the western half opened to white settlement. The beloved Wallowa Lake was included and so were the beautiful high-mountain meadows. The bargain gave Joseph a way to preserve some of what he wanted. Negotiating had paid dividends. The proposed change of boundaries was sent to Washington and President Grant signed the agreement on June 10, 1873.

A cruel twist of fate occurred when the proposed boundary change did not survive. Before the ink was dry, it was found that a strange bureaucratic error now showed the reservation divided differently, north and south, not as the parties had agreed. No explanation for this fractious error was ever produced. Neither side accepted the new boundaries and bitterness soon confounded further efforts to negotiate a way out of the problem.

Joseph prevailed on Monteith to remedy the mistake, but the agent’s influence had already weakened as political wrangling continued. What was unsaid was probably as important as the articles of the agreement. Why placate Joseph when his power was in decline? Whites now clearly outnumbered the non-treaty Nez Perces.

MURDER UNPUNISHED

The level of tension was building as more whites entered the area. David Lavender cited one of several incidents that now ratcheted up the hostility that would soon explode: (Let Me Be Free, p. 206)

Other nontreaty bands were also having trouble with the whites. One sample atrocity, important because of the impact it would have on the future, involved an Indian called Eagle Blanket and a white squatter named Larry Ott. Eagle had given Ott permission to make limited use of a handsome, fertile cove on the east side of the Salmon River, some distance south of the present-day hamlet of White Bird. On returning from a trip in the spring of 1874, Eagle found Ott plowing a section of the cove he had been told not to touch. When the Indian threw rocks at him to stop him, Ott pulled a revolver and mortally wounded him in front of four Indian witnesses. As he was dying, Eagle sent a message to his son, Wahlitits: “Tell him for my sake, and for the sake of his brothers and sisters, and in fact for the whole Nez Perce nation, to hold his temper... and not wage war on the whites."

Informed of the killing, Monteith had Ott bound over to a grand jury and took the four Indians who had seen the shooting along as witnesses. Nothing came of it when the witnesses declined to testify. Saying they did not believe in the white man’s God, the quartet refused to hold up their hands and be sworn in. The jury then refused to hear their testimony, and Ott was freed on a plea of self-defense.

This incident would provide the catalyst that prompted the first indiscriminate killing of whites 3 years later.

Young Joseph’s options were severely limited in 1875 when the presidential order of 1873 was revoked by the president. Pressure from Oregon officials now demanded a tougher stand in dealing with the Nez Perces. The terms of the 1863 treaty were now back in effect and the reservation now did not include any of the Wallowa.

One prevailing argument used by whites stressed the fact that the Joseph’s people did not occupy the Wallowa year round, but only for summer pasturage: whereas whites would settle there permanently. What had seemed fatuous admonishing from agent Montieth was brought to bear in the course of the argument by the whites. Joseph’s people would still not settle in one place. Ownership required stability.

Underlying these events was now the presence General Howard who wielded the threat of the U.S. military if violence escalated.

GENERAL O. O. HOWARD

General Oliver Otis Howard was appointed commander of the Department of the Columbia in 1874. A civil war hero, he was wounded several times in battle and suffered the loss of his right arm. His career peaked during the Civil War when he was promoted to commander of the Army of Tennessee. Following the war he served as commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Howard University is named for him. His fame was later assured in 1874 when he negotiated a peace with the legendary Apache Chief, Cochise, almost single-handedly.

Howard came to the Northwest with a reputation as a strict disciplinarian and a devout Christian. He attended the Presbyterian Church in Portland and taught a bible class. Not long after his arrival he sent two companies of soldiers to the Nez Perce reservation, expecting to avoid any trouble.

Also, in the summer of 1875 Howard sent his assistant adjutant general, Major H. Clay Wood, to meet with Chief Joseph and agent Monteith, hoping to explore a solution. Wood had some experience in studying law. He and another advisor, the Presbyterian Reverend A. L. Lindsley, soon recommended that the treaty of 1863 needed further examining. Wood especially gave credence to Joseph’s position when he concluded that the government erred in 1863, stating, “The non-treaty Nez Perces cannot in law... be bound by the treaty of 1863.” (The Last Indian War  p.109) Howard then recommended an official inquiry to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In late June of 1876 another Indian killing occurred when two white settlers entered a Wallowa Indian camp, claiming that their horses had been stolen. After a brief scuffle a young Indian named Wilhautyah was shot. Elements of Joseph’s band now advocated a response. If he needed a reason for violence he now had it.  Agent Monteith then sought to assure Joseph that the perpetrators would be arrested and tried; yet several weeks passed and nothing was done. Still, Joseph held out hope since talks with Major Wood seemed to be producing results.

