The Indians Of Idaho Nez Percé And Shoshone Uprisings

Search Fold3 for your
Native American Records

ome notice of the original inhabitants of Idaho is due the reader of this book, even though that notice must necessarily be short and its data largely traditional. With-out a written language of any kind, unless it was the use of the rudest and most barbarous symbols, they have passed away and left no recorded history; without architecture, except that which exhausts its genius in the construction of a skin wigwam or a bark lodge, they have died and left no monuments. Traditions concerning them are too confused, contradictory and uncertain to satisfy any who desire reliable history. Any real information at all reliable concerning them began with the publication of the journal of the exploring expedition of Lewis and Clarke in 1804 and 1805. Incidental notices of various tribes have been given to the world by other explorers and travelers, but very much that has been written concerning them was not the ascertaining of patient and continued personal investigation, nor yet the impressions of any extended personal contact, but the chance and hasty gatherings of unreliable traditions, or, what was even less to be depended on than this, the exaggerated recitals of some wild, camp-fire stories. All these, of course, have a value as literature, and occupy an interesting place in roman-tic story, but their ratus as history is not great.

When these people were first brought under the study of civilized men two facts distinctly marked them: One was that the tribes east of the Cascade mountains had very different mental and physical qualities from those residing west of that range. The other was, that there was no form or semblance of civilization of any character among them; they were as entirely savage and barbarous as the tribes of “darkest Africa.” For this first fact the marked difference in the climate, productions and consequent modes of living necessary for them, furnishes a reason, if not the reason.

West of the Cascade Mountains the climate was soft, moist; and its indigenous productions were those that a rich soil would send forth in such a climate. It was a region of large, deep rivers; of numerous bays and inlets from the ocean extending far inland, all filled with fish of the finest and richest quality, easily taken, and hence inviting to a life of effortless indolence and ease.

Hence these aborigines were short of stature; heavy and broad and fat of body; indolent and sluggish in movement; without alertness or perception of mind; indolent and inactive in all their habits; sleeping away nearly all but the little time that was requisite for them to throw their barbed harpoon into the shining side of the salmon that swam on the shoals and sands of the rivers and bays along which they thus droned away their meaningless life, and the few additional moments required to boil or roast it sufficient to gratify their uncultured appetite.

East of the Cascade Mountains the country was a high, rolling, mountain prairie, averaging from one to six thousand feet above the tides of the ocean. The streams are rapid, boiling torrents. The climate was dry and the natural vegetable productions were minimized; it was almost a desert. It furnished abundance of grass for grazing, and its vast distances of hill and plain required their use for locomotion. Hence these tribes were equestrian, rather than semi-aquatic like the tribes of the lower rivers and sea inlets. The mountains were covered with open and scattering forests of pine, with occasional groves of fir and tamarack, almost without undergrowth, through and over which the horseman could ride almost unhindered in any direction. The game, such as elk, deer, antelope, bear, buffalo, mountain sheep and goats, ranged both plain and mountain; furnishing the chief food of the tribes that inhabited this region. To take it however, required activity, cunning, courage, and hence developed a tall, stalwart, erect, active race of men; lithe and springy as a panther; which animal, indeed, many of the Cayuse and Nez Percé would remind the observant traveler of by the quick stealthiness of their movement, the restless, penetrating glance of their eye that caught every quivering motion of leaf or feature; the sensitiveness of their ear, that missed no snap of twig, or tread of foot ; and their ever-tensioned sinews ready for the spring of attack or the speed of the flight.

Of all the Indians in Idaho the Nez Percé had the highest degree of intelligence, and probably of social morality also. The men were tall, large, upright in bearing, generally of open countenance and intelligent expression. The women were rather fairer in color, and much fair-er in form or feature, with easier and more graceful carriage than the women of other tribes. They were also much neater in person. Though they were brave in war, yet it was long before a Nez Percé took up arms against the white man; but when he did he proved himself the equal in generalship and in valor to his white-faced brother. The Nez Percé have withstood contact with civilization better than any other tribe of the northwest, and they have taken on not a little of the spirit of its progress. They have many farms, with improved implements of husbandry; many homes with organs, sewing machines, carpets and other comforts of civilized life. What Lewis and Clarke found them when they reached their country in the autumn of 1805, and what Bonneville described them as he found them twenty-five years later, they have been found up to the present time.

The Nez Percé have had some chieftains worthy in all respects to take rank with Brandt, Tecumseh, Keokuk, or any of the chieftains of the eastern states. Ishholhoatshoats, or Lawyer, as he was named by the whites, was both a statesman and a warrior. Bold, yet cautious, he knew when and how to strike the most effective blows. Timothy, the first man admitted to membership in the church under Air. H. H. Spaulding, for so many years the teacher of this people, had a commanding manhood, and was the brave and stead-fast friend of the whites. Joseph the younger, who never forgot that he was an Indian, and as such cleaved to his people to the last, was a consummate soldier; and, though his forces were much smaller than those of General Howard in the great Nez Percé war he proved that on the battlefield or in the march he was as brave and resourceful as that able and indefatigable general, and that he could hold his warriors to the rifle’s front as steadily and long as he could his trained soldiers.

The Cayuses were nearly related to the Nez Percé. Their country lying contiguous, and being of much the same character, with no difficult natural barrier between them, the tribes had intermarried to a considerable extent. Still the character of the Cayuses was not as noble and truthful as was that of their relatives. They were more treacherous and warlike, and less susceptible to improvement. It was among these people, on the northern margin of their territory, that Dr. Marcus Whitman established his missionary station in 1836, and, after he had given them eleven years of the most devoted instructions in the arts of peace and in the principles of Christianity, it was they who barbarously murdered him and his devoted and cultivated wife in a moment of savage frenzy. In’ all the wars with the whites occurring in eastern Oregon the Cayuses were deeply and criminally involved. Lacking in intelligence and nobleness of the Nez Percé, they also lacked their real bravery. Still they were cunning, crafty, full of alertness and energy, and by no means a foe to be despised.

