We reached Fort Walla Walla July 19th, after a march of twelve and a half days. The fort is almost on the ground of the Walla Walla Council which I attended three years ago, when those tribes we are now to fight were all represented, and their, great leader, Kamiaken, was himself present. It is in a beautiful spot of the Walla Walla valley, well wooded and with plenty of water. Ten miles distant is seen the range of the Blue Mountains, forming the south-eastern boundary of the great plains along the Columbia, whose waters it divides from those of Lewis river. It stretches away along the horizon until it is lost in the dim distance, where the chain unites with the Snake River Mountains.
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At this post are stationed four companies of the First Dragoons and two of the Ninth Infantry. The Dragoon officers are Major Grier, Lieutenants Davidson, Pender, Gregg and Wheeler. The Infantry officers are Colonel Steptoe, Captains Dent and Winder, Lieutenants Fleming and Harvie. Besides these, are Captain Kirkham, Quarter-master, and Dr. Randolph, Surgeon. The dragoon cantonment and the infantry post are about a mile apart, and we are encamped between them.
The two companies of the Fourth Infantry, which were lately ordered up here, have had their orders changed and go to Simcoe. A command, consisting of three hundred men, leaves there on the 15th of next month for the Yakima country, under Major Garnett.
One of the first persons who came into camp to see us was a Cayuse Indian, Cutmouth John, who was Lieutenant Gracie’s guide through this country three years ago, when I accompanied him on his march with a detachment of the Fourth Infantry, to act as escort to Governor Stevens at the Walla Walla council. This worthy had a dreadful distortion of visage, from having been shot in the mouth in a fight with the Snake Indians, and hence his soubriquet. He once lived with Dr. Whitman, physician to a Presbyterian mission which existed for a time near Walla Walla, and when the Doctor and his family (seven in number) were cut off in 1847, he defended them as long as possible and received at that time his wound.
John seemed very glad to see me, after our long separation, and during the expedition was a visitor almost every evening at our tent. He was exceedingly fond of talking about his former connection with the mission, and yet, it must be acknowledged that he had not retained much of the Christianity he learned while there. His sole stock consisted of two or three hymns, with which he always insisted upon favoring us, particularly when he had imbibed too much whiskey, a contingency occurring far more frequently than was for his good.
Colonel Wright, who is to take command of the expedition, has arrived, and drills and reviews are going on as usual. The Third Artillery drill twice a day in Light Infantry tactics, except Major Wyse’s company, which practices at artillery drill, mounted battery, mules being used for horses.
August 1st. Colonel Wright and staff this morning reviewed all the troops, each corps separately. The expedition will consist of about seven hundred men, while about a hundred will be left to garrison Fort Walla Walla, under Colonel Steptoe.
A few days ago sixty Nez Percé arrived, under an old chief named Lawyer, whom I knew at the council in 1855. He has been a great warrior in his day, and is still suffering from a wound in his side which he received many years ago in a fight with their old hereditary enemies, the Blackfeet Indians. These are the most dangerous banditti among all the tribes, perfect Ishmaelites, who, while they are at war with all the neighboring savages, have nourished the most implacable hatred to the whites, since they first met them in the days of Lewis and Clarke. War is their employment, and the booty they gain by it, their support. They are admirable horsemen, and as much distinguished for their treachery as for their headlong courage. Their hunting-grounds extend from the Yellow Stone and Missouri rivers to the Rocky Mountains.
The Nez Pere, or pierced-nose Indians, received this name from the early traders and trappers, but they call themselves by the name of Chipunnish. While they are the most friendly to the whites of any tribe in this region, they are at the same time one of the most numerous and powerful, roaming over the whole Rocky Mountains, along the streams to the West, and across the almost limitless plains to the East, until they reach the hunting-grounds of the tribes of the Missouri. They hunt the elk, the white bear, the mountain sheep, and the buffalo, while they trap the beaver to sell the skins to the whites. They are celebrated for their droves of horses, which, after being branded, are turned loose to roam upon the fertile plains till needed by their owners: when this is the case, it requires but a few days to break them sufficiently to answer the purpose of then: bold riders.
The warriors leave all labor to the women. They perform all the menial offices, arranging the lodge, cooking, and bringing wood; for it would be a disgrace to their lords to be seen engaged in these things. It would procure for them the title of squaws. Everything but the perils of war and the chase are beneath their attention. When at home and not occupied in preparing their arms, or in feats of horsemanship, they are gambling, lounging in groups on the mounds of the prairie, or listening to some story-teller, who recounts the exploits of the old warriors of the tribe.
The Nez Percé are blessed with a more tractable disposition than most of their brethren, and we have never seen any Indians who appear so willing to be instructed, not only in the arts of civilization, but also in the precepts of Christianity. At an early day the Presbyterian missionaries went among them, and their labors met with considerable success. A kind of Christianity was introduced among them, strangely altered, indeed in many respects, to bring it into harmony with Indian thoughts and actions, yet still retaining many of the great truths of the faith. The Methodists subsequently added their teaching; and many of them have been brought into contact with the Jesuit Fathers, one of whose missions is established in the Coeur d’Alene country. We believe, therefore, that the theological creed of the Nez Percé, if now investigated, would probably be an odd system, which would startle an ordinary D. D.
Still, it exerted a very perceptible influence over their system of morality and their daily life. When with Lieutenant Gracie at the council, on this spot, in 1855, twenty-five hundred of the Nez Percés tribe were present; and as we were camped among them for three weeks, I had an opportunity of learning something of their habits. I found they had prayers in their lodges every morning and evening) service several times on Sunday, and nothing could induce them on that day to engage in any trading.
On one occasion, at that time, visiting the old chief Lawyer in his lodge, on some evening in the middle of the week, I found him surrounded by his family, and reading a portion of the New Testament. On another occasion, on a Saturday evening, he was employed with a number of his tribe in singing sacred music to prepare for the worship of the morrow. The next day, therefore, we rode over to the Nez Percé camp, where we found they were holding service in one of the largest lodges. Two of the chiefs were officiating, one of them delivering an address, (taking the Ten Commandments for his text,) and at the end of each sentence the other chief would repeat it in a louder tone of voice. This is their invariable custom with all their speeches. Everything was conducted with the greatest propriety, and the singing, in which they all joined, had an exceedingly musical effect. We found indeed an odd mixture of this world and the next in some of the Nez Percés an equal love of fighting and devotion the wildest Indians’ traits with strictness in some religious rites, which might shame those “who profess and call themselves Christians.”
Colonel Wright has had “a talk” with the deputation of the tribe, and made arrangements by which they have become our allies. This will have the effect of withdrawing some seventeen hundred Hudson Bay muskets from the ranks of the hostile Indians, though we understand there are some discontented lodges among the Nez Percé which will unite with them. Still, the great body of the tribe will probably be faithful to their pledge. A party, too, is to go with us to act as guides and scouts. At night they had a spirited war dance to celebrate the forming of this alliance.