Moses, a great war chief who knew when not to fight

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In the Northwest of our great country there are so many different tribes of Indians that I cannot begin to tell you their names, but they were often divided in this way: Those who lived on reservations were called “Reservation Indians” and those who did not, “Outside Indians.” Now, Moses was chief of a great many tribes of Outside Indians and he was a very great chief. Of course, Moses was not his Indian name, but Governor Stevens gave it to him long ago and every one called him so; indeed, he seemed to have forgotten his Indian name and called himself Moses. He was a very handsome man, tall and straight, and always well dressed. He usually wore a buckskin coat and trousers, and handsome beaded moccasins, and a broad, light felt hat with a thin veil encircling it. He always had a leather belt around his waist, in which he carried a long knife and pistol holster, the ivory pistol knob in plain sight.

Now, Moses had led his Indians in many battles, both against Indians and white men, and everybody knew that he was a brave warrior and could fight. Indeed, in 1858 one of the very fiercest battles we ever had with the Indians took place when Moses was the Indian war chief and General George Wright commanded the United States soldiers at the “Battle of Yakima River.” But after Mr. W Wilbur became the Indian Agent things changed, for the Indians loved him and called him Father Wilbur, and Moses decided not to fight the white men any more. Many times Moses was asked to go on a reservation, but he always replied that he would live on a reservation, but not with Indians he did not know. Many tribes had asked him to be their chief, and he wanted “Washington” to give him the land in a bend of the Columbia River for a reservation. It was waste land, he said, where no white people wanted to live, but the Indians would be happy there, he knew. When Chief Joseph led the Nez Perces against us in the many battles I have told you about, he often sent to Moses to ask him to come and fight, too, but Moses always said, “No.” Still this chief did not have an easy time, for many people said he was a bad Indian, and at last he wrote me a letter which I have kept many years and which I am sure you would like to see.

I Moses Chief want you to know what my tum-tum is in regard to my tribes and the white people. Almost every day there come to me reports that the soldiers from Walla Walla are coming to take me away from this part of the country. My people are constantly excited and I want to know from you the truth so I can tell my people and have everything quiet once more among us. Since the last war we have had up here reports that I Moses am going to fight if the soldiers come; this makes my heart sick. I have said I will not fight and I say to you again I will not fight and when you hear the whites say Moses will fight, you tell them no. I have always lived here upon the Columbia River. I am getting old and I do not want to see my blood shed on my part. of the country. Chief Joseph wanted me and my people to help him. His offers were numerous. I told him no-never. I watched my people faithfully during his war and kept them at home. I told them all when the war broke out that they should not steal; if any of them did I would report them to Father Wilbur. During all the past year I have not allowed any stranger Indians to come here fearing they would raise all excitement with my Indians. I am not a squaw-I know how to fight, but I tell you the truth. I do not want to fight and have always told my people so. It is about time to begin our spring work as we all raise lots of vegetables and wheat and corn and trade with Chinamen and get money.

I wish you would write me and tell me the truth so I can tell my people so they will be contented once more and go to work in their gardens. I do not want to go on the Yakima reservation as I told Colonel Watkins last summer. I wish to stay where I have always lived and where my parents died. I wish you would write to me and send by the bearer of this letter. And be sure I am a friend and tell you the truth.

his mark Signed: Moses X Chief
   I replied that the Bannock Indians were giving me much trouble, but that when I got back I would arrange a meeting. In the meantime I would depend on him to keep peace.

Now, during this time it was hard for Moses, for two sets of Indians gave him trouble. The “Dreamers,” led by Smoholly, tried to make Moses think that he should join many tribes and fight the white men, for, said they, all the Indians who have gone to the happy hunting-lands will rise from the dead before long and join us, so you must join, too. But Moses would not fight. Then some of those Indians who were fighting crossed over the Columbia River and, finding a family by the name of Perkins living far from any settlement, killed every member of the family and burned their house and barn.

Some Indians told the white men that Moses was a friend of these dreadful warriors and was protecting them. The white people of Yakima City believed these idle tales and even accused Moses to me, but when I met him and we talked it over, he said that he would prove that what he said was true, for he would help find the three Cayuses Indians who had done this wrong and give them up to the Yakima Courts.

Always true to his word, he took with him thirty-five Indians and began to hunt. One evening Moses and his band camped for the night, and fearing no harm, were fast asleep, when a large body of white men surrounded them. These men seized Moses and bound him with cords, putting irons on his wrists, but still he would not fight and told all his Indians to point their rifles to the ground and offer no resistance. He said afterward that he gave up his pistol, knife, and gun and prepared to die, but instead he was taken to Yakima City and put in the jail or “Skookum House, ” as the Indians call it. Here Mr. Wilbur promised enough money to make them take off the irons, but still Moses was a prisoner. Then he said: “Let the one-armed soldier-chief (General Howard) know I am a prisoner: He is my friend and as soon as he knows it he will set me free.” And this he constantly repeated. I was far away when the news reached me, but I came immediately and ordered that Moses be at once set at liberty, and I have never been sorry that I did so, for he was a true friend to the good white people, and by his simple word kept many hundred Indians at peace.

When he was free Moses asked again for a reservation, and at last it was given to him and to his people. There on the banks of the Columbia River he kept his people at peace and had them work farms and gardens.

The last time I saw him he visited me at Vancouver Barracks near Portland, Oregon, when, with many chiefs, he was on his way to Washington to visit the President of the United States. He was a brave war chief and not afraid to fight, though he had learned to know that peace is best.



MLA Source Citation:

Howard, Oliver Otis Famous Indian Chiefs I have Known. University of Nebraska Press. 1908. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 27 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/moses-a-great-war-chief-who-knew-when-not-to-fight.htm - Last updated on Jul 13th, 2012


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