The Battle of White Bird Canon - Page 1
The following data is extracted from Northwestern Fights and Fighters.
By Maj. and Brev. Col. W. R. Parnell, United States Army (Retired)
The Wallowa Valley is fifteen or twenty miles east of the Grande Ronde Valley in eastern Oregon, and had long been a bone of contention between the whites and a band of non-treaty Nez PercÚ Indians under Chief Joseph. The whites claimed the right of settlement under the United States Land Acts, and while no determined effort on their part was made to take up homestead, preemption or other claims, yet they kept it as a grazing ground for their cattle, while the Indians denied them the right to such privileges, claiming to themselves the entire control of the valley and surrounding hills for hunting and fishing. They were confirmed in this right by the Government, I believe, in 1855; but by subsequent authority from Washington the land was thrown open for settlement and still later on again withdrawn.
These conflicting rulings the Indian did not clearly understand, and he evidently did not propose to be trifled with like a child with a toy, to be taken away from and given again in pleasure. Quarrels were continually arising between the red-men and the white; an occasional go steer would be missing from the white man's herd, and ponies would, in turn, be missing from that of the Indian. Fort Walla Walla was the nearest military station to this disputed territory and the cavalry troops were constantly moving to and from the Grande Ronde and Wallowa Valleys, settling differences and preserving the peace, from the date of regarrisoning it in 1873 until hostilities commenced in 1877.
During the summer months two troops of cavalry were kept in camp in the Wallowa Valley, returning to Walla Walla for the winter. Even the severity of winter did not appear to cool the hot blood, or bad blood, of either the white man or the Indian, for on New Year's Day 1876 - the year of the Centennial - two troops of the First Cavalry under my command had to forego their New Year calls, egg-nog and other attractions, and start out on an expedition across the Blue Mountains to Grande Ronde Valley, to quell an anticipated outbreak of the Indians for some grievance against the whites. The temperature was twelve degrees below zero with from two to four feet of snow on the ground.
On reaching the valley we found, however, that there was no evidence of any trouble whatever on the part of the Indians. The report was a ruse of some white men in Grande Ronde Valley to get cavalry into the valley, hoping, thereby, to dispose of their hay, grain and provisions at prices at inverse ratio to the mercury in the thermometer. Imagine their chagrin when they found that the Government contractor had made all necessary arrangements in the premises before we reached the valley!
It would seem an anomaly to the military mind to read the regular annual Presidential Message to Congress that "the country was at peace," etc., when war within our own borders was never ceasing; that for acrimony and deviltry on the part of the Indians, and of hardships, suffering and privations on the part of the troops engaged in it, was absolutely unknown in a war of any other character.
A few years ago not a month passed that war did not exist in one section or another within the boundaries of the United States; if not in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, or California, we had it in Montana and the Dakotas, or down in Arizona, New Mexico or Texas. So far as the cavalry arm of the service was concerned, cessation from hostilities did not exist. The cavalry was continually on the alert, the ever watchful eyes of the army were either in the saddle, or virtually "standing to horse." And they are doing the same thing in the Philippines to-day!
General Howard, commanding the Department of the Columbia, was instructed from Washington to proceed to Fort Lapwai, Idaho, and hold council with Chief Joseph and his tribe regarding the disputed territory. He was directed to formulate a plan by which the non-treaty Indians should come on the Nez PercÚ Indian Reservation at Lapwai or Kamai.
There were stationed at Fort Lapwai in May, 1877, Troop F, First United States Cavalry, and a small command of the Twenty-first United States Infantry, the post being under the command of Col. David Perry, Captain First Cavalry. General Howard ordered Troop H, First Cavalry, from Walla Walla to Lewiston, Idaho, a small town at the junction of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. This troop was to remain in camp on the west bank of the Snake so as to be ready to move up the Snake River on either side, or to move rapidly into the Wallowa Valley and reinforce Troops
Source: Northwestern Fights and Fighters