Collection: Northwestern Fights and Fighters

Anecdotes of Chief Joseph

With the death of Chief Joseph, the famous leader of the Nez Perces, the United States has lost its most celebrated Indian. Joseph, since the death of Red Cloud and Sitting Bull, has been the most discussed American Indian. He was the last of the great warrior chiefs. Descendant of a long line of fighters, chieftain, since early manhood, of the Nez Perce tribe, and followed with constant devotion by his dwindling people, Chief Joseph was the last Indian leader who dared to put up a real fight against civilization; and in his desperate Waterloo he put up a fight that gave Gen. Nelson A. Miles and Gen. O. O. Howard all they could do to nab him and crush him till he grimly buried the hatchet. Chief Joseph it was who, when the United States took away the reservation given him and his people by grant, brandished a defiant fist and after years of peace dragged the Government into one last fierce struggle between red and white, and the old chief came out of it blue, but silent. When he took up the cause of his little band again it was with the diplomacy of a vanquished man, beaten by a civilization which finally landed him in a half-dollar show at Madison Square Garden. This was a year ago, after New York society had fondled the old chief...

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The Battle of Camas Meadows

During the memorable campaign against the Nez Perce Indians, in the year 1877, there were many stirring incidents that have never been given to the public, and notably among these is the Camas Meadow fight of Capt. Randolph Norwood’s Company L, of the Second Cavalry. In the early part of the summer we had assisted the Fifth Infantry, under Col. Nelson A. Miles, in rounding up and capturing the remnant band of Cheyenne Sioux, under Lame Deer, and bringing them into the cantonment at the mouth of Tongue River. Shortly after arriving there, Gen. W. T. Sherman and staff, and the General’s son, Thomas, came up the Yellowstone on a tour of inspection, and we were ordered to escort them to Fort Ellis, which was our home station. Arriving there, a portion of the company was detailed to accompany our distinguished visitors on a trip of sight-seeing to the Yellowstone Park. They had scarcely departed when despatches arrived telling of a disastrous engagement of Col. John Gibbon’s troops with the Nez Perces at Big Hole Pass, something like one hundred and sixty miles away; saying he was in desperate circumstances and in danger of annihilation, and ordering us to hasten with all speed to his relief. Our company was depleted, by various details, to about fifty men, and with this force we started within the hour, which was already...

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First Battle of the Modoc War

Perhaps few places on earth, of like area, have cost so much in blood and treasure as Klamath land, and yet it may be worth the price, dear as it was, for it is one of nature’s brightest gems. The native possessor held it with a tenacity which compels us to admire his patriotism, his reverence for the land of his ancestors, while we deprecate the methods of his warfare. As he would put it: “Here is the dust of my fathers. Better for me to die here than to be removed to any other country. If I die here I go down to dust with my father and my people. If I die in some other land I shall be lost forever.” The Modocs stood as bloody sentinels along the line of the emigrant road. As far back as 1852 they began the work of ambush and slaughter, and Modoc land was for a quarter of a century the scene not only of savage treachery and cruelty, but of heroic deeds and tragic incident. Weary immigrants toiling onward toward the setting sun – no record tells how many – were here sacrificed almost on the very threshold of their land of promise. Later, when the enterprising white man, having seen and appreciated this land of green meadows, silvery lakes and crystal streams, determined to possess it, brave settlers,...

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Chief Joseph’s Own Story

Chief Joseph’s Own Story: With an Introduction by the Rt. Rev. W. H. Hare, D.D., Bishop of South Dakota 1This and the following chapter are taken from The North American Review for 1879, by the gracious permission of Messrs. Harper and Brothers, the present publishers of the magazine and the owners of the copyright. – C. T. B. Wish that I had words at command in which to express adequately the interest with which I have read the extraordinary narrative which follows, and which I have the privilege of introducing to the readers of this Review. I feel, however, that this apologia is so boldly marked by the charming naiveté and tender pathos which characterizes the red-man, that it needs no introduction, much less any authentication; while in its smothered fire, in its deep sense of eternal righteousness and of present evil, and in its hopeful longings for the coming of a better time, this Indian chief’s appeal reminds us of one of the old Hebrew prophets of the days of the Captivity. I have no special knowledge of the history of the Nez Percés, the Indians whose tale of sorrow Chief Joseph so pathetically tells – my Indian missions lying in a part at the West quite distant from their old home and am not competent to judge their case upon its merits. The chief’s narrative is, of...

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The Battle of White Bird Canon

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 Percé 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...