The Skizoomish Indians were named by the early French voyageurs Coeur d’Alenes (awl-hearts), indicating that their spirits were small and hard, as shown by their shrewdness in trade. In 1820 there were two thousand of these Indians, but by the year 1890 there were only two hundred and fifty, although they have ever been subject to hostilities on the part of the United States.

The native wild tribes of Idaho are now of chiefly historic interest. The existing remnants are confined to reservations, and are rapidly learning the arts of peace and civilization.

The Indians inhabiting the most northern portions of Idaho were the Kootenais, who dwelt in British Columbia and the extreme northern portion of Idaho: the Pend d’Oreilles, who dwelt about the lake of the same name, and for from fifty to seventy-five miles above and below the lake on Clarke’s Fork; and the Coeur d’Alenes, who dwelt on Coeur d’Alene lake and its tributaries. The Pend d’Oreilles and Coeur d’Alenes belonged to the Salish family, which dwelt south of the Shushwaps, between the forty-ninth and forty-seventh parallels, and on the Columbia and its tributaries. The remnants of these last-named Indians now in Idaho are on the Coeur d’Alene reservation. They number at present less than three hundred, all converted to the Roman Catholic religion. Most of them have farms in severalty, own houses, cattle, sheep, wagons, mowers, reapers, and all necessary and improved agricultural implements, raise large crops of wheat, oats, potatoes, hay, etc.; they own droves of hogs, and are today probably as prosperous and peaceful a tribe as can be found west of the Rocky mountains. This tribe are self-supporting and have never been at war with the white men. They have schools under the direction of the Roman Catholic nuns, and many of their young people are acquiring a fair knowledge of the English language.

The Sahaptin family, like the Salish just described, belongs to the inland tribes of the Columbia group. They inhabited the region between the Cascade and Bitter Root mountains, and the forty-fifth and forty-seventh parallels. Of its nations, the Nez Percé or Sahaptins proper dwelt on the Clearwater and its branches, and on the Snake about the forks. Ross, in his work entitled “Fur Hunters,” says they derive their name from the custom of boring their noses to receive a white shell, like the fluke of an anchor. Most writers follow Ross in taking for granted that these Indians were so named from some habit of piercing their noses, though there is no tradition of anything of the sort. According to others it is a word tortured from nez pres, meaning flat nose, which was given them by the old French Canadian trappers in early days.

Mr. H. H. Bancroft, to whose work on the Native Races of the Pacific Coast we are indebted for many of the items in the following pages, states that in bodily strength the Sahaptin Indians are inferior to the whites, but superior, as might be expected from their habits, to the more indolent fish-eaters on the Pacific. The Nez Percé and Cayuses are considered the best specimens, while in the north the Kootenais seem to be superior to the other Shushwap nations. The Salish are assigned by Wilkes and Hale an intermediate place in” physical attributes between the coast and mountain tribes, being in stature and proportion superior to the Chinooks, but inferior to the Nez Percé. Inland a higher order of face is observed than on the coast. The cheek-bones are still high, the forehead is rather low, the face long, the eyes black, rarely oblique, the nose prominent, and frequently aquiline, the lips thin, the teeth white and regular, but generally much worn. The general expression of the features is stern, often melancholy, but not as a rule harsh or repulsive. Dignified, fine-looking men, and handsome young women, have been re-marked in nearly all the tribes, but here again the Sahaptins bear off the palm. The complexion is of decidedly coppery hue. The hair is generally coarse and worn long. The beard is very thin, and its growth is carefully prevented by plucking. Methods adopted by other tribes to create deformities of the head are comparatively unknown among the Nez Percé, who are generally better clad than some of their neighboring tribes. They build houses of straw and mats in the form of the roof of a house. Lewis and Clarke’s narrative refers to one of these as one hundred and fifty feet long and about fifteen wide, closed at the ends and having a number of doors on each side.

War and hunting were their chief occupation, but they were and are not infrequently compelled to resort to roots, and berries, and mosses. The favorite roots are the camas, couse, and bitter root, and the natives to obtain these make regular migrations as for game or fish. The women are generally much more kindly treated among the Nez Percé and Pend d’Oreilles than among the generality of aboriginal tribes.

In their personal habits, as well as the care of their lodges, the Nez Percé and Kootenais are mentioned as neat and cleanly. De Smet, however, represents the Pend d’Oreille women as untidy, even for savages. “The inland families,” says Bancroft, “cannot be called a warlike race.” They seldom resort to arms, yet when fighting becomes necessary, the Cayuses, Nez Percé, Flatheads, and Kootenais are notably brave warriors for defense or vengeance against a foreign foe. The two former waged both defensive and aggressive warfare against the Snakes of the south, while the latter joined their arms against their common foes, the Blackfeet. Departure on a warlike expedition is preceded by ceremonies, including councils of the wise, great, and old, smoking the pipe, harangues by the chiefs, dances, and a general review or display of equestrian feats and maneuvers of battle. After battle they smoke the customary pipe of peace with the enemy, and renew their protestations of eternal friendship. In the matter of marriage, the standard of a wife’s qualifications is her capacity for work.

