The Indian Dispossessed/The Nez Perces
Nez Perce Camp on the Yellowstone
Ta-ma-son = Timothy,—Nez Perce
In-me-tuja-latk = Echoing Thunder. Chief Joseph
THE NEZ PERCES
"The line was made as I wanted it; not for me, but my children that will follow me; there is where I live, and there is where I want to leave my body. The land on the other side of the line is what we gave to the Great Father." Joseph, Nez Perce Chief.
WITH many words of friendship the Nez Perce chiefs, speaking in Indian council forty-five years ago, hailed the longdelayed ratification of the treaty which gave to the white man the Nez Perce country, and to the Nez Perces an Indian reservation within it.
Four years before—in 1855—the treaty had been signed by the chiefs and head-men of the Nez Perce nation in council with Governor Stevens, of Washington, and Governor Palmer, of Oregon. The reservation secured to the Indians was of generous proportions. It included the principal valleys occupied by the different bands, or tribes, of the nation, and the hardship of severing their connection with native land fell upon very few of the Nez Perces. "Nor shall any white man," the treaty recites, "excepting those in the employment of the Indian Department, be permitted to reside upon the said reservation without permission of the tribe and the superintendent and agent." In consideration for the cession of territory, the Nez Perces were to have annuities, schools, blacksmiths, carpenters, farmers, a sawmill, and a gristmill; the head chief, a very politic old Indian named "Lawyer," found himself—in the treaty—provided with a furnished house and five hundred dollars a year. This was designated by courtesy as "salary." Head chiefs in more highly organized society have been propitiated in much the same way.
It was a most liberal treaty; and it was good policy to make a liberal treaty with these most numerous and powerful of all the mountain Indians, especially in view of the fierce rush for gold that had maddened the Indian tribes of the great Northwest to the verge of war. During that year Governors Stevens and Palmer made treaties with many of the tribes, under instructions from Washington, to extinguish the Indian title to the gold region and gather the natives upon reservations.
The subsequent history of the Northwest would have been less bloody, less filled with tales of Indian massacres and Indian wars, had the Government fulfilled with any degree of promptness its obligations; but Congress, year after year, failed to render the treaties operative by ratifying them, while the Indians, accepting in good faith the terms of their agreements, vacated the ceded lands and gathered upon the tracts reserved for them, to await the benefits that were promised in the way of annuities, instruction, and implements of agriculture.
They waited in vain. Deprived as they were of their hunting-grounds and the only means of subsistence, starvation and the inhuman treatment of the miners soon drove them to desperation; the records are full of their pleadings with Government agents to give them relief.
"I am not a bad man," says Seattle, a great chief in western Washington, "I am, and always have been, a friend to the whites. I listen to what Mr. Paige says to me, and I do not steal, nor do I or any of my people kill the whites.
"Oh, Mr. Simmons, why don't our papers come back to us? You always say you hope they will soon come, but they do not. I fear we are forgotten, or that we are to be cheated out of our land.
"I have been very poor and hungry all winter, and am very sick now [a fact]. In a little while I will die. I should like to be paid for my land before I die. Many of my people died during the last cold, scarce winter, without getting their pay.
"When I die my people will be very poor. They will have no property, no chief, no one to talk for them. You must not forget them, Mr. Simmons, when I am gone.
"We are ashamed when we think that the Puyallups have their papers. They fought against the whites, while we, who have never been angry with them, get nothing."
And this from a Snohomish chief:
"We want our treaty to be concluded as soon as possible; we are tired of waiting. Our reasons are that our old people (and there are many of them) are dying. Look at those two old men and old women; they have only a little while to live, and they want to get their pay for their land. The white people have taken it, and you, Mr. Simmons, promised us that we should be paid. You and Governor Stevens. Suspense is killing us. We are afraid to plant potatoes on the river bottoms, lest some bad white man should come and make us leave the place.
"You know what we are, Mr. Simmons. You were the first American we ever knew, and our children remember you as long as they remember anything. I was a boy when I first knew you. You know we do not want to drink liquor, but we cannot help it when the bad 'Bostons' bring it to us.
"When our treaty was made we told our hearts to you and Governor Stevens; they have not changed since. I have done."
There is a significant interest in this one:
"I will now talk about our treaties. When is the Great Father that lives across the far mountains going to send us our papers back? Four summers have now passed since you and Governor Stevens told us we would get pay for our land. We remember well what you said to us then, over there [pointing to Point Elliott], and our hearts are very sick because you do not do as you promised. We saw the Nisquallys and Puyallups get their annuity paid them last year, and our hearts were sick because we could get nothing. We never fought the whites; they did. If you whites pay the Indians that fight you, it must be good to fight."
"It must be good to fight." Slowly the Indians came into a full understanding of the "hopelessly illogical" policy of the Government under which its benefits were "proportioned not to the good but to the ill desert of the several tribes." War and desolation filled the land, and the tribes of the mountains stubbornly maintained an unequal struggle for that which, to their untutored minds, seemed to be their own country. A despairing and pathetic contest it is when an unlettered race, with its simple views of fundamental justice, comes against calculating, enlightened, and overwhelming might; the dim realization of inferiority kindles in the benighted mind a desperate ferocity which is akin to patriotic zeal in more civilized defenders of native land.
It is impossible to account for this policy of inaction. Millions more were spent in these wars than would have met every obligation under the treaties. Superintendents, agents, and army officers in the field sent appeal after appeal to the Government to act upon the treaties and stop the useless destruction. One agent, sending in the pleas of several still friendly Indian chiefs, writes:
"After reading this I think that you, sir, must agree with me in thinking that humanity, as well as justice, makes it an imperative duty of Government to adopt some plan by which the Indians can be separated from the whites. Their forbearance has been remarkable. While they had the power of crushing us like worms they treated us like brothers. We, I think, should return their kindness now that we have the power, and our duty is so plainly pointed out by their deplorable situation. My own impression is that the speediest and best way of settling all these difficulties is the ratification of the treaties. The agents will then have the means in their hands of supplying all that I now think is wanting to enable them to govern these unhappy creatures, and to lay the groundwork of civilization for their children to improve upon."
An officer in the field calls the attention of the Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs with no mincing of words to the labors of Stevens and Palmer:
"Those seeing these things at a still later day, and being in position to avert them by a wise, discreet policy for ourselves, and a just one for the Indian, set to work, and from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast labored hard and long in the field and office, travelling through every Indian tribe, learning their history and wants, and with the authoritative voice of the Government made three years ago treaties with these Northwestern Indians, and to this day the labors of Governor Stevens are disregarded and uncared for, and the treaties containing the solemn promises of the Indian on the one side, and binding obligations of the Government on the other, lie among the dusty archives of Congress, while a war rages in every quarter of the Northwest coast. The Indians feel that their rights have been trifled with by promises, made by agents armed and vested with authority to act, which the Government has not ratified. And will it, I ask, longer remain in this passive mood? Will it longer act inertly while lives are sacrificed and millions squandered, and still longer hesitate to act? For one I trust not. Let these be ratified. . . ."
In the command of this officer was a company of thirty Nez Perce warriors, who, the record recites, "marshalling themselves under brave war chiefs, were placed at his disposal to assist him in finding and fighting his enemy." Writing of the Nez Perce tribe, this officer says:
"This is the same people who, meeting the flying columns of Colonel Steptoe in hot night-retreat, having abandoned animals, provisions, and guns behind them, received him with open arms, succored his wounded men, and crossed in safety his whole command over the difficult and dangerous south fork of the Columbia. . . .
"They are far advanced already in civilization—much further than any tribe west of the Rocky Mountains, except the Flatheads. They are inclined to agriculture; already raise wheat, corn, and vegetables, with the rudest of means. When asked by Colonel Wright what they wanted, their reply was well worthy of a noble race: 'Peace, ploughs, and schools.' And will you, can you, longer refuse them these? I ask, therefore, to commend these noble people. Colonel Wright has given me the command of this band of warriors while in the field, and hence I am in a position to know an d study them. I ask that a special appropriation be made to give these people schools, farms, and seeds; that means be taken to so build them up in their mountain homes that we may be enabled to point with joyous pride to a first few tutored savages reclaimed from their wild, nomadic habits; and while asking, aye petitioning, for these, I cannot forget my old mountain friends the Flatheads and Pend d'Oreilles. As yet they are friendly, and I ask that you retain their friendship. I made both to Governor Stevens and to yourself, four year ago, petitions in their favor; but, alas! they passed unheeded. I again renew them, and ask that steps, prompt and efficient, be taken that will avert from these noble bands the devastating arm of war. I ask not that my version be taken alone, but simply ask that it go to form part and parcel of versions given by abler pens, and men who saw but to reflect upon the past and future destiny of the Indians. I point you, commencing with Lewis and Clark in 1804 to the present day, to the accounts of all travellers across the continent; and with one accord they point to the Nez Perces and Flatheads as two bright, shining points in a long and weary pilgrimage across a prairie desert and rugged mountain barrier, alive with savage hordes of Indians, where they have been relieved and aided when most in need; and instances sufficiently numerous to swell a volume exist, that render it needless for me here to refer to them. But I make one more appeal in behalf of these people."