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The Affair at Cottonwood

By Brig.-Gen. David Perry, United States Army (Retired)I was returning July 4th from Fort Lapwai to General Howard’s command in charge of a pack-train loaded with ammunition. It had been expected that Captain Jackson’s troop of cavalry would reach Lapwai in time to furnish a safe escort. Fearing that the ammunition might be needed, I decided not to wait longer and pushed ahead with a small detachment. No one believed the hostiles to be within striking distance, as the last reports located them in the Salmon River Mountains. Imagine then my surprise at meeting Whipple’s command that afternoon several miles from Cottonwood deployed in two lines with his mountain guns between them. Then it was that I learned of the appearance in that neighborhood of a large body of hostiles and the fate of Rains and detachment. It appears that Whipple’s scouts reported seeing Indians in the hills back of Cottonwood where the command lay and in the direction of Lapwai. Orders were immediately given to “saddle up.” As soon as they could get their horses, an advance-guard under Rains started off at a gallop. In their eagerness to get away they outstripped by several minutes the command, which was just in the act of mounting when firing was heard in the direction of the advance-guard. Proceeding at a gallop they reached the scene of the firing only to...

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In the Land of Burnt Out Fires

In the Land of Burnt Out Fires A Tragedy of the Far NorthwestBy Dr. BradyThe most costly war in which the United States ever engaged, considering the number of opponents, occurred in the winter of 1872-73 in the lava-beds of Oregon. Fifty Modoc 1According to some etymologies, the word means a stranger. Indians, under the leadership of one Kientpoos – commonly known as Captain Jack, held that pedregal against overwhelming numbers of regular soldiers upon whom they inflicted defeat after defeat with little loss to themselves. They were not captured until treachery had played its maleficent part. To understand this tremendous drama a knowledge of the first act is essential. In September, 1852, an emigrant train, comprising sixty-five men, women and children, was making its way northward into the lake region of southern Oregon. The California-Oregon trail led between Lower Klamath and Tule Lakes. Huge bluffs several hundred feet high approached nearly the shore of Tule Lake, leaving a narrow road between the cliffs and the water. There the emigrant party mentioned was overwhelmed by Modoc Indians led by old Schonchin. The Modocs closed both ends of the trail and attacked from the bluffs. The settlers fought bravely, but to no avail. Those not killed were captured and tortured to death with every device of savage malignity. One man, desperately wounded, and left for dead, escaped to tell the...

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The Epic of the Nez Percé

Xenophon has chronicled the retreat of the ten thousand; De Quinces has romanced about the migration of the Tartars; a thousand pens have recorded the annihilation of the Grand Army of Napoleon: the story of Joseph and his Nez Pierces is my theme – the story of the bitterest injustice toward a weak but independent people to which the United States ever set its hand. And at the outset let me confess that I am the advocates do the friend of the Indian, at least in this instance! In 1855, Governor Isaac I. Stevens of Washington Territory negotiated an equitable, even a liberal treaty by which the Nez Pierces were confirmed in their undoubted title by immemorial occupancy to the vast region in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, including the valleys of the Snake, the Salmon, the Clearwater, and the Grande Ronde Rivers. The scope of the Steve’s treaty was so extensive and its provisions so fair, that it is probable no question would ever have arisen had not the convention been abrogated in 1863 by a new treaty which materially diminished the Nez Pierce Reservation. This treaty was signed by a majority of the Indian tribes and has been loyally kept by them to this day. Old Joseph and other chiefs declined to sign it, refused to live on the proposed reservation, and continued to occupy the fertile valleys...

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Northwestern Fights and Fighters

The Epic of the Nez Percé: Refusing life on a government-selected reservation, Chief Joseph, Chief Looking Glass, Chief White Bird, Chief Ollokot, Chief Lean Elk, and others led nearly 750 Nez Perce men, women, and children and twice that many horses over 1,170 miles through Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana mountains, on a trip that lasted from June to October of 1877, until checked by Miles just short of the Canadian border at Bear Paw Mountain (1877). This manuscript depicts their story.

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Land of Burnt Out Fires, Modoc Indian War

Should an officer stationed in Oregon receive an order about the 25th of December to march his company three hundred miles to take part in an Indian war, both he and his men would, most likely, consider the same a very cool proceeding. And they did. Now, this is about the distance from Camp Harney to the Modoc country. Our instructions were “light marching order,” instead of comfortable wagons where one could stow a tent and numberless blankets. However, what comforts or necessaries could be taken along were piled upon those unfortunate mules and off we went. The snow lay pretty deep at home, but we launched out into the great prairie, which resembled one huge, fleecy cloud, and in imagination the effect was the same as riding on the unsubstantial sky which possessed almost as much sustaining power. We plodded on through the virgin whiteness, never before disturbed by foot or hoof, and at the day’s end dismounted to sleep in its folds. The old campaigner does not, however, take such a desolate view of the situation. Reminiscences by Major J. G. Trimble In the Land of Burnt Out Fires Carrying a Stretcher through the Lava Beds Major Boutelle’s Account of His Duel with Scar-faced Charley The Capture of Captain Jack Jackson’s Expedition First Battle of the Modoc War The Disaster to Thomas’ Command The Killing of the...

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