External events interfered again when word of Custer’s massacre arrived at Lapwai. The impact of this news doubtless affected all concerned, since the use of force had been avoided to this point. The threat of a similar outbreak was becoming very real.

Further talks were held at Lapwai on July 22–23, 1876. These were complicated by the newly elected head Chief, Reuben, who replaced Lawyer, and now represented the treaty Nez Perces. Reuben was unfriendly toward Young Joseph, probably because he appeared to wield too much influence.

At these talks Joseph now argued that the whites in authority appeared to be powerless since they were not punishing other whites who were violating their own white laws. Although the talks faltered, Wood convinced Joseph and Ollokot to return to the Wallowa and avoid any violence. Wood further promised an investigation into the reservation boundary question while expressing doubts that the Treaty of 1863 could survive a legal review. As a result of this meeting General Howard formally recommended that the Bureau of Indian Affairs appoint a commission to address these problems.  For Joseph, hope was still on the table.

Not long after this, another incident occurred at Wallowa Lake when several white settlers were found seining salmon with a 150 foot long net and using a small sailboat. They were hauling their catch by the wagonload. Fighting resulted in the clubbing of one of the white fishermen by enraged Indians. White fishermen were then told to leave.

After being pressured by his own people, Joseph took action on September 1st., 1876. He sent messengers to the nearby white settlers notifying them that they were required to come to a meeting to be held at his camp the following day. When a small number of them arrived Joseph told them that they must leave the Wallowa Valley within a week.

After that ultimatum Joseph’s band waited as the settlers weighed their options. Word spread west as a white messenger quickly rode out to Walla Walla, where white volunteers began organizing and preparing to fight. A military response soon came from Walla Walla in the form of a young Lieutenant - A. G. Forse. 

To his credit, Forse arrived at Joseph’s camp on the last day of Joseph’s deadline (with only four men) and requested a meeting. As they talked, tempers calmed and it was agreed that Lieutenant Forse would arrest two of the men involved in the murder of Wilhautyah, while Joseph would temporarily restrict the movements of his band. Later, after Lieutenant Forse did deliver the two offenders to county officers, the court freed the two without charging them. Again, Indian witnesses refused to testify.

LAPWAI COMMISSION

Joseph grasped at another diplomatic solution when the five-man commission, appointed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, came to Lapwai for a conference on November 13, 1876. General Howard and H. Clay Wood occupied two of the five commission chairs, while David H. Jerome chaired the council.

The precisely documented record of these proceedings provided rich material for what would later become Joseph’s legend. In light of events that had preceded the meetings - killings, perfidies, recreancies - his forbearance stretches credulity. Reading the transcript now demonstrates that the commission members recognized uniqueness in his remarkable presence.

 (See Executive Documents of the House of Representatives for the 2nd Session of the 45th Congress – 1877-78 – Vol. VIII - Report of the Secretary of Interior – Report of Civil and Military Commission To Nez Perce Indians Washington Territory and the Northwest – p.607)

That the agenda had already been settled prior to the meetings was apparent when the commission immediately insisted that non-treaty Nez Perces move to the reservation. Author Jerome Green followed the conference in, Nez Perce Summer (p.16):

At the session of November 13, Young Joseph emerged as principal spokesman for the nontreaty Nez Perces. Tall and eloquent, the thirty-six-year-old leader of the Wallowas presented a forceful yet quietly dignified countenance that inspired his followers and impressed the commissioners... Doubtless his position as chief of the Wallowa band – the most conspicuous nontreaty group affected by the council proceedings – and his leadership skills as perceived by whites, cast Joseph into greater prominence among all the nontreaty Nez Perces, as far as future events were concerned...