Chief Lawyer joined in the general appeal with a diplomatic reminder, addressed to Governor Stevens:
"At this place about three years since we had our talk, and since that time I have been waiting to hear from our Big Father. We are very poor. It is other people's badness. It is not our fault, and I would like to hear what he has to say. If he thinks our agreement good, our hearts will be thankful.
"Colonel Wright has been over after the bad people, and has killed some of the bad people and hung sixteen; and now I am in hopes we will have peace."
This the Governor at once sent to the Commissioner in Washington, with an appeal for the ratification of their treaty.
In 1859 the wars ended, as all Indian wars end, with the last hostile tribe "reduced to the condition of suppliants for charity." Throughout the four years the Nez Perces, Flatheads, and Pend d'Oreilles remained steadfast friends of the whites, and the ratification of their treaties came as a long-delayed reward.
A Government agent bore the news to the expectant Nez Perces, and a grand council was called to welcome the word from their Great Father. Lawyer, the head chief, Joseph, Looking-glass, and numerous sub-chiefs, voiced their hearty approval of their new relation to the Great Father in Washington; in the characteristic Indian way they expressed their gratitude, their firm determination to maintain a perpetual peace, their blind confidence in the stability of the new covenant. The record of this council is quite complete.
Lawyer, head chief of the Nez Perces nation, made the opening speech:
"I heard you talk yesterday. I heard what the Great Father said. He has laws for his white children and for his red children. He says: 'My white children must do what is right, and my red children must do the same; that is the law.'
"The Great Father tells us his heart through you, and now you have told us all he has to say; it is good. Your law for us is right. I respect the law; my children and young men respect it.
"Now, I will tell you my heart; the chiefs are here, and I want them to listen to me. I don't want any of my chiefs and young men to harm the whites; we always were friends, are now and always will be; you all know my heart, it is to do right. That is all I have to say."
Looking-glass, a sub-chief in Joseph's tribe, then spoke:
"I am now going to say to you what I said to Governor Stevens, four years ago. I told him the amount of country I wanted, and where it laid, and also what I wanted it for. Governor Stevens said yes. That is all I said in council. Our treaty was sent to the Great Father, and he answers it now. He says yes; his word has come. It is the same as if I had seen the great father and exchanged hearts with him. He says he wants my children to do well; he will take care of them. He talks of this country. I want all of you to talk; all of my young men to talk. I am thankful for the word the Great Father has sent us."
"E-yem-mo-mo-kin. Yes, my friends, I heard my name called yesterday, on the list of signers of the treaty. Now, I am going to talk. I am an old man; you told us yesterday that we old men will die on our own lands, and I thank you, my white friend. I am glad to hear from our Great Father, and to know that he will provide for our children that will follow us. It makes my heart good.
"I want them to take hold of hands and never let go. We have taken your hands, my white friend, and I hope we will never part. I have heard the Lawyer and others talk, and my heart is the same as theirs."
Joseph, chief of the Nez Perces in the Wallowa Valley, delivered the most serious and thoughtful speech of them all. Looking into the future, as his fellow-chiefs evidently did not, he saw in the white man's protection the loss of Indian control, of tribal restraint, and in the loose communism of the reservation he saw the danger to the individual. Joseph saw these things darkly, instinctively; his untutored mind could grasp only the immediate needs of his people; but the breaking down of tribal restraints without the substitution of adequate law, and the herding together of a heterogeneous mass in a communism of idleness with the consequent destruction of individual incentive, have been solely responsible for the fearful degeneracy of the reservation Indian during the past forty years. In Joseph's words there is a wisdom that he knew not of; his earnest plea for the Indian's individuality is of deep significance:
"I want to tell you my heart. I am a red man. I have my own opinion about this country; we should make up our minds before we talk. When we made a treaty with Governor Stevens, the line was drawn; I know where it is; you told us right yesterday; it is as you said. When Governor Stevens made the line, he wanted a certain chain of mountains. I said no, I wanted it to hunt in, not for myself, but for my children; but my word was doubted.
"The line was made as I wanted it; not for me, but my children that will follow me; there is where I live, and there is where I want to leave my body. The land on the other side of the line is what we gave to the Great Father.
"You told us yesterday if there is anything we do not understand, you will explain. I will tell you one thing; I have a great many bad young men. I don't want them all to live together in one place; it will not do. We have too many horses and cattle to feed on one piece of land; and I am afraid that my young men and young men of other parties will not get along together. I don't only talk so to-day, but I will tell you the same some other time. We will talk this matter over some other time.
"My young men get drunk, quarrel, and fight, and I don't know how to stop it. A great many of my men have been killed by it; and I am afraid of liquor.
"I think we cannot all live in one place; it is better for each tribe to live in their own country. We will talk of this matter some other time.
"This summer some of my children were mixed up with other tribes, and some of them done wrong; and if the buildings you spoke of, and are mentioned in the treaty, were divided, it would be better for us all. I have told you my mind as it is. I wish you could arrange it so we could live in our own country. I know my young men are wild, and it is better to keep them separated. It is better for all to live as we are. That is all I have to say."
The agent was impressed: "I have heard Joseph talk," he responded, "and my heart is glad. His talk is that of a wise man." Joseph prevailed, and the different tribes maintained their separate existence, each in its native valley, but still within the limits of the reservation; in the words of the Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs, "Chief Lawyer occupying the Kamiah Valley, Big Thunder the Lapwai, Timothy the Alpowai, Joseph the Wallowa, and Billy the Salmon River Valley."
In his report of this council with the Nez Perces, the agent says:
"This tribe, who have been the friends of the whites since the visit of Lewis and Clark to the country, having protected and saved the lives of Governor Stevens and his party, in 1855; organized a party who served with Colonel Wright during his campaign against the hostiles last year; and during every exigency where the whites have needed friends, they have been their firm allies, and [are] entitled to great consideration on the part of Government."
But subsequent happenings give this paragraph a peculiar interest:
"I found there had been great dissatisfaction, not in regard to the treaty, but from the circulation of false rumors amongst them by renegades from other tribes, to the effect that they were being deluded with the idea that their 'treaty' was good, and would be carried out until the whites and soldiers were strong enough to take their lands by force."
The meddlers may have been "renegades"; but in making this prediction they were wizards, soothsayers.
Scarcely had the Nez Perces settled down under the treaty to learn the white man's way, when the discovery of gold brought a rush of miners and adventurers into the reservation itself. No effort seems to have been made to restrain them, and the provision in the covenant, "nor shall any white man . . . be permitted to reside upon said reservation," became a dead letter. Indeed, the whole energy of the interested white population was directed toward securing another curtailment of the Indians' country. Year by year the situation grew worse; the official story is briefly told by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in a report to the Secretary of the Interior:
"In defiance of law, and despite the protestations of the Indian agent, a town site was laid off in October, 1861, on the reservaton, and Lewiston, with a population of twelve hundred, sprung into existence. . . .
"By the spring of 1863 it was very evident that, from the change of circumstances and contact with the whites, a new treaty was required to properly define and, if possible, curtail the limits of the reserve."
"To properly define and, if possible, curtail the limits of the reserve." A most diplomatic phrase; the Honorable Commissioner was writing for public perusal. To" properly define," primarily, and to "curtail," incidentally, a new treaty was required. Diplomacy never more delicately screened a real intention behind a fictitious one. No time was wasted in defining the limits of the reserve; the white men knew where they were; the Indians understood them; nobody misunderstood them. A new treaty was drawn up, cutting down the reservation to a plat of land about one-eighth of its original size, in the centre of the old reserve. Then came the usual struggle to gain the Indian assent. The Wallowa Valley was excluded under the new treaty, and Joseph refused to sign it; Looking-glass, White Bird, and many other chiefs whose country was to be taken from them, refused to sign. Even Lawyer, the head chief, whose country in the Kamiah was to be made the centre of the many benefits to come from the new treaty, held out long against the humiliating cut to "twenty acres each" of tillable land for each adult male. But the treaty is full of "Kamiah," although the agency was at Lapwai. "Ten thousand dollars for the erection of a saw and flouring mill, to be located at Kamiah"; a church "on the Kamiah"; a blacksmith shop "at Kamiah"; Lawyer's "salary" was continued, and a like "salary" to two of his sub-chiefs, "who shall assist him in the performance of his public services"; six hundred dollars more to another of his chiefs, "in consideration of past services and faithfulness"; and Lawyer signed—"with fifty other chiefs and head-men, twenty of whom were parties to the treaty of 1855," records the Commissioner.
Fifty-eight chiefs and headmen had signed the original treaty eight years before; only twenty of these fifty-eight signed the new treaty. Now, where were the missing thirty-eight who did not sign? And again, whence arose thirty new chiefs and head-men in so short a time, to sign the new treaty?
