Coeur d’Alene Council
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The Coeur d’Alenes have always been remarked for their determined opposition to the whites. They perseveringly set themselves against any intrusion into their country, and if they had possessed strength to carry out their wishes, their hunting-grounds would never have been trodden by the foot of a white man. It was from this trait that they received their name Coeur d’Alene pointed hearts, or hearts of arrows. They were now for the first time to meet the whites in council, where their only hope was in unqualified submission. It was the first meeting of the kind on, our expedition, and we were now to witness the effect of the severe lesson which the Indians had been taught.
The council met in front of Colonel Wright’s tent. A bower had been hastily constructed of branches of trees, and in this sylvan saloon we were to meet the sons of the forest. At one end was the Colonel, surrounded by his officers, while the rest of the space was filled by the Coeur d’Alenes, generally (as an Indian chief once expressed it) “resting on the bosom of their mother earth.” About a hundred and fifty were present. Our two regular Interpreters were there, and also Father Joset from the Mission, who lent us his aid in interpreting to Vincent, when the latter repeated it to the other chiefs present.
The Council was opened by Vincent, the Coeur d’Alene chief, who addressed Colonel Wright thus:
“I have committed a great crime. I am fully conscious of it, and am deeply sorry for it. I and all my people are rejoiced that you are willing to forgive ns. I have done.”
Colonel Wright. (To the Indians) “As your chief has said, you have committed a great crime. It has angered your Great Father, and I have been sent to punish you. You attacked Colonel Steptoe when he was passing peaceably through your country, and you have killed some of his men. But you asked for peace, and you shall have it, on certain conditions,
“You see that you fight against us hopelessly. I have a great many soldiers. I have a great many men at Walla Walla, and have a large body coming from Salt Lake City. What can you do against us? I can place my soldiers on your plains, by your fishing-grounds, and in the mountains where you catch game, and your helpless families cannot run away.
“You shall have peace on the following conditions. You must deliver to me, to take to the General, the men who struck the first blow in the affair with Colonel Steptoe. You must deliver to me to take to Walla Walla, one chief and four warriors with their families. You must deliver up to me all property taken in the affair with Colonel Steptoe. You must allow all troops and other white men to pass unmolested through your country. You must not allow any hostile Indians to come into your country, and not engage in any hostilities against any white man. I promise you, that if you will comply with all my requirements, none of your people shall be harmed, but I will withdraw from your country and you shall have peace forever.
“I also require that the hatchet shall be buried between you and our friends, the Nez Percés.”
The Nez Percés were called, and the part of the speech referring to them was repeated to the Coeur d’Alenes in their presence.
Vincent replied: “I desire to hear what the Nez Percés heart is.”
Haitzemaliken, (the chief of the Nez Percé,) stood forth and said: “You behold me before you, and I will lay my heart open to you. I desire there shall be peace between us. It shall be as the Colonel says. I will never wage war against any of the friends of the white man.”
Vincent. “It does my heart good and makes also my people glad, to hear you speak so. I have desired peace between us. There shall never be war between our people, nor between us and the white men. The past is forgotten.”
The propositions of the Colonel were then formally accepted, and having been signed by him and his officers, they were signed also by Vincent and the other chiefs and head men. They then smoked the pipe of peace all round, and the council broke up.
The old Spokan chief whom we formerly held as prisoner, was also there, and made a short speech, the import of which was, that he was also satisfied, and would go and try to bring in his people. He left the camp as soon as the council had adjourned.
Everything seems to be settling down on quite a pacific footing. The Indians, this afternoon, returned quite a number of things taken in the fight with Colonel Steptoe. Trading, too, goes on quite briskly. Blankets and shirts are exchanged for robes, moccasins, and arms. The Fathers send us vegetables every day, besides milk and butter; two luxuries which we have not seen for a longtime.
Today we noticed at the Mission a number of women, who were evidently in great distress and weeping bitterly. Some were mourning for those who had fallen in battle, and others for the hostages who were to be taken off by us.
The Indians seem amazed at our being so friendly with them, after their hostilities. Father Joset told them, as a solution of the matter, that “the soldiers were like lions in war and lambs in peace.”