Through three days of the Lapwai council, Joseph dominated the scene. “He is in full vigor of his manhood,” reported the commissioners, “six feet tall, straight, well formed, and muscular; his forehead is broad, his perceptive faculties large, his head well formed, his voice musical and sympathetic, and his expression usually calm and sedate, when animated marked and magnetic.” “An alertness and dexterity in intellectual fencing was exhibited by him that was quite remarkable.”... On the issue of the Wallowa lands, which the commissioners suggested were only occasionally used by the tribesmen, Joseph imparted his people’s philosophy as follows:

That which I have great affection for, I have no reason or wish to dispose of; if I did, where would I be? The earth and myself are of one mind. The measure of the land and the measure of our bodies are the same.... If I thought you were sent by the Creator I might be induced to think you had a right to dispose of me. Do not misunderstand me, but understand me fully with reference to my affection for the land. I never said the land was mine to do with it as I chose. The one who has the right to dispose of it is the one who has created it. I claim a right to live on my land, and accord you the privilege to live on yours.... I think with reference to the land, I look upon the land, made as it was, with pleasure.... I grew up on it, and took it as it was given me. As it was created, it was finished with power. There is nothing should supersede it. There is nothing which can outstrip it. It is clothed with fruitfulness. In it are riches given me by my ancestors, and from that time up to the present I have loved the land, and was thankful it had been given me...

Green further noted Joseph’s ultimate refusal to abandon the Wallowa: (p. 18)

Any government proposals for the Nez Perce’s surrender of the Wallowa lands were thus deemed unacceptable. “We are not to be trampled upon and our rights taken from us,” concluded Joseph. “The right to the land was ours before the whites came among us.”


Green also noted that the commission worked hard to undermine the message of the Dreamers. That the Dreamer message referenced a God not entirely unlike their own deity no doubt provoked the commissioners’ anger.

The commission report, cited above, stated the following with regard to the Dreamers:

CAUSE OF TROUBLE WITH NON-TREATY INDIANS, INCLUDING JOSEPH AND HIS FOLLOWERS

The dreamers, among other pernicious doctrines, teach that the earth being created by God complete, should not be disturbed by man, and that any cultivation of the soil or other improvements to interfere with its natural productions, any voluntary submission to the control of the government, any improvement in the way of schools, churches, etc., are crimes from which they shrink. This fanaticism is kept alive by the superstitions of these “dreamers,” who industriously teach that if they continue steadfast in their present belief, a leader will be raised up in the East who will restore all the dead Indians to life, who will unite with them in expelling the whites from their country, when they will again enter upon and repossess the lands of their ancestors.

Influenced by such belief, Joseph and his band firmly declined to enter into any negotiations or make any arrangement that looked to a final settlement of the questions pending between him and the government.

 

In, Let Me Be Free, David Lavender summarized the Lapwai meetings from a slightly different perspective: (p. 222 - 23)

There was a buzz phrase for this process... “bringing Joseph to terms.” The expression was a euphemism. The only choice, after all the polite palavering was finished, would be whether they went onto the reservation in peace or under duress...

The hopes that Joseph and Ollokot brought to the Lapwai agency soon withered under the carpings of the commissioners, particularly those of David H. Jerome, the group’s civilian president. The whites, though suave and patient at first, clearly did not want to hear what the brothers said about their legal and moral rights to the Wallowa country. Rather, they kept telling the Indians why they shouldn’t stay there...

The altitude, the whites said, made the area too cold for year-round farming. Joseph replied that they didn’t want to farm. They went up there from the canyons only in the summer to dig camas, catch salmon, and graze their horses and cattle. They had been living that way longer than memory ran. What made the commissioners think they couldn’t keep doing it—and doing it as well as the white ranchers who were crowding into the area with their livestock...

Well, maybe, the commissioners said. But wherever the Indians settled, it would have to be on a reservation where they could be protected. The State of Oregon now controlled the Wallowa and would not cede the region back to the federal government for purposes of a reservation...

This extraordinary bit of misinformation must have made the whites who heard it swallow hard. Oregon did not own the land. It was part of the nation’s public domain—if, in fact, the federal government had ever acquired it. Joseph, who had covered that point again and again during previous meeting, went at it once more. His father had not sold the Wallowa country to the United States in 1863. Nor could the government say he was bound by the actions of a majority of the other Nez Perces. According to Nimipu custom, each band was responsible for its own actions. A thousand bands could not sign away the property of one, if that one disagreed. If Joseph refused to sell one of his horses, could a potential purchaser then buy it from his neighbor? Of course not. It was the same with the land...