This is not the only time that, while a treaty waited, chiefs and head-men were made to order to meet the demand for signers.
With these fifty signatures the treaty was declared to be the expression of a majority of the Nez Perce nation, and all outside tribes were given one year in which to come within the limits of the new reservation. It is impossible to perceive either honesty or justice in thus getting a favored portion of an Indian nation to sign away the possessions of outside tribes, who were holding their native valleys under express agreement with their Great Father in Washington. A few of the outside Indians bowed to the inevitable, and removed to the reserve, but the majority did not; Joseph, always tenacious of the Indian right to lead the Indian life, refused to move; he continued in possession of the Wallowa Valley.
The Nez Perce nation became divided against itself; two factions, "treaty" and "non-treaty" Indians, were the direct result of the new treaty.
From the very beginning of their reservation life the Nez Perces were the victims of more than the usual amount of official pilfering, and a persistent reluctance on the part of their "Great Father" to fulfil his treaty obligations added to their suspicion that to "take hold of hands and never let go" might mean either a token of perpetual peace or of perpetual bondage.
To such limits was the robbery carried that in 1862—the year before the new treaty—the entire force of the agency was discharged, and the superintendent made a personal investigation. This is what he found:
"I sought in vain to find the first foot of land fenced or broken by him and his employees; and the only product of the agricultural department that I could discover consisted of some three tons of oats in the straw, piled up within a rude, uncovered enclosure of rails, to raise which must have cost the Government more than seven thousand dollars. Even this property was barely saved by the present agent from the hands of the departing employees, who claimed it as the result of their private labor.
"As I witnessed the withdrawal from this meagre pile of the rations for my horse, I could hardly fail to sigh to think that every movement of his jaws devoured at least a dollar's worth of governmental bounty.
"The chiefs whom I met in council complained that the employees heretofore sent to instruct them under the provisions of the treaty had taken their women to live with, and had done little else; and they seemed desirous to know if that was the method proposed by the Government to carry out the stipulations of the treaty.
"Several of these discharged employees were lounging around the agency waiting for their female Indian companions to receive their proportion of the annuity goods."
But it makes little difference to the Indian whether the agent gets his goods and confiscates them, or the goods are not furnished at all by the Government. Such fine reasoning as "insufficient appropriations" or "delays incident to change of administration" is not within the scope of the Indian mind. He knows only that he does not receive his just dues, and with simple Indian directness he refuses to entertain excuses in lieu of annuities. In 1866 the Nez Perces were still dreaming of the alluring benefits which were to come to them under their second treaty:
"The Indians of southern Idaho are fast fading away, and as we occupy their root grounds, converting them into fields and pastures, we must either protect them or leave them to the destroying elements now surrounding them, the result of which cannot be doubtful. A humane magnanimity dictates their protection and speedy separation from those evils to which they are exposed by intermingling with white men.
"Prominent among the tribes of northern Idaho stand the Nez Perces, a majority of whom boast that they have ever been the faithful friend of the white man. But few over half of the entire tribes of the Nez Perces are under treaty. The fidelity of those under treaty, even under the most discouraging circumstances, must commend itself to the favorable consideration of the department. The influx of the white population into their country has subjected them to all the evils arising from an association with bad white men, and, as might well be expected, the effect upon the Indians has been most unhappy. The non-payment of their annuities has had its natural effect upon the minds of some of those under treaty; but their confiding head chief (Lawyer) remains unmoved, and on all occasions is found the faithful apologist for any failure of the Government."
This is the view of the Governor of Idaho. The Nez Perces agent expresses himself freely:
"One great cause of the disagreement and split among this people is the non-payment of their annuities. The non-treaty side throw it up to the other side that now they have sold their country and have got nothing but promises which are being received from year to year, that their annuities will never be here. They use it, too, with such good effect that every day their side is increasing in strength. Many of the young men, and some of the old ones of the Lawyer side, say it is true, and that they had rather be with the non-treaty side and not expect anything than to remain with the Lawyer side and have, every few days, these promises repeated to them. Too much praise cannot be awarded Lawyer, the head chief of the nation, for his endeavors to keep peace between his people and the whites, and to account to them for the want of good faith on the part of the Government. . . .
"It is uphill work for an agent to manage his Indians well when he refers them to certain treaty stipulations reserved as their part, when they can retort by saying that but few of the stipulations on the part of the Government are kept."
Very little good the combined protest did. In the following year the Governor says:
"Their grievances are urged with such earnestness, that even 'Lawyer,' who has always been our apologist, has in a measure abandoned his pacific policy, and asks boldly that we do them justice. From all the facts obtained, it is apparent that had the Government been prompt and just in its dealings with them, it would have given much power and prestige to the treaty party of the Nez Perces, and [have] had a powerful influence in drawing the non-treaty party into the covenant. Even now it may not be too late, but if neglected, war may be reasonably expected. Should the Nez Perces strike a blow, all over our Territory and around our boundaries will blaze the signal fires and gleam the tomahawks of the savages."
Even the prospect of war failed to arouse Washington to a sense of its treaty obligations. Another change of administration, and a new agent—a second lieutenant in the army—records his first experience as a purveyor of promises:
"I arrived here on the 14th of July, 1869, and assumed the direction of affairs on the 15th. The Indians on hearing of my arrival commenced coming to see me. Among the first that came was 'Lawyer,' the head chief, who seemed to be well pleased that 'General Grant had sent him a soldier chief,' and in the course of the conversation he told me that some of his people had gone to the buffalo country. Here I first learned that there was a 'non-treaty party' among these Indians. The leading men from all parts of the reservation came to see me, and they, both treaty and non-treaty Indians, all of them, seemed to be well pleased that General Grant had sent them a 'soldier chief.'
"My first object was to find out the cause of the disaffection of this roaming band of Indians known as non-treaty Indians. I found that at first there were but comparatively few of them, and they said at the ratification of the treaty that the Government never meant to fulfil its stipulations; that the white man had no good heart, etc.
"And as time passed on these assertions were verified to some extent by the failure on the part of the Government to build the churches, school-houses, mills at Kamiah, and fence and plough their lands, as provided by treaties of 1859 and 1863, until many of the Indians of the treaty side are beginning to feel sore on account of such failure. These arguments are continually being used by the non-treaty party, and are having great weight, being supported as they are by the stubborn facts. . . .
"These Indians boast with great pride that they as a nation never shed a white man's blood, but the Government has, through its agents, been so dilatory in fulfilling its treaty stipulations, and agents have promised so often that all the stipulations of the treaties would soon be fulfilled, and to so little purpose, that these Indians do not believe that an agent can or will tell the truth.
"I told them at Kamiah that I was going to put up their mill for them. They said in reply that other agents had told them so many years ago."
Little wonder that the non-treaty faction flourished. The wonder is that the treaty element continued to live on expectations. Every action—and every inaction—of the Government served to confirm and strengthen Joseph in his love of the independent life, in his contempt for civilization as it was presented to him, in his fine scorn for the Great Father's promises. He was forced by the logic of events to the conviction that there was no sincerity in the white man's covenants. For ten years after the attempt to extinguish their title to the Wallowa Valley Joseph and his people maintained their separate existence, filling the valley with their herds of horses and cattle during the summer, and retiring each fall to the more sheltered Imnaha Valley for the winter, or to the buffalo country east of the mountains for the annual hunt. During all these years, and as old age came upon him, Joseph impressed upon his two sons, In-me-tuja-latk and Ollicut, the importance of the trust that would devolve upon them to hold for their people the land which he had saved, "not for myself, but for my children." Upon his death In-me-tuja-latk assumed the name of Joseph, and succeeded to the chieftainship. Young Joseph was then a few years past thirty; in temperament, in ability, in the strength of his conviction that the Indian way was the only way for the Indian, he was the counterpart of his father. A description of this man, who was to be the central figure in the tragic events which cost this tribe its native valley, appears in an official report:
"He is in the full vigor of his manhood; 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. His younger brother [Ollicut] in whose ability he evidently confides—putting him forward much of the time as his advocate—is two inches taller than himself, equally well formed, quite as animated, and perhaps more impassioned in speech, though possibly inferior in judgment."
Joseph came into the chieftainship at a critical period in the history of his tribe. In the early seventies white settlers became so numerous and persistent in their claims to rich portions of the Wallowa Valley, and pressed upon Washington their desire for the expulsion of the Indians with such political force, that in 1873 a commission was sent into the valley to arrange with the Indians for their removal. But, contrary to the expectations of the Vociferous Few who had brought about the agitation, the Commission decided in favor of the Indian claim to the Wallowa Valley; the Commissioner of Indian Affairs approved their finding, the Secretary of the Interior endorsed it, and the President of the United States made this order:
"Executive Mansion, June 16, 1873.
"It is hereby ordered that the tract of country above described be withheld from entry and settlement as public lands, and that the same be set apart as a reservation for the roaming Nez Perce Indians, as recommended by the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
"U. S. Grant."