The Nez Percé have more and better stock than other nations. Individuals often own large bands of horses. The Kootenais are the most northern tribe who are accustomed to the horse. It is supposed that these animals were introduced among the northern tribes by Shoshones from the south, the last named being connected with the Comanches, who obtained horses from the Spaniards during the sixteenth century. The rights of property are duly respected, but it is said that among the Salish nations on the death of the father his relatives would not scruple in the least to seize the most valuable property, regardless of the rights of the children who are too young to take care of themselves. With the Pend d’Oreilles, when reduced to severe straits, it was not uncommon to bury the very old and very young alive, because, they said, “these can-not take care of themselves, and they had better die.” On approaching his majority, the young Pend d’Oreille would be sent to a high mountain where he would have to remain until he dreamed of some animal, bird, or fish, which was to be thereafter his medicine. A claw, tooth, or feather of such animal was thereafter to be worn as his charm. The howling of certain beasts, especially of the medicine wolf, was supposed to forebode evil. Among the Nez Percé it was the custom to overcome the spirit of fatigue, or mawish as it was called, by a certain ceremony which was supposed to confer great powers of endurance. This ceremony was repeated yearly from the age of eighteen to forty, and the performance would last three to seven days. It consisted of thrusting willow sticks down the throat into the stomach, a succession of hot and cold baths, and fasting.

Medicine men are supposed to acquire wonderful powers by retiring to the mountains and conferring with the medicine-wolf, after which they become invulnerable, and bullets fired at them flatten on their breast. They have a superstitious fear of having their portraits taken. Steam baths or sweathouses are used for the purpose of purification in their religions rites. These sweat-houses usually consist of a hole in the ground from three to eight feet deep, and about fifteen feet in diameter with a small hole for entrance, which is closed up after the bather enters. A fire is built in this retreat by means of which stones are heated. In this oven-like receptacle, heated to a suffocating temperature, the naked native wallows in the steam and mud, singing, yelling, and praying, and at last rushes out dripping with perspiration, and plunges into the nearest stream.

The good qualities of the Kootenais and Nez Percé have been commended by all having acquaintance” with them. “Honest, just, and often charitable; ordinarily cold and reserved, but on occasions social and almost gay: quick-tempered and almost revengeful under what they consider injustice, but readily appeased by kind treatment; cruel only to captive enemies, stoical in the en-durance of torture; devotedly attached to home and family these natives probably come as near as it is permitted to flesh and blood savages to the noble red man of the forest sometimes met in romance.”

The Nez Percé now on the reservation in Nez Percé County at Fort Lapwai belong to the treaty Indians as opposed to the non-treaty Nez Percé who, under Joseph, were banished to Indian Territory. The Nez Percé now in Idaho have ever been stanch friends of the whites; they are brave, but industrious and peaceable. With the exception of the agricultural implements is-sued to them by the government, they can be justly termed self-supporting. Their means of support are agriculture and stock-raising. Each year witnesses decided advancements. The children are said to be advancing nearly as rapid-Iv in their schoolroom studies as average white children, and show a remarkable aptitude in all kinds of farm and garden work.

The Lemhi Indians are composed of Shoshones, Bannocks, and Sheep-eaters. The Shoshone or Snake Indians are fairly honest, peace-able and intelligent. The Bannocks possess more of the sly cunning and innate restlessness of disposition than would appear to be good for them or agreeable to their nearest neighbors. The Sheep-eaters are naturally quieter and less demonstrative than either, and therefore seem more inclined to take life easy. The Shoshone element largely predominates.

The Shoshone family is generally included in the California group of native tribes. Their territory formerly spread over southeastern Oregon and southern Idaho, extending into Utah, Arizona, and eastern Idaho. They are divided into several tribes, of which the Bannocks were originally one. The word “Shoshone” means “Snake Indian,” though Ross is authority for the assertion that it means “inland.”

The Snakes are better dressed than the tribes farther south, and make some pretensions to ornamentation. Their clothing is generally made of the skins of larger game, ornamented with beads, shells, fringes, feathers, and pieces of brilliant-colored cloth. Their dwellings are also superior to those of the Utahs, though consisting chiefly of skins thrown over long poles leaning against each other in the form of a circle. A hole is left in the top for a chimney. Another one in the bottom, about three feet high, is used as a door, and closed by placing a skin against it. The poorer Shoshones live on pine nuts, roots, berries, insects, rats, mice, and rabbits. Those living in Idaho, however, generally are supplied with plenty of fish and game. In their native wild condition they can hardly be called a cleanly race. Their characteristic weapon is the poggamog-gon. “It consists of a heavy stone, sometimes wrapped in leather, attached by a sinew thong about two inches in length to the end of a stout, leather-covered handle measuring nearly two feet. A loop fastened to the end held in the hand prevents the warrior from losing the weapon in the fight, and allows him to hold the club in readiness while he uses the bow and arrow.”

The Snakes had a limited knowledge of pottery, and made very good vessels from baked clay. Some of these were in the form of jars, with narrow necks and stoppers. They possessed little knowledge of the use of boats beyond crude and clumsy logs made of branches and rushes, generally preferring to swim the streams. Dried fish, horses, skins, and furs were their currency. No trade was indulged in unless preceded by a solemn smoke. Among the Idaho Snakes four and five beaver-skins were sold for a knife or an awl. Horses were held at the value of an ax. “A ship of seventy-four guns might have been loaded with provision, such as dried buffalo, bought with buttons and rings.” The standard of values was absurdly confused. The utility of an article was a matter of no consideration. A beaver-skin could be bought with a brass ring, but a necklace of bears” claws could not be bought for a dozen such rings. Axes, knives, ammunition, beads, buttons, and rings were most in demand. For clothing they had little or no use; a blanket was worth no more than a knife, and a yard of fine cloth was worth less than a pot of vermilion. They had no established laws. Like all other Indians, they are natural gamblers, and take to “poker” with an aptitude that is astonishing. They are skillful riders, and possess good horses. “The Snakes have been considered,” says Ross, “as rather a dull and degraded people, weak in intellect and wanting in courage. And this opinion is very probable to a casual observer at first sight, or when seen in small numbers, for their apparent timidity, grave and reserved habits, give them an air of stupidity. An intimate knowledge of the Snake character will, however, place them on an equal footing with that of other kindred nations, both in respect to their mental faculties and moral attributes.” “The Shoshones of Idaho,” says a writer in the California Farmer, “are highly intelligent and lively, the most virtuous and unsophisticated of all the Indians of the United States.”