Jerome switched approaches. Living was good on the Lapwai reservation, he said. If the Wallowa band went there, each adult male would receive a twenty-acre farm plot. The government would help with the plowing and fencing, as it had for the treaty Nez Perces. The newcomers could send their children to governmental schools, use the gristmills and sawmills and blacksmith shops the government had built, and share in the annuity goods the governmental agent distributed each year...

Joseph grew sarcastic. The members of his band were used to roaming across hundreds of thousands of acres. Should they trade that for farm plots? As long as they were free, they could cross the mountains to the Plains to hunt for buffalo. If they settled on the reservation, Monteith would try to stop the hunts and he would want them to sit stodgily on their plots while learning to live like white people. They didn’t want that. The schools would take away their culture. The churches would cause bickering—Protestants against Catholics, Methodists against Presbyterians, Christians against Dreamers. As for annuities, the government was notoriously late in meeting the obligations it had already assumed. They would rather depend on themselves...

Frustrated by hours of that kind of resistance, the commissioners began to threaten. They told the listeners what had happened to other Indians who had refused to go onto the reservations that had been assigned to them—the Seminoles in Florida, the Modocs in Oregon and northern California... “What,” Howard asked, “would you do if several thousand armed men came against you?”

Joseph replied, “We will not give up the land. We love the land; it is our home.” That was his stance throughout. He was made of the earth and had grown up on its bosom. He could not consent to sever his affections.

To the commissioners, Joseph’s mystic (and to them, fuzzy) identification with the land was the result of the Dreamer’s teachings. Actually, the whites had the situation backwards. It was the Dreamers who had picked up on the earth-mother philosophy that was so powerful among all the tribes and had carried it to extremes that Joseph and Ollokot did not wholly accept. But railing at Dreamers, sorcerers, and followers of the hunchbacked Smohalla gave the commissioners an explanation for their failure to bring the Indians peacefully to the reservation. Rail they did.

The commissioners then brought the day’s meetings to a halt. Not only frustrated, they sensed that the hostilities were reaching a new and unpredictable level. When Joseph and two other chiefs sought to meet with Howard and Wood the following morning, the commissioners had already left to return to Portland.

RECOMMENDATIONS / SEVERALTY

The final commission report, published at Portland on December 1, 1876, recommended the following:

First. That the leaders and teachers of what is known as the “dreamer” belief be required to return to the agencies where they belong forthwith, and in case of refusal that they be removed from further contact with the roamng Indians by immediate transportation to the Indian Territory.

There is at least one such “dreamer” with Joseph’s band, to whom reference has been previously made in this report.

Second. With this pregnant cause of trouble thus removed, so long as Joseph and his band remain in the Im-na-ha Valley, and visit the Wallowa Valley for hunting, fishing, and grazing for only a short time in each year, we recommend a speedy military occupancy of the valley by an adequate force to prevent a recurrence of past difficulties between the whites and the Indians. Meanwhile, the agent of the Nez Perces should continue his efforts to settle these Indians in severalty upon the lands of the reservation that are still vacant. [A legal definition of severalty is defined as: a separate and individual right to possession or ownership that is not shared with any other person.]

Third. Unless they should conclude to settle quietly, as above indicated, within a reasonable time in the judgment of the department, they should then be placed by force upon the Nez Perce reservation, and, in satisfaction of any possible rights of occupancy which they may have, the same aid and allotments of land granted to the treaty Nez Perce should be extended to them on the reservation.

Fourth. If these Indians overrun land belonging to the whites and commit depredations upon their property, disturb the peace by threats or otherwise, or commit any other overt act of hostility, we recommend the employment of sufficient force to bring them into subjection, and to place them onto the Nez Perce reservation.

The Indian agent at Lapwai should be fully instructed to carry into execution these suggestions, relying at all times upon the department commander for aid when necessary.

Fifth. We recommend the adoption of a similar policy toward the other non-treaty Indians of the Yakama, Umatilla, and Nez Perce agencies, including other Indians who have wandered from their reservations, and for this purpose the agents having the care of these reservations should be directed to take similar action to that recommended for the Nez Perce agent.