This executive order not only confirmed to Joseph and his band the Wallowa Valley as their reservation; it implied the endorsement by the highest authority of their contention that the valley had not been ceded under the treaty of 1863, and definitely settled the question of their title to the country that was theirs before the advent of white men. But the order aroused the land-seizing population to a pitch of wild indignation; that the President should affirm the Indian right to Indian land so nearly wrested from him by encroachment and trespass was deemed an outrage without precedent. Meetings were held, representatives in Congress were appealed to, and by every possible means they gave vent to their displeasure. Despite the protests of the Indians and in direct violation of the President's order, the settlers remained in the valley, while Joseph and his people struggled to hold their ground with their herds of cattle and horses. Those were troublous days for Joseph, but knowing full well that any retaliation for outrages committed upon the Indians would be hailed by the settlers as a welcome opportunity to annihilate his people, he succeeded in maintaining peace and a fair proportion of his rights in the valley.
In matters vitally affecting the American Indian, there has yet to be recorded a single instance where the vote-seeking Government officials have long withstood the demands of the Vociferous Few. The Governor of Oregon made a strong personal appeal to Washington for the expulsion of the Indians; inspired by the delegation from Oregon, Congress refused to appropriate the necessary funds for the reimbursement and removal of settlers, thus blocking the executive order. And the great Government meekly, humbly bowed before the new state of Oregon. Within two years of the first order, and wholly without notice to Joseph, a second order came from the President's hand:
"Executive Mansion, June 10, 1875.
"It is hereby ordered that the order dated June 16, 1873, withdrawing from sale and settlement and setting apart the Wallowa Valley, in Oregon, described as follows: . . . as an Indian reservation, is hereby revoked and annulled, and the said described tract of country is hereby restored to the public domain.
"U. S. Grant."
By this stroke of the pen the Indians became trespassers in their own country. It became the duty of the agent to acquaint them with this latest change in their relation to the Government:
"When I received information from the Department to the effect that the Wallowa Valley had been opened to settlers. I sent for 'Joseph,' and upon his arrival informed him of the same. At the first interview he was inclined to be ugly, and returned to his camp very much dissatisfied with the action of the Government. In the course of a week he came back and talked more reasonably. To guard against any trouble that might arise, I requested General O. O. Howard, commander Department Columbia, to station troops in the valley during the fishing season, which request was complied with. I think the question of the Wallowa Valley ought to be definitely settled. The Indians go there with large bands of horses, from which springs nearly all the trouble between the Indians and settlers, the latter having large herds of stock in the valley also."
This occupation by the soldiery marked the beginning of the end; but Joseph steadfastly refused to vacate the Wallowa Valley. A year passed; then a special commission was appointed to proceed to the Nez Perce country and labor with the redoubtable Joseph. They came, they saw, but they did not conquer:
"A few moments before the appointed hour the head of his well mounted column was seen from the agency, turning a point in the road. With military precision and order it massed itself in front of, but at considerable distance from, the church. As he entered the church with his band it was evident that their ranks were considerably swelled by the addition of other prominent non-treaty Indians, as also by some malcontents among those who acknowledge themselves bound by the treaties. The commission occupied the platform of the church. Joseph and his band, sixty or seventy in number (including malcontents), after an exchange of salutations by himself and a few of his headmen with the commission, took seats upon our left, the treaty-Indians filling the right and centre of the house.
"Brief personal introductions by General Howard followed, who also made. to Joseph a plain and concise statement of the peaceful errands and objects of the commission.
"From the first it was apparent that Joseph was in no haste. Never was the policy of masterly inactivity more fully inaugurated. He answered every salutation, compliment, and expression of good will, in kind, and duplicated the quantity. An alertness and dexterity in intellectual fencing was exhibited by him that was quite remarkable. . . .
"When, in answer to suggestions and general inquiry, no grievance was stated, the commission plied him with questions touching his occasional occupation of Wallowa Valley, and the irritations and disturbances consequent thereon with the white settlers, he answered, he had not come to talk about land, and added that these white settlers had first informed him of the appointment of this commission, expressing their belief that on its assembling all these troubles would be settled, and they (the whites) would retire from the valley. In this, and the following interviews, which were long drawn out, one of them continuing into the night, Joseph maintained his right to Wallowa Valley, including, as we understood, the tract of country set apart as a reservation for him and his band, by Executive order dated June 16, 1873. . . .
"The earth was his mother. He was made of the earth and grew up on its bosom. The earth, as his mother and nurse, was sacred to his affections, too sacred to be valued by or sold for silver and gold. He could not consent to sever his affections from the land that bore him. He was content to live upon such fruits as the 'Creative Power' placed within and upon it, and unwilling to barter these and his free habits away for the new modes of life proposed by us. Moreover, the earth carried chieftainship (which the interpreter explained to mean law, authority, or control), and therefore to part with the earth would be to part with himself or with his self-control. He asked nothing of the President. He was able to take care of himself. He did not desire Wallowa Valley as a reservation, for that would subject him and his band to the will of and dependence on another, and to laws not of their own making. He was disposed to live peaceably. He and his band had suffered wrong rather than do wrong. One of their number was wickedly slain by a white man during the last summer, but he would not avenge his death. But, unavenged by him, the voice of that brother's blood, sanctifying the ground, would call the dust of their fathers back to life, to people the land in protest of this great wrong.
"The serious and feeling manner in which he uttered these sentiments was impressive. He was admonished that in taking this position he placed himself in antagonism to the President, whose government extended from ocean to ocean; that if he held to this position, sooner or later there would come an issue, and when it came, as the weaker party he and his band would go to the wall; that the President was not disposed to deprive him of any just right or govern him by his individual will, but merely subject him to the same just and equal laws by which he himself as well as all his people were ruled."
Day after day the commissioners met with the Nez Perces; their report is filled with the picturesque Indian speeches:
"What I tell you is the truth," declares Joseph. "It is not for us to trade off the land that is not traded off; and, as I said before, it is not marked and should be so left. It is a cause of great grief and trouble to us. When there is no cause there is no reason to be troubled. When we heard the whites say that they came to settle there by authority of a Government officer, our hearts were sick. At that time the whites were very troublesome. I said to them, 'My friends, don't do that way; be quiet; we can't get along that way.' At that time I wrote to Washington. It has been yearly for some time that I have sent word to Washington. I think a great deal of my country. I cannot part with it. At that the whites became angry, and told me that it was not my country. You know that our horses do not graze around by our thoughts. I asked the whites if I ever called them to my country. For what purpose did you come to my home? They have been very troublesome for these years. There the whites killed one of our number. We told them we could not commit a wrong on good land. For the purpose of carrying their point one of them lied. I admit my heart was aroused. . . .
"I did not expect to be talked to again about my country by the whites. I will withhold my country from the whites, nor will I let them take it from me. We are not to be trampled upon and our rights taken from us. The right to the land was ours before the whites came among us; white men set such authority aside. If that course were adopted neither would have chiefs— neither would have rest. It ought to fill you with fear. Wrong has been done us. We will not shed blood. Perhaps a law will be found applicable to the case. Law is not without eyes; hence, friends, listen; we will hold to our chieftainship."
Another adjournment, and another day of Indian oratory; Joseph persists in his attachment to the land of his fathers:
"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. Say to us, if you can say it, that you were sent by the Creative Power to talk to us. Perhaps you think the Creator sent you here to dispose of us as you see fit. 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."
Suggestive questions met with ready answers:
"Mr. Jerome. Is there any other place where you would like to go?
"Young Joseph. I see no place but the Wallowa Valley. It is my home. Everything grows there in the earth. I do not think so much of the fish.
"Mr. Jerome. Haven't you a stronger affection for peace than you have for the land?
"Young Joseph. I think with reference to the land. I look upon the land, made as it was, with pleasure. It was made for us, with all its natural advantages. I grew up on it, and took it as it was given to 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 that it had been given me. I don't wish to be understood as talking about the Lapwai, but the Wallowa. I have set my foot down, and have gone as far as I intend to go. I have already shown to you my mind about the country over there, and you know what I think as well as I do.
"Mr. Jerome. What shall we say to the President when we go back?
"Young Joseph. All I have to say is that I love my country."
Another still more suggestive question from General Howard: "Suppose several thousand men should come from Oregon with arms, what would you do?"
Within a year the troops came upon them from Oregon, with General Howard at their head. How prophetic!
Is there anything of the traditional Indian vengeance in this?