The Bannocks are naturally a brave and war-like race. They inhabited the country between Fort Boise and Fort Hall. As the name implies, it was given to those Indians who dug and lived on roots. At least, so says Johnston, in Schoolcraft’s Archives.

The Sheepeaters, like the Bannocks, are doubtless an offshoot of the Snake or Shoshone Indians. The Tookarikkas, or Sheepeaters, occupied the Salmon River country, the upper part of Snake River valley, and the mountains near Boise Basin. They belong to the genuine Snakes. Other inferior bands were the Hokandikas, or Salt Lake Diggers, who lived in the neighbor-hood of Salt Lake, and Aggitikkas, or Salmon-eaters, who occupied the region around Salmon Falls, on Snake river. The Bannocks are far inferior to the Shoshones or Snakes proper.

Though the Lemhi Reservation is situated at an altitude of 5,500 feet, agriculture has been pursued with fair success. These Lemhi Indians are greatly improved in habits of industry. Be-sides cultivating their little garden patches, many of them have been engaged in cutting rails, fencing, and ditching. “The possession of wagons,” says Mr. Harries, “by some Indians, is materially helping to lift what is literally a heavy burden off the backs of the squaws in the matter of the hauling of the firewood.” Some difficulty has been encountered in educating the children, as there is a superstition among them that “if the Indian children learn to read and write they will die.” This feeling has such a strong hold upon the mothers particularly, that it has been some what difficult to overcome the prejudice against education. With the improvidence characteristic of the race, moreover, the rations issued to the lodges on Saturday seldom last beyond Monday or Tuesday, so that unless the children are fed at the school, they are not likely to have much to eat the biggest part of the week. Indians are not superior to the generality of human nature, and naturally encounter some difficulty in studying on an empty stomach.

The Indians stationed at the Fort Hall agency are both Bannocks and Shoshones. The latter are industrious, good natured, and quiet. The Bannocks are more restless and roving. These Indians, according to Dr. Cook, are making steady advancement in agricultural and civilized pursuits. This is noticeable to all who come in contact with them, and they are manifesting an increased desire to conform to the customs of civilized life.

The use of sign language exists to a greater or less degree among Idaho Indians, as among most tribes. Thus the tribal sign of the Pend d’Oreilles is made by holding both fists as if grasping a paddle, vertically downward and working a canoe. Two strokes are made on each side of the body from the side backward. The tribal sign of the Nez Percé is made by closing the right hand, leaving the index finger straight, but flexed at right angles with the palm, then passing it horizontally to the left, by and under the nose. That of the Shoshone or Snake Indians is the right hand horizontal, flat, palm downward, advanced to the front by a motion to represent the crawling of a snake. For that of the Bannocks, make a whistling sound “phew” (beginning at a high note and ending about an octave lower); then draw the extended index finger across the throat from left to right, and out to nearly arm’s length. They used to cut the throats of their prisoners.

Major Haworth states that the Bannocks made the following sign for themselves: Brush the flat right hand backward over the forehead as if forcing back the hair. This represents the manner of wearing the tuft of hair backward from the forehead. He also states that the Shoshones make the same Sign for the Bannocks as for themselves.

It is not difficult to understand how readily ideas may be conveyed by signs and gestures. Thus the Shoshone sign for rain is made by holding the hand or hands at the height of and before the shoulder, fingers pendent, palm down, then pushing it downward a short distance. That for to weep is made by holding the hand as in rain, and the gesture made from the eye down-ward over the cheek, back of the fingers nearly touching the face.

Brave or strong-hearted is made by the Shoshone and Bannock Indians by merely placing the clenched fist to the breast, the latter having allusion to the heart, the clenching of the hand to strength, vigor, or force.

As a good example illustrative of the universality of sign-language, may be mentioned the conversation which took place at Washington in 1880 between Tendoy, chief of the Shoshone; and Bannock Indians of Lemhi reservation, Idaho, and Huerito, one of the Apache chiefs from New Mexico, in the presence of Dr. W. J. Hoffman. Neither of these Indians spoke any language known to the other, had lived over a thousand miles apart, and had never met or heard of one another before.

Huerito, Who are you?
Tendoy, Shoshone Chief.

Huerito, How old are you?

Tendoy, Fifty-six.
Huerito, Very well. Are there any buffalo in your country?
Tendoy, Yes; many black buffalo. Did you hear anything from the Secretary? If so tell me.
Huerito, He told me that in four days I would go to my country.

Tendoy, In two days I go to my country just as you go to yours. I go to mine where there is a great deal of snow and we shall see each other no more.

Here was an intelligent dialogue carried on by two savages, strangers to each other, without a word spoken on either side. Thus to make the last answer as Tendoy did, place the flat hands horizontally, about two feet apart, move them quickly in an upward curve toward one another until the right lies across the left, meaning night, repeat this sign, two nights, literally, two sleeps hence; point toward the individual addressed with the right hand, you; and in a continuous movement pass the hand to the right, i. e., toward the south, nearly to arm’s length, go; then throw the fist edgewise toward the ground at that distance, your country; then touch the breast with the tips of the left fingers, I ; move the hand slow-ly toward the left, i. e., toward the north to arm’s length, go to; and throw the clenched hand to-ward the ground, my country. Make the sign of rain as already described, then place the flat hands to the left of the body about two feet from the ground, deep; literally, deep rain, snow. Raise the hands about a foot, very deep, much; place the hands before the body, about twelve inches apart, palms down, with forefinger only extended and pointing toward one another; push toward and from one another several times, see each other; then hold the flat right hand in front of the breast pointing forward, palm to the left, and throw it once on its back toward the right, not, no more.