Interestingly, only four of the five commission members’ names appeared on the final report. Brevet Colonel H. Clay Wood’s name is missing from the report. Author Green noted that, “A minority report contended that force could not be used until Joseph’s people committed ‘“some act of overt hostility.’” (Nez Perce Summer, p. 19)

From that point on events seemed to gain a momentum of their own. Green wrote that in January (Lavender stated early Feb.) Monteith sent word to Joseph that the commission now demanded that his people move to the reservation, stipulating a deadline of April 1st. General Howard, under orders from Major General Irvin McDowell, commander of the department of the Pacific, was instructed “to occupy the Wallowa Valley in the interest of peace. You are to comply with the request of the Department of the Interior... to the extent only of protecting and aiding [its agents] ... in the execution of their instructions.” (Green, Nez Perce Summer, p. 19)

Howard then ordered troops from Fort Walla Walla to a post near the Wallowa River where they could protect the Wallowa Bridge and settlers as they moved about. Howard’s directive, “in the interests of peace,” included a complement with two Gatling guns. There was no mistaking the message here. Joseph then played a waiting game that involved every device that he could muster. 

In, Let Me Be Free, Lavender wrote that Joseph was willing to try anything: (p. 225 -26)

He grasped at straws. White interpreters often had trouble with the complexities of the Nez Perce tongue, and perhaps those at the conference had given the commissioners a wrong impression. He must arrange a meeting with Howard where the truth would prevail. Also, he needed allies. He would summon the other nontreaty chiefs, whose futures were as clouded as his, to a meeting to discuss their futures. Another potential helper was the Jesuit missionary—lean, tough, weather-beaten Father Joseph Cataldo. In spite of Monteith’s angry insistence that the Nez Perce reservation “belonged” to the Presbyterians, Father Cataldo had finally won the right to establish a Catholic mission beside Sweetwater Creek, a tributary stream that entered Lapwai Creek a few miles above the fort. Several dozen nontreaty Nimipus and many treaty Indians who had grown disenchanted with life as it was being directed by John Monteith had become converts. An eager proselytizer, Father Cataldo had visited with Joseph and Ollokot and seemed sympathetic. Perhaps he would put in a word with Howard. Finally, there might be a possibility of making common cause with their friends, the Umatillas, and sharing a reservation with them.

Ollokot took the lead in pushing for the various programs. He sought to convince Father Cataldo of the injustice of the Americans by reciting the long record of Nez Perce friendliness to the whites. He spoke in glowing terms of the Sioux's victories in many battles and said that the Nez Perces, too, would fight. Cataldo quietly replied that as a spokesman for Christ he could not interfere in political quarrels. At the same time he warned against trying to settle grievances with violent means.

Ollokot was successful in arranging a meeting in Walla Walla on April 1st., where the subject of an alternative reservation was discussed with some of General Howard’s men. Another Walla Walla meeting was then scheduled for April 20th., where the General himself would attend. When this date arrived Joseph did not attend the meeting when he became ill.

Ollokot took charge at this meeting. His presentation of a new reservation idea - either to include Umatillas in a Wallowa reservation, or to move the nontreaty Nez Perces to a Umatilla reservation - did not fly with General Howard. Surprisingly, Howard did agree to another meeting, this time at Lapwai, on May 3rd. Howard’s insistence that they move to the reservation needed an airing with all nontreaty chiefs present.

TOOHOOLHOOLZOTE (SOUND) - LEAVE MR. WASHINGTON ALONE

The list of several other chiefs present at this May 3rd. meeting became significant when events spiraled out of control afterward. White Bird from the Lamatas, on the Salmon River, now replaced their former chief, Eagle-from-the-Light. Eagle now spent most of his time in Montana, occasionally near Missoula. Looking Glass, Jr., son of Old Looking Glass, was a renowned buffalo hunter and warrior who supported the nontreaty chiefs. Finally, the nontreaty spokesman for the meeting would be Toohoolhoolzote (Sound), a rough “barrel-chested, spellbinding old orator and a true Dreamer.” (Let Me Be Free, p. 227)

As the meeting began Howard quickly explained their purpose, while Monteith read the orders directly from the Washington document. The roaming bands must resettle to the reservation. The new nontreaty spokesman, Sound, responded just as quickly:

[O]ld Toohoolhoolzote challenged him [Howard] aggressively. “I’d like to know who Washington is. Is he a chief, or a common man, or a house, or a place? Leave Mr. Washington, that is if he is a man, alone. He has no sense. He does not know anything about our country. He was never here.... You are a chief, Howard, and I am elected by the Nez Perces to speak for them and do the best I can for our people. Let us settle the matter between you and me.”