"When I learned they had killed one of my people, it clothed my heart with fear and trouble. My heart was darkened. I was heart-sick. I looked for relief as out of the question. Nothing would bring back the dead. I told them this. I thought when I heard a commission was coming here we could settle this thing and interchange ideas with good effect. My travelling around in my own country used to be unmolested; I went in happiness and peace. The killing of that Indian caused me to feel that darkness pervaded my heart. I thought, when I heard of this commission, perhaps something will be said in the council that will in a measure heal my heart. When I heard the whites had killed the Indian, I thought perhaps they had not been taught the law. By the whites causing the trouble they were brought up to justice by the law. With reference to the body of the white man who committed the deed I have made up my mind. In whatsoever manner I may think concerning the murderer you will hear of as coming from me; I have come to the conclusion to let him escape and enjoy health, and not take his life for the one he took. I am speaking as though I spoke to the man himself. I do not want anything in payment for the deed he committed. I pronounce the sentence that he shall live. I spoke to the murderer and told him I thought a great deal of the land on which he had shed the blood of one of my people. When I saw all the settlers take the murderer's part, though they spoke of bringing him to trial, I told them there was no law in favor of murder. I could see they were all in favor of the murderer, so I told them to leave the country. I told them it was of great importance. You see one of our bodies lying dead. I am not talking idly to you. I cannot leave that country and go elsewhere. . . .
"When the whites did not live in the Wallowa, I grew up there; you see my gray hairs now. I have travelled all its trails. Then there were no whites or fences. I have heard what you have said. I think you can reprimand your people so that they will do better. I have stock ranging perhaps the whole length of the creek. That stock I have traded for. I have been listening to the whites for perhaps twenty years. I have said nothing in this line. My children have shown you friendship, and you have set aside that friendship. That much I show up to you."
Pressed for an explanation of his frequent migrations from the valley, Joseph gives this unique justification:
"Joseph said: There is much snow there. In severe weather we go to Imnaha. There is good hunting there. . . . This one place of living is the same as you whites have among yourselves. When you were born, you looked around and found you lived in houses. You grew up to be large men. At any time you wished to go from any point to another, you went. After making such journey, perhaps you came back to a father. I grew up the same way. Whenever my mind was made up to travel, I went. When I got to be quite a lad, I was clothed with wisdom. My eyes were opened. I did see. I saw tracks going in all directions. I grew up seeing the trail as far as the buffalo country, and saw that my seniors had followed it. As large as the earth is, it serves as a house to live in. Seeing as I said, I concluded the earth was made to live in as well as to travel on. I saw in what kind of houses you lived. I approve of them for your use. Whenever I see houses, I know whites have been there; but it is not for me to demolish them. I have already shown to you that the land is as a bed for me. If we leave it, perhaps for years, we expect it to be ready to receive us when we come back."
But the labors of the commissioners were in vain; Joseph made this final declaration:
"You say come on the reservation. I say I don't come on the reservation. As for the Wallowa Valley, I will settle there in my own way and at my own pleasure. That is the way my heart is, and if you ask each of my people you will find their hearts the same."
The scene of activity now shifts to the War Department. After much correspondence between Washington and the military of the Northwest, the early spring was determined upon for the final move upon Joseph. In February the Nez Perce agent sent a delegation of "treaty" Indians to the Wallowa Valley with an untimatum to the refractory chief. This is Joseph's reply:
"I have been talking to the whites many years about the land in question, and it is strange they cannot understand me. The country they claim belonged to my father, and when he died it was given to me and my people, and I will not leave it until I am compelled to."
By the 1st of May a strong military force, in command of General O. O. Howard, was approaching the Nez Perce country. The General met Joseph and other non-treaty chiefs for a final parley:
"Friday, the 4th of May, the Indians came together again very much reinforced, part of White Bird's Indians and some others having come in. They go through a similar preliminary ceremonial around the garrison. . . .
"Joseph simply introduced White Bird and his people, stating that they had not seen me before, and that he wished them to understand what was said. White Bird sat demurely in front of me, kept his hat on, and steadily covered his face with a large eagle's wing. . . .
"White Bird's Indians, having come a long distance, were evidently very tired. I thought it was best to allow them to assemble again, with a view of keeping them on the reservation and gathering in others still, and let them have time to talk over what we had told them until I could get my troops in position; . . . so when Joseph asked for a postponement till the morrow, I said: 'Let the Indians take time; let them wait till Monday morning; meanwhile they can talk among themselves.' This gave evident satisfaction, and Monday morning at nine o'clock was fixed for the next meeting."
And the Indians gladly welcomed the three days' delay, while the astute General gathered his forces about them.
But there was no common ground for a parley. The Indians were inclined to discuss the old question of their rights to the valley, while General Howard insisted on an immediate compliance with the order to remove from Wallowa to the reserve. One old Indian, Too-hul-hul-sote, seems to have especially irritated the General:
"'The law is, you must come to the reservation. The law is made in Washington; we don't make it.' Other positive instructions are repeated. Too-hul-hul-sote answers, 'We never have made any trade. Part of the Indians gave up their land; I never did. The earth is part of my body, and I never gave up the earth.'
"I answer, 'You know very well that the Government has set apart a reservation and that the Indians must go on it. . . .'
"White Bird, in a milder manner, said he agreed with Too-hul-hul-sote. He said if he had been taught from early years to be governed by the whites, then he would be governed by the whites. 'The earth sustains me.' I then turned to the old man, whom they mean to keep at it, and say: 'Then you do not promise to comply with the orders?' He answers: 'So long as the earth keeps me, I want to be left alone; you are trifling with the law of the earth.' I reply: 'Our old friend does not seem to understand that the question is, Will the Indians come peaceably on the reservation or do they want me to put them there by force?'
"He then declares again: 'I never gave the Indians authority to give away my land.' I asked: 'Do you speak for yourself?' He answered fiercely: 'The Indians may do what they like, but I am not going on the reservation.' Speaking as sternly as I could, I said:
"'That bad advice is what you give the Indians; on account of it you will have to be taken to the Indian Territory. Joseph and White Bird seem to have good hearts, but yours is bad; I will send you there if it takes years and years. When I heard you were coming, I feared you would make trouble; you say you are not a medicine man, but you talk for them. The Indians can see no good while you are along; you advise them to resist, to lose all their horses and cattle, and have unending trouble. Will Joseph and White Bird and Looking-glass go with me to look after the land? The old man shall not go; he must stay with Captain Perry.' The Old Dreamer says: 'Do you want to scare me with reference to my body?' I then said I would leave his body with Captain Perry, and called for the captain to take him out of the council.
"He was led out accordingly and kept away till the council broke up."
Too-hul-hul-sote was kept in confinement five days. This summary arrest and removal of their spokesman from what they supposed was a friendly council brought the Indians to a realization of the utter hopelessness of their cause; sadly, reluctantly they yielded to the removal. The chiefs were invited to inspect the reservation and select their location; General Howard records his satisfaction with a stern duty well done:
"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.
"The execution of further details I leave in perfect security to the Indian agent and Captain Perry, whom I put into my place for this work."
Constrained as was their compliance with the order, the Indians proceeded in good faith to gather up their goods, collect their herds, and move toward the reservation. Had it not been for a single untoward incident, the story of the Nez Perce removal, like the story of every successful Indian removal, would have ended with their silent bending to the inevitable. Some friction arose between the settlers and White Bird's Indians, and friction with Indians yielding their homes to superior force is dangerous business—as well strike a match in a powder-mill. There is a story that the white settlers, taking advantage of the Indians' movement of their herds, endeavored to stampede and run off with their horses and cattle,—an act which the exasperated Indians summarily avenged. General Howard says in his report to the War Department: "After examination, it seems to have been a private quarrel, according to Indian story." The version of the Nez Perce agent is probably true, except that the motive is lacking:
"They agreed to move on the reserve by a certain time, had selected the lands upon which to locate, but on the very day that they were to go upon the lands selected—all having left their old or former homes and moved their stock and families to the borders of the reserve—a party of six from White Bird's band commenced the murdering of citizens on Salmon River, thus bringing on another Indian war."
Indians, even Indians grieving over real or fancied wrongs, do not commit indiscriminate murder without some immediate inciting cause; what that was, the official records do not disclose, but the Indians' story of the whites' rapacity remains uncontroverted.
Among Indians in a less inflammable mood, this act of a few vengeful hotheads need not have plunged the whole tribe into war; but the smouldering fire of discontent needed only these murders to turn instantly the whole body of non-treaty Indians from the calm persuasion of their chiefs. By the acts of a few, all were compromised; "the Indians have risen!" went up the cry, and with it ended the peaceful removal so nearly accomplished.
The outbreak occurred many miles east of the Wallowa Valley; neither Joseph nor any member of his band were concerned in it. Yet such was the instantaneous effect of this unhappy incident that to have opposed the common cause of all would have been little short of traitorous; sides were taken in a day, and the non-treaty Indians almost to a man were arrayed with their chiefs against the military.