Indian Wars

Idaho, ethnologically, was divided by the Snake river into two grand divisions, the Nez Percé occupying the territory north of the river, and the Shoshones the southern portion. The Nez Percé were of a higher grade, and took no part in the five years’ war, from 1863 to 1868. They had their grievances, however, such as would have incited inferior tribes to rise in war; and among themselves there were naturally two parties, a peace party and a war party. The latter, although persuaded to sign a treaty with the whites, violated their agreement and rose in war, but were soon suppressed, and the country was opened for settlement by the whites. The discovery of gold and other valuable minerals in the Nez Percé region caused many white adventurers to overrun their country contrary to the provisions of the treaty and thus irritate the Indians, and this was the cause of the formation of the “war party” among them. Actual war was averted by the combined efforts of Superintendent Hale, of Washington, and Lawyer, the head of the Nez Percé. The establishment of a military post at Lapwai was a permanent “peace-maker.”

The troubles really began in 1855, when there was a strong party of Indians who were opposed to the formation of any treaty whatever. Looking glass, the war chief, becoming too old to lead in battle, Eagle-from-the-Light became ambitious to succeed to his honors and gave his voice for war at a council held at Lapwai in August, 1 861. Some of the subordinate chiefs supported him, but Lawyer was against his project; and a company of dragoons under Captain Smith at Lapwai, ostensibly stationed there to protect the Indians against the miners, was a standing menace to those Nez Perce Indians who might be disposed to break the treaty. The council of 1861 adjourned without agreeing to anything important.

Congress was asked to appropriate fifty thou-sand dollars for the purpose of purchasing a part of their reservation and establishing a satisfactory treaty; and forty thousand dollars was granted ; but if this money ever arrived we have no account of it.

As white men rushed in and made valuable discoveries in minerals, even the soldiers at the fort were withdrawn, lest they might desert in the craze and likewise sally out for prospecting and mining. The irritability of the Indians becoming more evident, however. General Alvord determined to have a permanent fort established at Lapwai, on the return of Maury’s command from an expedition to Fort Hall, in the autumn of 1862. Fort Lapwai was built under the superintendence of D. W. Porter, of the First Oregon Cavalry. It was situated upon the right bank of Lapwai creek, three miles from its confluence with the Clearwater, and the reservation was a square mile.

As the Indians began to gather at the council promised in November 1862, the white com-missioners were obliged to announce to them that no money had yet arrived from the government, and requested them to postpone the conference to the next May. This naturally irritated even the most peaceably disposed Nez Percé; and William Craig and Robert Newell exerted themselves to the utmost to hold them in check.

May 15, 1863, the time fixed for the conference, arrived; and the whites, preparing for the occasion, stationed four companies of the First Oregon Cavalry at Fort Lapwai and made as great a display as possible, while they at the same time erected a beautiful little tent city about a mile from the fort and entertained the Indian leaders as magnificently as possible, in order to keep their good will. Eagle-from-the-Light, Big Thunder and Joseph all chiefs opposed to another treat, were present with twelve hundred followers, and also Lawyer and his people, numbering about two thousand. On the part of the United States there were Superintendent Hale, and the agents Hutchins and Howe, and Robert Newell, with the military force already mentioned. When all was ready, a delay of two weeks occurred because the Indians would have no interpreter excepting Perrin B. Whitman, who was in the Willamette valley and had to be sent for. The Palouse, taking advantage of this period of idleness, invaded the Nez Percé camp, bent upon mischief, one of them going so far as to strike Commissioner Howe with a riding-whip, when they were ordered off the reservation by Colonel Steinberger, and Drake’s company of cavalry was assigned to the duty of keeping them away.

The long looked for council began its sessions about the last of May. The lands in consideration aggregated about ten thousand square miles. The chiefs put in their claims to certain parts of the former reservation; and Big Thunder claimed the spot on which the white agency was located and which had also been claimed in part by other white parties. Eagle-from-the-Light laid claim to the country on White Bird creek, a small branch of the Salmon river, and adjacent to the Florence mines, while Chief Joseph declared his title to the valley of Wallowa creek, a tributary to the Grand Ronde River. Each of these chiefs, representing his band, declined to sell. The first proposition of the commissioners was that the Nez Percé should sell all their lands except five or six hundred square miles on the south side of the south fork of the Clearwater, emoracing the Kamiah prairie, to be surveyed into allotments, with the understanding that a patent was to issue to each individual holding land in severalty, with payment for improvements abandoned. But to this the nation would not agree. The whites next proposed to enlarge this boundary to double the size, and the provisions of the treaty of 1855 to be continued to them; and seventy-five thousand dollars, in material utilities, school-houses, etc., was offered to be expended among the Indians by way of indemnity. Lawyer made a shrewd speech, in order to get ahead of all the other chiefs as well as of the United States. Then for several days various propositions were made alternately by each party and rejected, and fears were entertained that the council would end without an agreement and war would result. But the absence of most of the chiefs and the presence of a detachment of white cavalry caused Lawyer to make propositions that were acceptable to the commissioners, and a treaty was signed by him. “From the subsequent action of one of the chiefs,” says Bancroft’s history, “it is presumable that they believed that by refusing to sign the treaty made with the majority of the nation they would be able to hold their several favorite haunts.”

This treaty reserved about a million and a half acres, that is, about five hundred acres to every individual in the nation, and to Lawyer and Big Thunder, the two principal men in the nation, their old homes, at Kamiah and Lapwai respectively. The consideration to be paid for the relinquished lands, in addition to the annuities due under the former treaty, and the goods and pro-visions distributed at the signing of the treaty, was two hundred and sixty thousand dollars. But the general government of the United States had its attention too intently fixed upon the great civil war and its subsequent issues to look after the Indians of the northwest. Characters likethe “carpet-baggers” of the south were left to ad-minister affairs here and general looseness prevailed. The only natural consequence was dissatisfaction everywhere, with a constant danger of an Indian uprising.