For awhile he talked about the devotion of his people to the land. The challenge in his manner—Howard called him a cross-grained growler—led the general to adjourn the meeting (it was a Friday) to the following Monday. Howard used the intervening time to rush messengers to his reinforcing troops... (Let Me Be Free, p. 227)


General Howard later furnished his own account of their meeting on May 7th:

[Toohoolhoolzote] repeats what he had said at the other council about chieftainship—chieftainship of the earth.... I answer, “I don’t want to offend your religion, but you must talk about practicable things; twenty times over I hear that the earth is your mother and about chieftainship from the earth. I want to hear it no more, but come to business at once.” The old man then began to speak about the land and became more impudent than ever, and said, ... “You white people get together and measure the earth and then divide it, so I want you to talk directly what you mean.”... The old man, in a surly way, asked, “What person pretended to divide the land and put me on it?” I answered, with emphasis, “I am that man. I stand here for the President, and there is no spirit, good or bad, that will hinder me. My orders are plain, and will be executed.” (Nez Perce Summer, Green, p. 20)


Lavender wrote that Howard now grew exasperated with Toohoolhoolzote. (Let Me Be Free, p. 227)

“You do not propose to comply with the orders of the government?”

“You are trifling with the laws of the earth.”

“Do the Indians want me to put them on the reservations by force?”

“I will not go.”

There was scant hope of coming to terms with the rest of the chiefs if the cross-grained growler kept the stage with that kind of talk. Howard himself, so he wrote later, seized the chief by one arm. Captain Perry took the other. While treaty and nontreaty Indians alike watched in stunned silence, they hustled him, unresisting, across the parade ground to the guardhouse and unceremoniously locked him up.

A fight could have easily erupted at this point, yet the chiefs wisely avoided it. News had just arrived that more troops were enroute, while others had already arrived at the mouth of the Grande Ronde, with a Gatling gun. If Howard could have known the extent of the loss of life that would begin the following month, he may have elected to handle this situation differently. Tasked with moving the nontreaty Nez Perces, “in the interests of peace,” his actions were now decidedly provocative. On the other hand, the deadline given to Joseph was already over a month old and they were not showing any inclination to abide by his directive. Howard would not accept many more days of endless meetings at Lapwai without a resolution.

In, Nez Perce Summer, Green wrote that Joseph now recognized his options were limited: (p. 22)

[Howard’s] action violated council protocol and infuriated the Nez Perces, but Joseph counseled patience. He later recalled, “I knew if we resisted that all the white men present, including General Howard, would be killed in a moment, and we would be blamed.” With the old man removed, the Nez Perces, despite evident misgivings, agreed to inspect the reservation lands. Resignedly, Joseph, Looking Glass, and White Bird the next day rode up the Lapwai Valley with General Howard, observing the tiny farms of many of their treaty kin. At one point, wrote Howard, Joseph allowed that “When I come on the reservation I want a good frame house.” But Joseph recalled that “we rode all day upon the reservation, and found no good land unoccupied.” On Wednesday and Thursday, Looking Glass and White Bird, again accompanied by Howard, traveled to the Clearwater Valley, where their bands were destined to settle. Looking Glass, recalled the general, “indicated great delight at the peace prospects”...

The Fort Lapwai council concluded on May 15. By then, the troops from Lewiston had arrived to affect a show of force. The Nez Perces, reported Howard, agreed to come on the reserve and were assigned tracts as follows: Joseph’s band would settle on the upper Middle Clearwater, as would White Bird’s band. Husis Kute and the Palouses would also go to the Clearwater, while Hasotin’s people would move to the area of the Sweetwater, a tributary of Lapwai Creek. The people were granted thirty days in which to gather their livestock and relocate onto the reservation. Joseph recollected that Howard told them: “If you are not there in that time, I shall consider that you want to fight, and will send my soldiers to drive you on.” When White Bird allowed that he could not always control his people who got liquor from the whites, and that he feared those so affected might not come on the reservation, Howard assured him that his soldiers would be ready to assist in bringing them in. The general concluded: “Having now secured the object named, by persuasion, constraint, and such a gradual encircling of the Indians by troops as to render resistance evidently futile, I thought my own instructions fulfilled.” Howard returned to Portland, confident that the Nez Perces would respond by the appointed deadline and that trouble would be averted.

