Northwestern Fights and Fighters

The Epic of the Nez Percé: Refusing life on a government-selected reservation, Chief Joseph, Chief Looking Glass, Chief White Bird, Chief Ollokot, Chief Lean Elk, and others led nearly 750 Nez Perce men, women, and children and twice that many horses over 1,170 miles through Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana mountains, on a trip that lasted from June to October of 1877, until checked by Miles just short of the Canadian border at Bear Paw Mountain (1877). This manuscript depicts their story.

The Nez Percés were a loosely associated group of local bands, each possessing its own territory and own chief. It is true that they had a collective name for these bands, and that there were occasions when perhaps the greater part were in one camp, as at the camps meadows or during fall fishing in the Wallowa and the Salmon. Nevertheless there was in reality no tribal organization. The bands were kindred, spoke the same language, and associated for mutual defense; but they remained distinct.

The history of the Nez Percés, when studied as a part of the North American Indian’s conflict with civilization, is convincing that there was absolutely no course, policy, or conduct open to him which insured fair treatment, nor was there any road open to him which seemed materially to alleviate the situation or to stay the grasping encroachment. The inert, unorganized Indians of southern California were literally crowded from the earth. The fact that they, with their pacific disposition, made no resistance, has no effect on the covetous settler, nor did it cause the Government to reach to them a helping hand in appreciation of their good behavior. They suffered through good conduct. The warlike, haughty tribes of the plains stood the imposition as long as they could, and then their long-smoldering resentment broke into flame and they struck back as only Indians can, and they suffered through their hostility. The Nez Percés, a mentally superior people, were friendly from their first contact with white men, and as a tribe they always desired to be so. Their history since 1855, and particularly the war of 1877, tells how they were repaid for their loyalty to the white brother.

Northwestern Fights and Fighters TOC



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