In 1867 an attempt was made by the general government to have the Indians obtain a clear understanding of the provisions of all the treaty clauses that were still in force. A special agent was appointed, in conjunction with Governor Ballard and others, to induce the Nez Percé to accept the new provisions. This failing, the treaty was ratified in its first form by six hundred of the nation. The next year a number of chiefs and whites went to Washington to talk with the president, which conference resulted profitably, and Lawyer and Jason, chiefs, re-turned to instruct their people.

In 1869 the government made a radical change by assigning to each Indian agency a military officer as agent. Lieutenant J. W. Wham was appointed to the Lapwai agency. But in 1870 congress passed an act whereby it became necessary to relieve officers of the army from this service and to substitute the missionaries of the various religious organizations of the country. Accordingly a Presbyterian was sent to the Nez Percé, some of whom had been made Catholics, and friction naturally resulted. None of these church missionaries were as satisfactory to the Indians as their former agents had been, and meanwhile white invasions continued, by establishing routes of travel, building bridges, etc., all of which tended to arouse and confirm Indian suspicions as to the fidelity of the white man’s government.

The limitation of the Indian to narrower quarters was in the direction of compelling him to labor for his livelihood more than he had been accustomed to, with the result that any one would naturally expect. Besides, the policy of our government in giving annuities and payment for lands encouraged idleness among them.

Thus for years sundry propositions and decrees were made and either rejected or disregarded by both parties, leaving many things in chaos as between the whites and reds. After the close of the Modoc war, in 1 874, General Davis ordered a march of seven hundred miles by the cavalry through the country threatened by the dissatisfied tribes, in order to impress upon their minds the magnitude or power of the military force of the United States. The Indians continued to roam at will, regardless of reservations, while the white settlers on the so-called reservation or disputed territory ended their uneasiness by having the government annul the reservation clause of the treaty, June 10, 1875, when the president released fourteen hundred and twenty-five miles from all Indian title.

At this juncture the department at Washington appointed a commission to repair to Idaho and hold a consultation with Joseph and others, in order to learn more thoroughly the exact status of affairs. The commission learned from the shrewd chief that he cared for no reservation or anything else made by the white man, and he seemed too independent to parley with white men about the matter. The commissioners, however, recommended that the teachers of the Indian religion, which consisted mainly in hatred to the white man and to all division of land, should not be permitted to visit other tribes and influence the non-treaty Indians; that a military station should be established at once in the Wallowa valley, while the agent of the Nez Percé should still strive to settle all that would listen to him upon the reservation; that unless in a reasonable time Joseph should consent to remove he should be forcibly taken with his people and given lands on the reservation; and that if they persisted in overrunning the lands of the settlers and disturbing the public peace by threats or otherwise, sufficient force would be used to compel them to take the reservation and keep the peace. A similar policy was recommended toward all the roaming bands, whether they had signed any treaty or not. The government adopted these suggestions, stationing two companies of cavalry in the Wallowa valley and using all diligence in persuading the Indians to go upon the reservation; and, at length, in May, 1877, they consented, Joseph and White Bird, for their own and smaller bands, agreeing to remove at a given time and select their lands, within thirty days. On the twenty-ninth day the war-whoop was sounded and the tragedy of Lost river valley in Oregon was reenacted along the Salmon River in Idaho!

For this purpose the Indians had been gathering on Cottonwood creek at the north end of Camas prairie, at the foot-hills of the Florence mountains, about sixty-five miles from Lewiston, with the ostensible purpose of removing to the reservation. General O. O. Howard was at Fort Lapwai, and, seeing that the Indians were congregating in large numbers near the reservation, instead of going directly upon it, sent out Captain Perry on the afternoon of the last day of grace, to have ready a small detachment which should start early on the morning of the 15th to obtain news of the actions and purposes of the red men. The same evening he received a letter from a prominent citizen of Mount Idaho, who expressed fears that the Indians did not intend to keep faith with him; but the General took no measures to prevent the disaster feared.

In the morning the detachment under Perry started out toward Cottonwood creek, meeting two reservation Indians who excitedly bore the news that four white men had been killed on John Day creek, and that White Bird was riding about declaring that the non-treaty Indians would not go on the reservation. Howard hastened to the agency to consult with J. B. Alonteith the Presbyterian missionary there, taking with him the Indian witnesses, who stated that the white men were killed in a private quarrel. This report necessitated the sending of other messengers to prove the truth of what they had heard before the General would feel justified in displaying any military force. Late that after-noon they returned, and with them another messenger from Mount Idaho, with letters giving a detailed statement of a general massacre on Salmon river and the destruction of all the property of the settlers.

At Fort Lapwai were two companies of cavalry, numbering together ninety-nine men. On the night of the 15th, above mentioned. Perry set out with his command. Troop F, and came upon the Indians in White Bird canyon, early on the morning of the 17th. He immediately attacked them, but with the most disastrous results. In about an hour thirty-four of his men were killed and two wounded! He retreated to Grangeville, sixteen miles distant, leaving his dead upon the field!

Of course the whites were obliged to rise suddenly with all the force they could command.

General Howard and the governors of Oregon, Washington and Idaho issued orders for the raising and equipment of volunteer companies with all haste. By the 22d of the month troops enough had gathered to enable General Howard to take the field, having two hundred and twenty-five men, with artillery, ready to march. The war thus inaugurated on the 23d of June continued to the 4th of October, “with interesting incidents enough,” says Bancroft, “to fill a volume.” Joseph continued to run from one point to another, marvelously escaping capture until his surrender to Colonel Nelson A. Miles, near the north end of Bear Paw Mountains, on the 5th of October.