DEADLINE


With a deadline of June 15, 1877 the bands began preparations for moving their homes, livestock, possessions, and the things they would need. Joseph’s band faced the most difficult journey since it involved crossing two swollen rivers in the middle of spring runoff. Rounding up their stock and swimming them across the Snake was hazardous at any time of year, but especially in early June. Crossing at one of the only fords (subsequently named Dug Bar) presented the best route across this reach of Hell’s Canyon.

Lavender gave a vivid description of what these people no doubt encountered: (Let Me Be Free  p. 235)

Meanwhile the women, long practiced in moving the mobile villages, struck the tipis and prepared family belongings for loading onto packhorses. It is said that among the baggage were iron-lidded kettles holding the metallic coins and gold dust the Indians had been paid over the years for their horses and for odd jobs they had done on ranches belonging to white settlers...

...The Snake was roaring with snowmelt. Here was the perilous part of the journey. Here, as they stared at the swift, muddy water, latticed with churning waves, they felt their anger grow. The white general with his hard eyes above his bushy beard! Why couldn’t he have let them wait until fall when the water would have been low and the crossing easy?

They did not let their dismay cripple them. The herders in charge of the horses divided the animals into small bunches. Then, screeching wildly, they pressed them at a dead run toward a place where the river bank sloped gently toward the river. The force with which the horses hit the water and the excitement generated by the tremendous splashing carried them far out into the current, where they were less likely to turn back. The current at that stretch of the river, moreover, slanted toward the opposite (eastern) shore. Success, then, depended on simply keeping the swimming animals moving forward, only their heads showing above the roiling flood. Yelling, blanket-waving riders on the down sides and behind each bunch did just that. Some young colts were lost, but most of the animals—probably as many as a thousand—climbed out, dripping and snorting, about a mile farther down the stream than the point where they had entered.

The cattle proved less amenable. They balked when confronted by the water. After being crowded in, many of them fell to milling with fright in midcurrent. Scores, perhaps hundreds, were swept irretrievably downstream. Certainly, few calves reached the landing place on the opposite shore...

During the turmoil, the baggage was taken from the packhorses, which were driven across the flood with the loose animals. The bundles, all packed so they would be buoyant, were rearranged in several piles and lashed tightly inside tipi hides. These were wrestled into the water and towed, floating, across the river by horsemen and women. People who for one reason or another did not wish to ride across the spate on horseback were transported by clinging to the lashings of the improvised rafts. Among them was Joseph’s pregnant wife nearing her time. Fortunately for her, the crossing took only two days.

WAR BEGINS

Moving now toward the Lapwai reservation, Joseph’s people stopped at a gathering place known as Tepahlewan or Split Rocks. They would camp on Camas Prairie near what is today known as Tolo Lake. It had been used for gatherings and ceremonies for years and a large group, including many of Joseph’s fellow nontreaty Nez Perces, now occupied it. White Bird, Toohoolhoolzote, Looking Glass and many others had gathered here and now commenced a last celebration involving hundreds of people. White settlers who had observed this gathering were notably wary of the intentions of those gathering there. Green noted that one Mount Idaho resident had written a letter to General Howard stating his concerns and that “citizens of that community were becoming increasingly suspicious of the tribesmen gathered nearby.” (Nez Perce Summer, p. 28)

Lavender described the scene that would finally explode into war: (Let Me Be Free, p. 236)

As custom decreed, Joseph’s pregnant wife and her friends erected a small birth tipi apart from their group’s dwellings. All males, even the prospective father, were taboo. To make use of his time, the chief, his oldest daughter, his brother, his brother’s wife, and a few more men went back across the Salmon to their cattle, to butcher enough meat to tide the families over while they were establishing new homes on the reservation.