Then began the Nez Perce war. "The enemy manifests extraordinary boldness," reports General Howard, "planting sharpshooters at available points, making charges on foot and on horseback with all manner of savage demonstrations." After a few preliminary skirmishes, the "war" developed into a pursuit of the Nez Perces—and it was the most remarkable campaign in the annals of Indian warfare. Across into Montana, over the Rocky Mountains, down through the Yellowstone Park, then northward nearly to the British line, Joseph, with his men, women, and children, led General Howard from June until October in a chase of thirteen hundred miles. Joseph fought only when compelled to. In the Bitter Root Valley he traded for goods with the rapacious storekeepers who were traitorous enough to willingly supply his wants. One merchant, however, declined to aid his country's enemies, and closed his store in their faces; the Indians could easily have looted the place, but Joseph was first and last for peace if it could be accorded him. His mode of warfare brought him this tribute in General W. T. Sherman's report to the Secretary of War:
"The Indians throughout displayed a courage and skill that elicited universal praise; they abstained from scalping, let captive women go free, did not commit indiscriminate murder of peaceful families which is usual, and fought with almost scientific skill, using advance and rear guards, skirmish-lines and field-fortifications."
That flight of months before the troops was one long tragedy for Joseph and his people. If it taxed to the utmost the endurance of General Howard's command, what must it have been for the Indians, encumbered with their families? Many fell by the way who were not the victims of their pursuers' bullets; many women and children of Joseph's band were left in hastily made graves. It is a sad truth that desperate men among the fleeing Indians committed a number of robberies and murders which could not be considered as acts of war; but the dishonors of the campaign seem to weigh against General Howard's Indian allies. "See these women's bodies disinterred by our own ferocious Bannock scouts!" writes General Howard. "See how they pierce and dishonor their poor, harmless forms, and carry off their scalps! Our officers sadly look upon the scene, and then, as by a common impulse, deepen their beds, and cover them with earth." ("Joseph Nez Perce.")
Notwithstanding these few barbarities committed on both sides, the campaign was singularly free from incidents that add bitterness to the inevitable horrors of Indian war. Brave and hardy soldiers, doing a stern duty under orders from their Government, pressed to the utmost a band of some six hundred fleeing men, women, and children who could not be made to understand why the country of their fathers from time without reckoning should pass to the white man "by right of discovery and occupation." Many old men in that stricken band had been with Old Joseph when he said, "The land on the other side of the line is what we gave to the Great Father." Is it to be wondered at that the simple Indian mind cried out, "Why has the white man crossed the line?"
The sad story of the American Indian is told in these, "the law of nations"—which does not recognize him, and that other law not made by men or nations, the "Survival of the Fittest"—which dooms him.
United States troops all along the line of flight were called out to intercept the Indians. General Gibbon, making a hasty march from Helena with about two hundred men, came upon Joseph before he had reached the Yellowstone Park, drove him out of his camp with considerable loss, and captured his herd of ponies. Without ponies the Indians' flight would have been of short duration; no one knew that better than Joseph. So, gathering his scattered forces, he turned upon Gibbon, routed him out of the same camp, recaptured his ponies and escaped, leaving eighty-nine Indians dead on the field. Gibbon himself was wounded in the assault.
But fighting with women and children on the field of battle was not to the liking of General Gibbon. "He pointed to where women, during the battle, with their little ones in their arms, had waded into the deep water to avoid the firing; and told me how it touched his heart when two or three extended their babies toward him, and looked as pleasant and wistful as they could for his protection; this was while the balls were whistling through the willows near by." ("Joseph Nez Perce.")
After passing through the Yellowstone Park, and along the borders of the famous Yellowstone Lake, Joseph turned to the northward, with the intention of escaping into the British possessions. By this time troops were being hurried to the scene of action from all parts of the country; even far-off Georgia sent two companies across the continent. In those days, before the United States Government had conceived its mission to impress Christian civilization upon foreign peoples by means of the military, its army was so insignificant that one band of runaway Indians served to draw the whole available force into the field.
Beset with foes in his long journey to the northward across Montana, dodging from one little "army" almost into the clutches of some other, Joseph successfully eluded them all until his escape seemed certain. But finally, in the Bear Paw Mountains, within one day's march of the British line, the Indians were intercepted by a force in command of Col. Nelson A. Miles. There Joseph made his final stand. With all their remaining strength and numbers the Indians desperately fought their last battle. It was a hopeless fight of worn-out men against a superior force of comparatively fresh soldiers. White Bird and a few of his followers escaped through the lines to the British possessions, while Joseph, to save his. people from annihilation, surrendered to Colonel Miles, after his brother Ollicut, five other chiefs, and many warriors had been killed in the battle.
"This reply of Joseph's was taken verbatim on the spot," says General Howard's report:
"Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Too-hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are, perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."
Captives at last. A strange tragedy, this, to be enacted on the one hundredth anniversary of the patriots' darkest winter!
1777, 1877; a liberty-loving nation, dwelling at this centennial time on the memories of its own struggle for independence; pointing its youth to the picture of Washington and his men at Valley Forge,—freezing, hungry, and ill-clothed, yet holding out that they might rule their lives as they saw fit; might have dealt generously with a luckless people brought by the same love of liberty to a similar unhappy predicament. But their affliction was only beginning.
It was the intention of their captors to send the Indians back to Idaho. Joseph never ceased to claim that the one condition of his surrender was that he be taken back to Idaho. General Howard states in his report: "I directed Colonel Miles to keep the prisoners till next spring, it being too late to send them to Idaho by direct routes this fall, and too costly by steamer and rail." But no sooner did the good people of Idaho hear of the capture and plans for the return, than they entered a most strenuous protest; Indians once removed would never return if they could prevent it. Once more the "voice of the people" secured the Government's ear and set up the murders by a portion of the tribe as sufficient reason for keeping the Indians forever outside the limits of Idaho. As usual, Washington yielded to the Vociferous Few. The protests of Joseph, the judgment and recommendation of General Howard and Colonel Miles were set aside, and the Indians were ordered to that "graveyard of the northern Indian," the Indian Territory. It was done with a full knowledge of the consequences. The Honorable Commissioner of Indian Affairs had said in his report to the Honorable Secretary of the Interior, no more than three months before the Nez Perce removal took place:
"Experience has demonstrated the impolicy of sending northern Indians to the Indian Territory. To go no farther back than the date of the Pawnee removal, it will be seen that the effect of a radical change of climate is disastrous, as this tribe alone, in the first two years, lost by death over 800 out of its number of 2376. The Northern Cheyennes have suffered severely, and the Poncas who were recently removed from contact with the unfriendly Sioux, and arrived there in July last, have already lost 36 by death, which, by an ordinary computation, would be the death rate for the entire tribe for a period of four years."
Yet these Nez Perces, accustomed to the high altitude, the cool bracing atmosphere of mountainous Idaho, were to be sent to the hot prairies of the Indian Territory with the full approval of this same Commissioner. The political consideration must have been great to have compelled this fourth sacrifice of human life.
The Indians were first taken to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and placed in camp on the Missouri River bottoms for the winter. The change from Idaho to Missouri River bottoms, enough in itself to invite disaster, was aggravated by their surroundings; says an inspector, "Between a lagoon and the river, the worst possible place that could have been selected; and the sanitary condition of the Indians proved it." Here they were kept until well into the following summer: "One-half could be said to be sick, and all were affected by the poisonous malaria of the camp." In the middle of July they were removed to the scorching plains of the Indian Siberia. Here these mountain Indians went down like moths in a flame. Within three months the Commissioner who had recounted the disastrous effects of the climate on the Pawnees, the Cheyennes, and the Poncas made this report:
"After the arrival of Joseph and his band in the Indian Territory, the bad effect of their location at Fort Leavenworth manifested itself in the prostration by sickness at one time of 260 out of the 410, and within a few months they have lost by death more than one quarter of the entire number."
The death rate was so appalling that public attention was attracted; criticisms began to pour in upon the Indian service. Indignant people demanded that something be done, and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs made a personal visit to the tribe:
"Joseph had two causes of dissatisfaction, which he presented to notice in plain, unmistakable terms. He complained that his surrender to General Miles was a conditional surrender, with a distinct promise that he should go back to Idaho in the spring. The other complaint was that the land selected for him on the Quapaw reservation was not fertile, and that water was exceedingly scarce on it; that two wells had been dug to a depth of 60 to 70 feet without reaching water; and that he did not like the country."
Then the Commissioner set out with Joseph and an interpreter in a vain search for some spot in the Territory to Joseph's liking. He continues:
"I travelled with him in Kansas and the Indian Territory for nearly a week and found him to be one of the most gentlemanly and well-behaved Indians that I ever met. He is bright and intelligent, and is anxious for the welfare of his people."
Joseph never lost an opportunity to assert his understanding of the terms of surrender. His agent reports:
"Joseph expresses himself as very much opposed to making this country his future home, dwelling particularly on what he claims were the terms of surrender agreed upon between himself and General Miles at Bear Paw Mountain, according to which he argues he was to be returned to his old home."
This claim of Joseph, so often repeated, receives no official comment in the records. It is given each time simply as a declaration coming from Joseph, unaccompanied by so much as a statement that he is mistaken. To get at the facts, the author appealed for information to the best possible authority—Gen. Nelson A. Miles. With characteristic courtesy the General supplied this clear account of the surrender:
"Washington, D. C., June 3, 1904.