Miles lost two officers Captain Hale and Lieutenant Biddle and twenty-one killed and forty-four wounded. The number of persons killed by Joseph’s people outside of battle was about fifty; volunteers killed in war, thirteen: officers and men of the regular army, one hundred and five, and the wounded were not less than a hundred and twenty. Thus, to capture three hundred warriors, encumbered with their families and stock, required at various times the services of between thirty and forty companies of United States troops, aided by volunteers and Indian scouts! The distance marched by Howard’s army from Kamiah to Bear Paw mountains was over fifteen hundred miles, one of the most famous marches on record. The fame of Joseph became widespread by this enormous out-lay of money and effort in his capture and from the military skill he displayed in avoiding it for so long a time.

When the Nez Percé surrendered, they were promised permission to return to Idaho, and were given in charge of Colonel Miles, now a general, to be kept until spring, it then being too late to make the journey. But General Phil. Sheridan, in whose department they were, ordered them to Fort Leavenworth and afterward to the Indian Territory, near the Ponca agency, where they continued to reside in peace and prosperity.

In 1878 the number of Nez Percé, exclusive of Joseph’s followers, still off the reservation, was five hundred. The progress of the Nez Percé on the reservation was rather assisted than retarded by their separation from the non-treaty Indians. Four of the young men from Kamiah were examined by the Presbytery of Oregon in 1877, and licensed to preach and teach among their tribe. The membership of the Kamiah and Lapwai churches in 1879 was over three hundred. They were presided over by the white minister, and one Nez Perce minister, named Robert Williams. In 1880 there were nearly four thousand acres of land in the reservation under cultivation by one hundred and forty Nez Perce farmers. Of the twelve hundred who lived on the reserve nearly nine hundred wore the dress common to the whites. In education they were slow. Not-withstanding the government grant of six thou-sand dollars annually for school purposes for thirteen years, and notwithstanding all the missionary work, the number who could read in 1880 was only one hundred and ten! The number of children of school age was two hundred and fifty, only about one-fifth of whom attended school.

July 1, 1880, the Stevens treaty expired by limitation, and with it chieftainships and annuities were abolished. In most cases chieftainship had been a source of jealousy to the Indians and danger to the white people, as in the cases of Joseph, White Bird and others; but the influence of Lawyer and his successor was probably worth much more than the salary he received, in preserving the peace. When the war was forever ended, it was no longer needed for that purpose.

The Shoshone Wars

Soon after the termination of the war with the Nez Perce Indians in the north, the. Shoshones of the southern part of the territory of Idaho began to make trouble. During the Shoshone war of 1867 Governor Ballard made an informal treaty with the Bannock branch of this nation in the eastern part of the territory, by which they agreed to go upon the Fort Hall reservation before June 1, 1868, provided the land should be set apart for them, and that they should be taught husbandry and mechanics and given schools for their children. The Boise and Bruneau branches were gathered under an Indian agent and fed through the winter. In 1868 all these Indians were located upon the reservation about Fort Hall, although a few afterward strayed back to their former homes.

This year, 1868, a formal treaty was made with the Bannocks by which over a million and a half acres were set apart for their use and also for the use of kindred tribes. But these Indians, although patient in many respects, had never before had the occasion to learn patience in the new phase brought on by the circumstances inaugurated by white civilization. They commenced farming, but the grasshoppers destroyed a large portion of their crops, and at the same time the United States government was, as usual, behind with its annuities. By the terms of the treaty the Indians were permitted to go to the buffalo grounds and to dig camas on Big Camas prairie, a part of which, it was agreed, was to be set aside for their use whenever they should desire it.

Matters generally progressed favorably until the death of the principal chief, Tygee, in 1871, and then the Indians began to evince signs of restlessness, suspicion and even hostility. In 1872 an Indian from the Fort Hall reservation attempted to shoot a farmer at work making hay on the South Boise River. He was captured, but finally liberated by the white man who arrested him, for fear of arousing a general conflict with the tribe. But during the summer several murders were committed by the Indians and other misdemeanors practiced.

In 1873 the government ordered a special commission to investigate causes of trouble in the district of Idaho; and they modified the treaty in force with the Bannocks and Shoshones, by which the latter relinquished their right to hunt on the unoccupied lands of the United States without a written permit from the agent; but by an oversight no reference was made to the privileges the Indians were enjoying on Camas prairie. They soon gathered to that prairie in large numbers, especially in the Weiser valley, where there were many white settlers; and here they were met by Umatilla from Oregon, held a grand fair, horse-races, etc., and made exchanges of property in their old style. When the number here had reached about two thousand, the white settlers in the vicinity began to feel uneasy. The superintendency of Indian affairs here having been taken away from the governor, the only appeal of the whites was to the Fort Hall agent, who justified the giving of passes to the Indians on account of the meagerness of the commissary department at the agency.

Suspicion and discontent were further aggravated in 1874 by an order from the Indian department for the removal of about a thousand Indians from the Lemhi valley to the Fort Hall reservation, who refused to be thus removed. Among these were a band of “Sheep-eaters,” who had been settled in the Lemhi valley under an agent. The next year, however, the order was withdrawn and a reservation of a hundred square miles set apart for them; and during this year also an addition was made to the Malheur reservation in Oregon, which was still further enlarged in 1876.

Meantime the Modoc war and Joseph’s obstreperousness occasioned a great deal of disturbance in the minds of the Indians of southern Idaho and vicinity. The annihilation of the Mo-doc nation was followed by an ominous lull for three or four years. Then the Nez Perce out-break occurred and great fears were entertained by the whites that all the Indians of Idaho and vicinity would join in the great revolt. Even the Piute were in sympathy with their red neighbors. Winnemucca, their chief, appeared on the Owyhee with all his warriors; but, finding the people watchful and the military active, he had the prudence to remain quiet and let the Nez Percé do their own fighting. The presence of the Piute, in connection with the revival and spread of the “Smohallah” or “dreamers’ ” doctrine that the red man was ultimately to repossess all the land, tended to augment the alarm of the white settlers.