As they were riding back up Rocky Canyon, early on the morning of June 15, the day of the ultimatum, driving twelve laden packhorses ahead of them, Two Moons galloped from the camp with devastating information. Two days before, the hunter-warriers of White Bird’s band had decided to hold a grand parade. Its basic structure was for the participants to ride in a circle in front of the tipis, waving their weapons and boasting of their exploits. It was an inflammatory spectacle and might not have been held if Looking Glass, an advocate of peace, had not gone home with most of his people and if Joseph and Ollokot had not been absent. But nobody restrained the boasters, and soon tempers began to rise.

The rear of such a parade was a place of honor. After a battle or a horse-stealing raid, brave men rode there to watch for pursuers. On this occasion the place was usurped by two young cousins of White Bird’s band, Wahlitits and Sarpsis Ilppilp, riding double on a single horse. Wahlitits in particular was known for his athletic prowess, good looks, and way with young girls, though he was already married. The sight of them showing off annoyed some of the elder people among the spectators. One shouted that Wahlitits had no right riding in a place of honor. Had he not failed to avenge the murder of his father, Eagle Blanket, by a white man named Larry Ott?

Angered, Wahlitits found a bottle he had secreted in his tipi, took a swallow, and passed it to his cousin. Probably they had been drinking earlier: Why else, except from alcoholic smartaleckness, ride double in a parade? Now they brooded. Wahlitits had not followed the Indian custom of drawing blood for blood because, as was noted earlier, his father had asked him not to lest it start a war. But now.... he’d show the mockers. Enlisting the services of a young cousin of theirs named Swan Necklace, he and Sarpsis Ilppilp painted their faces  and rode down White Bird hill to the Salmon River, seeking Larry Ott. They did not find him, but hate and momentum carried them up the river for another twelve miles or so, past the store and sprinkling of white farms in the cove where Slate Creek entered the main stream, and on to John Day Creek, seeking other quarry. Vengeance, any Indian would have agreed, did not have to be confined to the perpetrator of a wrong; even remote associates could be made to pay. By the time they returned to Tepahlewan the next morning, they were riding new horses and brandishing new weapons. They had killed four settlers against whom White Bird’s people held grudges and had wounded a fifth.

A warrior named Big Dawn leaped onto one of the stolen horses, seized a plundered gun, and rode through the camp, yelling, “Now the soldiers will be after us. Prepare for war!”

When elements of the group at Tolo Lake gathered that evening, including Joseph and Ollokot who had been absent, they expressed fear and confusion, unsure what course to take now. The following morning many of them decided to seek assistance and advice from Looking Glass who had left earlier for the reservation. When they met with Looking Glass and the sub-chief Red Owl, they were not welcomed. Seeking safety and a place out of the path of the storm that was sure to come, several hundred of them traveled to White Bird’s village on the Salmon River. Soon others would join them. Moving hundreds of people and an estimated 2,500 horses, they arrived in the late afternoon on June 16th.

General Howard had already arrived at Lapwai on June 14th, preparing to shepherd the nontreaty Nez Perce onto the reservation. The following day he was inundated with rumors and reports of desperate settlers who were being attacked wholesale. By June 15th., he had received reports that numerous settlers had been killed, or wounded, women raped or taken hostage, and properties destroyed.

Within hours he would mount a defense, sending for help via Lewiston and the telegraph at Walla Walla. At Fort Lapwai he assigned Captain David Perry, with two cavalry companies, to quickly intervene at Mount Idaho. Embarking that evening, Perry’s men marched through the night and late the next day arrived at Grangeville. In route they had encountered evidence of the conflict in several places and were soon convinced by distraught settlers to attack before the tribes crossed the Salmon River as they moved south. Another night march took them to a point overlooking White Bird Canyon, where the bottomlands were now inhabited by hundreds of wary Indians who had retreated there in panic. 

As the party of soldiers moved forward in the light of early dawn, June 17th., a group of six warriors reputedly approached them under a white flag. One of the white volunteers then opened fire. Within the next minute one trumpeter was shot and the other lost his trumpet, prompting extra confusion. Exhausted soldiers soon found themselves receiving fire from above and below on both the sides of the canyon. The Nez Perces had planned for this battle before Perry’s command had even left Lapwai. Before it was over 34 soldiers were killed. Nez Perces reported only two or three wounded and none killed. The war was now officially in progress.

 

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 January 2012 17:21