"Your inquiry of 1st received. When Chief Joseph was surrounded and held for five days with no possible chance of escape he asked under a flag of truce what would be done with him in case he surrendered. He was informed that so far as I knew it was the intention of the Government to send him back to the Idaho reservation and require him to stay there. I do not think there was any other purpose or design on the part of the authorities at that time, and I have always believed that that should have been done.
The sending of Joseph and the Nez Perces to the Indian Territory, where a large percentage of them died from malaria, was an after-consideration, and in my opinion a serious mistake. The location of his tribe, however, was not a condition of his surrender, for he surrendered, and was compelled to surrender, by force of arms.
But, in my opinion, the ends of justice would have been reached had he been returned at once to his reservation; and justice has been delayed by his being forced to remain in another part of the country.
"(Signed) Nelson A. Miles."
The Indian language does not contain qualifying clauses; the Indian mind does not comprehend them. It is easy to understand how Joseph could have mistaken the General's reply that, so far as he knew, the Indians were to be returned to Idaho.
Popular indignation was pressing hard upon the Commissioner of. Indian Affairs; and the righteous wrath of justice-loving citizens has to be reckoned with as well as the importunities of the Vociferous Few.
"The extinction of Joseph's title," he says, "to the lands he held in Idaho will be a matter of great gain to the white settlers in that vicinity, and a reasonable compensation should be made to him for their surrender. It will be borne in mind that Joseph has never made a treaty with the United States, and that he has never surrendered to the Government the lands he claimed to own in Idaho. On that account he should be liberally treated upon his final settlement in the Indian Territory."
Passing strange, this recognition of the Indian title after, and not before, the Indian's summary expulsion from his country! Possibly it was compelled by public opinion; and surely, with the Indian country gained, Washington could safely indulge a conscience which at an earlier stage would have been fatal to its plans. The Commissioner continues in the same strain:
"The present unhappy condition of these Indians appeals to the sympathy of a very large portion of the American people. I had occasion in my last annual report to say that 'Joseph and his followers have shown themselves to be brave men and skilful soldiers, who, with one exception, have observed the rules of civilized warfare, and have not mutilated their dead enemies.' These Indians were encroached upon by white settlers on soil they believed to be their own, and when these encroachments became intolerable they were compelled, in their own estimation, to take up arms. Joseph now says that the greatest want of the Indians is a system of law by which controversies between Indians, and between Indians and white men, can be settled without appealing to physical force. He says that the want of law is the great source of disorder among Indians. They understand the operation of laws, and if there were any statutes the Indians would be perfectly content to place themselves in the hands of a proper tribunal, and would not take the righting of their wrongs into their own hands, or retaliate, as they now do, without the law. In dealing with such people it is the duty, and I think it will be the pleasure, of the department to see that the fostering hand of the Government is extended toward them, and that it gives them not only lands on which to live and implements of agriculture, but also wholesome laws for their government."
One cannot read the Indian records of the past fifty years without being impressed by the persistent denial to the reservation Indian of civil law, or of laws necessary to take the place of the tribal control which he was compelled to surrender. Year after year good men in the service filled the record with appeals for adequate Indian law, but every attempt to secure congressional action was effectually blocked by the interested few in Congress.
And why? For no other reason than that the reservation Indian, as one of a herd, without permanency, without organization or legal recourse, lent himself more readily to the successive removals which were compelled by successive demands for the best of his remaining land. Deny this as they may, or seek to excuse it on the ground of the Indian's incompetence, it is to their lasting dishonor that for their own personal gain a people boasting the equality of all men should have steadily denied to the Indian the one thing by which he might hope to come into an advantageous relation with the superior race,—recognition under the law. And once more, here is the deadly parallel; in the Declaration of Independence, this is set down as first in the arraignment of King George:
"He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."
The history of oppressed peoples is much the same in all ages, and among all nations; and this great nation may well join in Kipling's supplication:
"Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget!"
The story of Joseph's band in the Indian Territory is told in successive annual reports:
"A day school was opened in February, 1880, and has been very successfully run under the care of James Reubens, a full-blood Nez Perce, with an average daily attendance of twenty.
"The Nez Perces are a religious people, and under the intelligent teachings of Mr. Reubens they are strict observers of the Sabbath, refusing to perform any labor whatever upon that day. Twice upon the Sabbath they meet together, and listen to the preaching of Mr. Reubens, and sing hymns, with an occasional prayer. Their services are conducted with as much order and the congregation is as much interested in the proceedings as any body of white people in any church in the land."
Again, in the following year:
"The Nez Perces, located at Oakland, comprise three hundred and twenty-eight souls, and I am sorry to be compelled to report that there has been a large amount of sickness and many deaths among them during the last year. This arises from the fact that they have not become acclimated, and are to a great extent compelled to live in tepees, the cloth of which has become so rotten from long wear and the effects of the weather as to be no longer capable of keeping out the rain, by which they were soaked during the last spring. The tribe, unless something is done for them, will soon become extinct. Of all Indians with whom I have become acquainted, they are by far the most intelligent, truthful, and truly religious. . . .
"Love of country and home, as in all brave people, is very largely developed in this tribe, and they long for the mountains, the valleys, the streams, and the clear springs of water of their old home. . . .
"The number of females outnumbers the males by more than one hundred. This surplus is caused by the widows whose husbands fell during the war. These poor women are all longing to return to Idaho, to their friends and relations. I would suggest the propriety of returning them to their old homes, where they will be more comfortable than they are at present, and, I believe, would not be a greater expense to the department than they are here. So brave, good, and generous a people deserve well of their Government, and I can only express the hope that such generous action will be taken by the coming Congress in their behalf as may enable the department to furnish them with the horses and implements of agriculture that they so much need. Such a people should not be allowed to perish, and this great Government can afford to be generous and just."
And the year after:
"Filled with a love of country—almost worshipping the high mountains, bright flashing streams, and rich fertile valleys of Idaho—they have inherited and transmitted to their children a name for bravery, for truthfulness, and honor of which they may indeed be proud. The unfortunate war into which they were driven in 1877 with the United States is far from being a blot on their escutcheon, and all brave, high-minded people the world over will honor them for their gallant defence of their homes, their families, and their hunting-ground. When they surrendered to superior force they did it in the most solemn manner and under the most solemn promises of protection and a return to their own country. That that promise has not been kept is an historical fact, and never has been explained. Might never made right, and the power to punish can never excuse its exercise wrongfully. As the years go by the eyes of this people are turned to the Northwest, and their yearning hearts pulsate naught but Idaho. Like Inspector Pollock, I can exclaim, 'Of all men in the world, is it possible that we two only can see this wrong!'"
The Commissioner of Indian Affairs is finally constrained to recommend their return to Idaho:
"The deep-rooted love for the 'old home,' which is so conspicuous among them, and their longing desire to leave the warm, debilitating climate of the Indian Territory for the more healthy and invigorating air of the Idaho Mountains, can never be eradicated, and any longer delay, with the hope of a final contentment on their part with their present situation, is, in my judgment, futile and unnecessary. In view of all the facts, I am constrained to believe that the remnant of this tribe should be returned to Idaho, if possible, early next spring."
During the following year, by permission of the Department, "twenty-nine Nez Perces, mostly the widows and orphans of those killed in the war," were returned to the reservation in Idaho, but Congress turned a deaf ear to the plea of the tribe. Their story continues in the reports:
"These Indians are in some respects superior to those of any other tribe connected with the agency. They are unusually bright and intelligent; nearly one-half of them are consistent members of the Presbyterian Church. They meet regularly for weekly services in the school-house, and so far as dress, deportment, and propriety of conduct are concerned they could not be distinguished from an ordinary white congregation. The entire band, with perhaps one or two exceptions, are quiet, peaceable, and orderly people. They receive what is provided for them with apparent thankfulness, ask for nothing more and give no trouble whatever. They are extremely anxious to return to their own country. They regard themselves as exiles. The climate does not seem to agree with them, many of them have died, and there is a tinge of melancholy in their bearing and conversation that is truly pathetic. I think they should be sent back, as it seems clear they will never take root and prosper in this locality."
The successive annual enumerations of the Nez Perces might have furnished Congress food for reflection, had it taken the trouble to consult the reports. Four hundred and ten were originally taken to the Indian Territory. Then, while the first great epidemic of disease was taking off one quarter of their number, a considerable remnant of "non-treaty" Nez Perces was captured in Idaho and brought to the Territory, thus swelling the number of survivors to 391. Then follow successively the annual counts: 370, 344, 328, 322, 282 (29 widows returned), 287, and finally, after seven years of life in the Indian Territory, 268. At this rate of decrease the last Nez Perce would have departed for the happy hunting-ground within twenty years.