Numbers, among men as well as among boys, intensify the central focus of excitement and mischief. By the summer of 1877 the Bannocks became so excited and even turbulent as to require a considerable military force at the agency.

The ensuing spring there was not enough food to keep them all on the reservation. The scarcity was caused partly by the Nez Perce war, which Bannocks understood plainly, and partly by the fact there was a greater number on the reservation than usual. In May they commenced shooting white people on Camas prairie, which territory they claimed, under the treaty, equally with the United States. Another source of irritation was the fact that the white settlers imported and kept swine, which destroyed the camas root in large quantities.

War was opened by the Indians, who first fired upon two herders, wounding them severely. They next seized King Hill stage station, destroying property and driving off the horses, the men in charge barely escaping. About the same time they appeared on Jordan creek, demanding arms and ammunition, seized two freight wagons near Glenn’s ferry on Snake river, driving off a hundred horses, cutting loose the ferry-boat and destroying several farm-houses from which the families had fled. Throughout the territory again, as during the preceding summer, business was prostrated, farms were deserted and the citizens under arms.

To concentrate troops and ascertain the locality of the hostile Indians required time. Their movement seemed to be along Snake river from Fort Hall to the Owyhee, but the Piute under the chiefs Winnemucca and Natchez, still maintained at least an apparent friendship, while those under Eagan and Otis, along with some Malheur and Umatilla, engaged in their murderous raids. The Bannocks were led by Buffalo Horn, who had been employed as a scout by General Howard in the Nez Perce war but deserted that general at Henry Lake on account of a difference of opinion concerning the practicability of capturing Joseph at a certain camp.

It was not until the 8th of June that the whites could assume the aggressive, on which day J. B. Harper, of Silver City, with a squad encountered sixty Bannocks seven miles east of South Mountain in Owyhee County, and was repulsed. On the nth a mail stage was attacked, the driver killed, the mail destroyed and some arms and ammunition seized. Malheur Indians from Oregon were on the way toward Boise. On the 15th Howard discovered six Hundred armed Indians, the main body of the enemy, gathered in the valley between Cedar and Steen mountains, and sent four companies of cavalry upon them, and during the first engagement Buffalo Horn was killed. But before General Howard, who had in the district altogether sixteen companies of cavalry, came to the scene the Indians, as usual, had disappeared. Going northward they committed as many outrages as they could, in the destruction of property, while Howard’s forces were far too limited to make a successful pursuit.

On the 2d of July the loyal Umatilla, under their agent, Connoyer, met the enemy four hundred strong, fighting them all day and killing thirty, with a loss of only two. Although this prevented a raid the general alarm of the settlers was scarcely allayed. A thousand or more women and children were gathered at Pendleton. General Wheaton at Walla Walla, with an avail-able force, was appealed to for help, and as soon as he got under way he found the wilds almost alive with Indians on the warpath. In a few days Captain Sperry with nearly all his command was killed at Willow Springs, Oregon, and white families were rushed to places of safety as rapidly as possible, while the governors and generals were massing their meager forces with all haste. Skirmishes and small battles were hurriedly entered into, generally with victory to the whites, until, little by little, the great uprising was totally suppressed, this requiring several weeks.

The loss of property was immense. To the marauding parties were added, about the 1st of August, a portion of White Bird’s band of Nez Percé, who had returned from the British possessions, where they had not met with satisfactory treatment from Sitting Bull, the exiled Sioux chief. The close of hostilities soon after their arrival rendered them powerless to carry on war, and they became reabsorbed in the Nez Perce nation. Directly after the suppression of these raids Camp Howard was established near Mount Idaho, and also Camp Coeur d’Alene, afterward Fort Coeur d’Alene, and after this there was no more trouble with the Indians.

Such is a brief synopsis of the Indian troubles which so long retarded the development of Idaho. All danger from that source has now been re-moved forever. The feeble remnants of once powerful tribes have settled down to the prosaic arts of peace. The great increase of white population, the construction of railroad and telegraph lines, the rapid diminution of their own numbers, all preclude the possibility of Indian out-breaks in the future. Yet we should be grossly lacking in appreciation if we should overlook the struggles and hardships endured by the early settlers in combating these treacherous foes, and rendering the land safe as it now is beyond the shadow of peril. Surely, when the true history of heroism is written, the story of our northwestern pioneers should receive proper recognition.

Too Lah

One of the most interesting Indian characters connected with the history of Idaho was Too Lah, the friendly Nez Percé squaw who rode her pony twenty-five miles in the night to give warning to the miners at Florence that the Indians were massacring the white settlers. She started from Slate creek and rode to Florence in order to save the white settlers, and covered the distance in such a short time that her pony died from the effects of the hard ride. Her noble work accomplished, she then returned on foot to her home on McKenzie creek. Naturally the white settlers had the highest appreciation for her heroic action and always held her in grateful remembrance. She made a living by raising and drying fruit, by taking in washing, by nursing, and at one time was engaged in driving a pack train of six Indian ponies from Grangeville to Freedom. She died in 1898 and was buried at Meadow Creek.




MLA Source Citation:

Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 31 March 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/idaho/the-indians-of-idaho-nez-perce-and-shoshone-uprisings.htm - Last updated on Jun 30th, 2013

Contribute to the Conversation!

Our "rules" are simple. Keep the conversation on subject and mind your manners! If this is your first time posting, we do moderate comments before we let them appear... so give us a while to get to them. Once we get to know you here, we'll remove that requirement.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Newsletter Signup

We currently provide two newsletters. Why not take both for a run?

Genealogy Update: We send out this newsletter whenever we feature a new, or significantly updated, collection or database on our website.

Circle of Nations: We send out this newsletter whenever we feature a new (or significantly updated) Native American collection or database on our website.

Once you've clicked on the Subscribe button above you'll receive an email from us requesting confirmation. You must confirm the email before you will be able to receive any newsletter.