We find, from conversing with the Indians, what was the system of tactics they had arranged for the campaign. They expected to be attacked first by the dragoons, whom they intended to fight as they did Colonel Steptoe, and expected the same result. To this purpose they devoted their powder and ball. Having disposed of the dragoons, they would have the infantry in their power, cut off from all succour in the midst of a hostile country. They were then to keep riding round them, as they would have far outnumbered them, and shooting them with their arrows. They well knew, too, that their first success against our force would have doubled their numbers. Indian runners would at once have spread the news through the country, the wavering and undecided would have cast in their lot with them, warriors from the most distant tribes have hurried on to share in the spoil, and on both sides of the mountains we should have, had on our hands a war of extermination against the whites.
The long range rifles upset this beautiful scheme. They expected, they told us, that as soon as the infantry fired they would retire and load again. They were very much surprised, therefore, to see them advance all the time, keeping up a steady and uninterrupted fire. They compared the soldiers to bears, that when they fired a shot, the soldiers advanced always to the spot where it fell instead of retiring. We learned that, on our march to the Mission, a war-party of the Pelouzes were following in our rear, and when Lieutenant Mullan’s wagon and the limber of the Howitzer battery were abandoned, they burned them.
September 18. This morning we resumed our march, and once more plunged into the wilderness. We have now reached the most distant point of our expedition, and begin our retrograde movement. It is the object of Col. Wright to look after the Spokans and other tribes, on his march down through the country. We left the Mission at seven o’clock, and after advancing about two miles, struck the Coeur d’Alene River, our way at first for a few miles passing through a thickly wooded country, and then over an open bottom running along the bank of the river. The Coeur d’Alene is narrow and winding, and deep enough, it is said, for a line-of-battle ship, though not sufficiently wide.
Our march of the day was thirteen miles. Some of our hostages and guides went with us, while others came down the river in canoes and met us at our camp.
During the afternoon, one supply train, one company of dragoons, and the howitzer battery, crossed the river. They were taken over in two canvas boats belonging to the quarter-master, assisted by the Indians in their canoes.
September l9th. This morning the rest of the command crossed the river. One dragoon horse and two mules were drowned in making the passage.
Sept. 20th, Marched at six this morning. About a mile from the river we entered the thick timber, through which we toiled with great exertions for nine miles, until we emerged once more on the banks of the St. Joseph’s River. After marching along its banks for about four miles, we encamped, having advanced thirteen miles, the greater part of the way through the dense forests. The St. Joseph’s is a beautiful stream, narrow and deep, and its banks lined with timber.
Had we been in a mood for the picturesque, we might have been delighted with the scenery through the day. The views from the mountains over which we passed, were most beautiful. At times, a large number of lakes, streams and ponds were in sight at once. Just before reaching the river, we passed the spot where the Mission of the Sacred Heart (to the Coeur d’Alenes,) formerly stood, before it was removed to its present location.
This evening the express came in with the mails, bringing us eighteen days later news from the regions of civilization. The rest of our hostages came in today, having been off to get their families and horses. They turned over to our quarter-master some horses and mules taken from Colonel Steptoe’s command.
In the beginning of September, Donati’s comet appeared, and night after night it has been streaming above us in all its glory. Strange as it may seem, it has exerted a powerful influence over the Indians, in our behalf. Appearing just as we entered the country, it seemed to them like some huge besom to sweep them from the earth. The effect was probably much increased by the fact, that it disappeared about the time our campaign ended and the treaties were formed. They must have imagined that it had been sent home to their Great Father in Washington, to be put away until required the next time.
September 21st. Last evening the supply train was crossed over the river, and this morning the rest of the command made the passage. The Indians again did us good service in pointing out the ford, and in helping across the men and supplies. The whole command had reached the other side by one in the afternoon.
We crossed near a Coeur d’ Alene village, which was the residence of one of the hostages who was to accompany us, and we witnessed his taking leave of his family. In bidding them farewell, he evidently could not repress his tears, and after looking back once more, by a great effort he tore himself away and hurried from the spot. It was a scene very different from the pictures of Mohegan indifference given by Fenimore Cooper.
Since granting peace to the Coeur d’Alenes, we have discovered, what we before suspected, that the discontented portion of the Nez Percés had joined the enemy, and were engaged in the two fights against us. The friendly Indians report there were about forty lodges.
As soon as we left the river, we entered the heavy timber, and after a march of about five miles reached a small stream where we were obliged to encamp, for the sake of the water, although it was scarce. In the afternoon a chief with ten “braves” came into the camp. They represented themselves as Nez Percés, though we found they in reality were Pelouzes. They said they had been in the two fights against us, but having heard that peace had been granted to the Coeur d’Alenes, they wished it extended to them also.