But philanthropic persons were impressed by this steady reduction of the tribe, if the Indian bureau was not, and in this seventh year nothing less than a thoroughly aroused public opinion, pointedly expressed, compelled the return of these Indians to the Northwest. To the Northwest, but not all to their people in Idaho; another element had to be reckoned with,—the stern opposition of the Idaho settlers. The Indian bureau, with no policy except to please, with its ear to the ground, listening to the divided clamor of the people, met this divided sentiment most curiously by dividing the Indians, restoring less than half to the Nez Perce reservation, while the others, including Joseph and his more immediate following, were sent to an Indian reservation in northeastern Washington to continue their exile.
All history acquits Joseph and his band in the Wallowa Valley of the murders which decided the "non-treaty" Indians for war. Nevertheless, Joseph had led the combined forces in their hopeless struggle; and afterward it was Joseph's voice that was raised in continual protest against the extinction of his people. So, in the selection of a scapegoat to offer up to the good people of Idaho, the lot naturally fell to Joseph. It was the irony of fate that he who had mainly accomplished the restoration of his people was not to participate in it. And again, the irony of fate that fifteen of White Bird's band—the band concerned in the murders—should at this same time have been received back from their retreat in British territory and given good land in the home reservation of the Nez Perces.
The restoration of the favored portion to their own tribe is reported by the Nez Perce agent:
"One hundred and eighteen Nez Perces of Joseph's band reached this agency June 1, 1885, were kindly received, and have gone out among the tribe. After an absence of eight years they return very much broken in spirit. The lesson is a good one and furnishes profitable study for the more restless of the tribe who are not disposed to settle down and enter upon civilized pursuits. They seem inclined to profit by experience. Some have already taken up lands and are fencing the same, while others will follow next spring."
There, as the story goes, "they lived happily ever after."
And from Colville agency in Washington comes this tirade:
"Last June a remnant of Joseph's band was brought from the Indian Territory, numbering 150, and placed upon this reserve—taken from a country where they had already become acclimated, where they had their well-fenced fields, their bands of cattle and horses, their children at school, and in fact progressing finely, rationed by the Government as well, and on account of the sickly sentiment expressed in the East towards them removed to Idaho and Washington Territories, against the wishes of the people of these territories, whose relatives were slain by this band, whose outrages and atrocities will last in the minds of these settlers as long as they have being. It is said that they have been removed back to this country by the Government at their own request, and that in a great measure they will be expected to care for themselves on account of lack of sufficient appropriations. What can they do for the next year until they can harvest a crop? Joseph says: 'We have nothing. My people cannot and will not starve, and if we are not fed we will go and find it.' Why was this not thought of before they came here? My estimates for food for them were cut down and they were placed on short rations until they appealed to the military, and have since been fed. I earnestly recommend that Congress provide sufficiently for their wants early in the session."
This reflects the sentiment of the gentle settler. What are the facts of history to him!
With this final disposition of Joseph's band the Indian spirit seems to have been broken. Departing hope left behind a listless indifference. Indian agents came, and Indian agents went, each wondering at their settled inaction. This report, after five years, is much like those from the Indian Territory:
"Joseph's band of Nez Perees are more or less unsettled and of a restless character; they appear to be greatly dissatisfied at times with their location. In my opinion the causes of their dissatisfaction are just. Owing to many of their friends and relatives living on the Nez Perce reservation in the State of Idaho, an effort should be made to remove them from their present location at Nespilem to the Nez Perce Agency, Idaho, where they claim land would be allotted to them, as is being done with their friends and relatives of that reservation. I have taken particular notice of the fact that when they receive letters from their relatives living on the Nez Perce reservation or a visit from their friends from that reservation they appear to have the 'blues' and at once express a strong desire to return to their old home. I am thoroughly satisfied they will never be content to remain on this reservation, no matter how well they may be treated by the Government."
Did ever the Government heed an Indian appeal for the sake of the Indians alone? Public clamor had been stilled by Joseph's removal to the Northwest, and far-off Nespilem best suited the Government as the final location for Joseph's band.
The Indian comprehends civilization only as it comes within range of his vision. He takes it as he sees it. What had Joseph seen in the white man's civilization? In his earlier years, the many broken promises of the Government; white encroachment and aggression; the strong hand of the military; the violation of what he held to be a sacred promise, then seven years of slow death; and now, another land of exile, with the heritage from Old Joseph, the Wallowa Valley, forever lost to his people. Why should Joseph meekly bend to a system which had made of his tribe an unhappy people? What was there worth striving for in a civilization so full of injustice toward his race?
Back, back to the Indian way, said Joseph; back to the tepee, and to the blanket; back to the Indian traditions, and to the simple Indian notion of justice; back to the Indian life in search of lost happiness! The story of the American Indian reservation contains many a tale of Indian retrogression, but none more marked than that of Joseph’s band. Every reservation can show its quota of old-time Indians carried over from the old Indian life into the semi-captivity of the present day,—unprogressive always, frowning their impotent protest as they recall the happier hunting days,—not a grand, but a sad army of old warriors who failed to win in the ﬁght for liberty and country.
And so the older Indians in Joseph’s band idly dream of the good old days in the Wallowa, while the young men go uncontrolled; there are none of the activities and incentives of the real Indian life; there are all of the white man's vices to ﬁll their place.
Fifteen years of this life pass, and Joseph feels old age coming upon him. Then he dreams an impossible dream. It is that he shall take his people back to the Wallowa Val1ey—that he may die in the land of his fathers.
Did ever an exiled Indian more blindly reckon without the white possessors of his old hunting-ground? No Indian petition to his Great Father in Washington could prevail against such a report as this:
"The subject of Joseph's transfer to the Wallowa Valley in Oregon has been discussed at length among them during the year and has had a demoralizing effect upon them. . . . A liberal Government has treated him with a generosity scarcely having a parallel, and his entire lack of appreciation is clearly shown in his unblushing audacity in asking for more liberal assistance in being transferred to another territory."
"Asking for more"! Here we have another Oliver Twist. The agent continues:
"It is true that the Wallowa Valley is the birthplace of Joseph and that there lie the bones of his forefathers, and he no doubt entertains many kind and pleasant remembrances of his younger life. Boyhood with its sweet memories furnishes food for deep reflection, and he no doubt cherishes the thought of some day returning, but in my opinion by his actions in after years he has forfeited all his rights and privileges to enjoy the blessings of a peaceful and happy life in his old home. . . . His reason for a transfer from his present home is purely sentimental, bolstered up by a personal ambition. . . .
"It is true Joseph fought with much gallantry, but when finally overcome he was tendered the generous hand of a beneficent Government. In my opinion any act, its ultimate object being the removal of Joseph and his followers to either Idaho or Oregon, would be an injudicious one. The horrors of long ago lie at his threshold and are pleading for justice. The appalling wrongs done by him are crying from the blood-stained soil of Idaho for restitution. Joseph's life would be jeopardized should he ever return for a permanent residence in a territory he previously occupied."
Then the Commissioner of Indian Affairs takes it up:
"Last March Chief Joseph visited this city and submitted to this office a petition to be allowed to leave his present location on the Colville reservation in Washington and return with his band of about 150 Nez Perces to Wallowa Valley, Oregon. This, he claimed, was the home of his ancestors and was his own home until he and his people were removed from Idaho to the Indian Territory in 1877, at the close of the Nez Perce war. By Department reference the office also received a communication, dated April 7, 1900, from Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles, United States Army, recommending that Joseph's request be granted."
But there are a hundred objections, according to the Commissioner. The Wallowa Valley contains four prosperous towns; Wallowa Lake "is fast becoming a favorite summer resort"; the land is worth "from $20 to $75 per acre"; and, mark ye well, the Wallowa Valley contains 1,017 precious votes! This asset is set forth with great particularity in a table arranged by precincts. "It would be very expensive to secure any portion of Wallowa Valley upon which to locate those Indians." He concludes:
"While a majority of the settlers of the Wallowa Valley retain no ill will against the Nez Perces for the troubles of 1877, yet there are some whose relatives were ravished and killed by Indians on Salmon River and Camas Prairie during that outbreak who vow vengeance against all members of the band, and more particularly against Joseph, and many of the settlers predict that should the Indians be returned to this valley to stay permanently Joseph would be assassinated within a year."
Here again is the threat of assassination for crimes that he never committed. During all these years Joseph had lived in perfect safety within easy reach of the bereaved settlers, but were he to "ever return for a permanent residence" or, "to stay permanently," in other words, to occupy some of their precious land, then their gentle grief would rise to the pitch of murder. What finely balanced sorrow this, to be so weighed in the commercial scale!
It was an impracticable, impossible thing, this dream of a homesick Indian. So Joseph returned to his people. Four years more of idle longing; then, in September, 1904, Joseph departed for the happy hunting-ground, where treaties are not made to be broken, and liberty is real.
"The line was made as I wanted it; not for me, but my children that will follow me; there is where I live, and there is where I want to leave my body. The land on the other side of the line is what we gave to the Great Father."
Wise and far-seeing old chieftain, to save a country for his people! Poor Indian, poor fool, to think that his "Great Father" would turn back the faithful who might cross the line set down in the covenant!