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Exhibits > Chief Joseph > Part 2

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Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians (Cont'd)

   On camping trips, families often used hide tipis, which were folded and packed on two tipi-poles and dragged behind horses, a system the French called the “travois” after witnessing dogs and later horses carrying loads in this manner.

Photo 6: “Woman with Travois, Pendleton Roundup,” photo by W. S. Bowman. Courtesy Oregon Historical Society, Neg. # 855-S

   By the time Joseph and his brothers and sister were growing up in the 1840s, the Nez Perce had acquired many items of European manufacture including metal pots and kettles, knives, guns, and woollen blankets, which made life easier and served to decorate and soften life in a traditional mat lodge or tipi.

Photo 7: “Encampment of Nez Perce” Jane Gay photographer, 1889-1892 Courtesy of National Park Service, Nez Perce National Historic Park, Spalding, Neg. # 2808

The Nez Perce were horse rich, having acquired this “miracle animal” over a century earlier from trade with the Shoshone. Once horses were brought back to Nez Perce country, they were selectively bred for the best short-legged stock that could endure long trips up and down the mountainous terrain of their traditional homeland. In time, these horses would be given the name of “Appaloosa,” often distinguished by their coat pattern with sprinkles of white or large dark spots on lighter bodies, to complete leopard-like appearance. Bred for strength in their stocky forelegs, rather than for color, Appaloosas became the ideal horse for steep mountain trails and passes such as those connecting Idaho with Montana.

Photo 8: Appaloosa horse; photo by Don Shugast, courtesy of The Appaloosa Horse Club of America, Moscow, Idaho.

The Nez Perce provided food, shelter, and horses to the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805, after which they were well known among fur traders for their kindnesses and willingness to allow whites to pass freely through their country. During the 1830s, only a handful of missionaries and fur traders settled on their lands, but by the mid-1840s, hundreds of emigrants passed through their lands annually en route to Oregon and California. From a Constitutional and international law perspective, the United States had no right to allow missionaries into Indian country prior to formal treaty proceedings, but under an agreement made with Great Britain in 1818, the “Oregon Country” was considered “shared territory” and many interest groups including churches, fur traders, farmers, and prospectors felt they had the right to enter the territory without permission of the tribes whose land they invaded. No white was ever killed despite disruption of many hunting and fishing areas.

Peace was interrupted in 1847 when the missionary, Marcus Whitman, his wife, Narcissa, and twelve other whites were killed by the Cayuse near present-day Walla Walla, Washington following a severe outbreak of measles, which killed many Indians and for which the missionaries were blamed. The Nez Perce and all other Indians in the Northwest were affected by this event. Many were sympathetic to the Cayuse and the affair compromised relations between Indians and whites throughout the region.

Tensions had been mounting since 1842, when Joseph was only a year or two old. In that year, Joseph’s people, had become subject to a new system introduced by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. This Washington, D.C.-based office was created in 1824 to serve as a liaison between Congress and the tribes with which the United States had entered into treaties or tribes living in territories newly acquired by the United States. It was under jurisdiction of the Secretary of War, who had the power to appoint “agents” and to distribute annuities (annual monies and goods such as flour, sugar, tools and blankets promised in treaties). Dr. Elijah White, a missionary and U. S. agent to the Indians of Oregon, determined to simplify his administrative district by consolidating all Nez Perce under one “head chief,” a system alien to the Nez Perce, traditionally divided into several autonomous bands and villages, sharing ancestral heritage but no centralized political authority. The system was bound to fail. “Ellis,” the first “head chief,” was ill-suited for the artificial position and spent much of his time in present-day Montana, hunting buffalo.

We have no photograph or drawing of Ellis, who died in 1850 of measles, whereupon Halalhot-suut “the Lawyer,” was named by American authorities as his replacement, a position he would hold under much controversy until his death in 1876. Lawyer had befriended mountain men and early settlers since the mid-1830s and preferred peace and compromise over resistance to white trespass and demands.

Illustration 2: “Lawyer, Hal-hal-tlos-stot, Head Chief of the Nez Perce Tribe” Gustav Sohon, artist at the 1855 Treaty of Walla Walla; courtesy Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma

In fairness, it was not an easy time for any Nez Perce leader and Lawyer must have thought he was doing what was best for his people. In 1853, Congress created Washington Territory, carving the Nez Perce homeland into two “American” political areas, all of it Indian land yet to be negotiated with the United States. Seeing the need for a federal right-of-way for emigrants heading to Oregon and California and for a Pacific transcontinental railroad, Congress sent a surveying party through the region with the goal of establishing formal Indian reservations separate from “public domain” lands. In 1855, Governor Isaac I. Stevens gathered the region’s chiefs together at Walla Walla for a treaty council. A great feast was prepared and several days of negotiating followed.

Illustration 3: “Chiefs at Dinner, Walla Walla Council, 1855; Gustav Sohon, pencil sketch; Courtesy Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma

   Lawyer was present, as was Old Joseph, who is reported to have carried a Bible at the convention. “Apash,” or “The Looking Glass,” a leader from the Kamiah area of Idaho, named for the translucent arrowhead he wore as a necklace, rode in from Montana’s buffalo country, parading his warriors and hunters into the treaty-camp in a very dramatic manner. His son, also called “Looking Glass” was destined to play a major role later in Nez Perce history.

Illustration 4: “Arrival of Nez Perce Indians at Walla Walla Treaty, May 1855,” Gustav Sohon pencil sketch; Courtesy Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma

Illustration 5: “Looking-glass, Apash-wa-hay-ikt, Chief of the Nez Perce Indians,” Gustav Sohon pencil sketch, Walla Walla Treaty of 1855; Courtesy Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma.

   Old Joseph, along with all other Nez Perce leaders present, agreed to cede land in exchange for a large reservation and the right to live, hunt, and fish on their former territory. The 1855 Reservation consisted of 7.5 million acres and seemed a reasonable middle-ground for Indians and whites to coexist in a region gaining popularity among miners and settlers.

Map 4: “Reservation Boundary by Treaty of 1855,” from Bill Gulick, Chief Joseph Country, p. 110, courtesy of The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho.

What began as a potentially workable solution to white demands for fertile farm lands and Native need to preserve sacred sites and resource habitat soon turned violent. The Yakima and other Columbia river tribes rose in revolt, feeling betrayed by Stevens, whose treaty had not been ratified by the U. S. Senate, but who had already opened up Indian lands for white settlement. The Nez Perce remained non-combatants in the Yakima War, which lasted from September, 1855 to November, 1856, and resulted in several dozen deaths on both sides. Soon thereafter, the Nez Perce experienced trespass on their own reserved territory, when gold was discovered on their land in 1860. Hundreds of miners invaded the Nez Perce Reservation and a supply point was illegally established at Lewiston in 1861.

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Map 5: “Gold Strikes in Indian Territory,” from Bill Gulick, Chief Joseph Country, p. 150, courtesy of the Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho

By 1862, over eighteen thousand whites had settled on Nez Perce land. Fearing violence, federal Indian commissioners arrived in 1863, determined to reduce the size of the original 1855 Nez Perce Reservation. Old Joseph and two-thirds of the Nez Perce band chiefs refused to sign this second “steal” or “thief” treaty” of 1863. However, cooperative headmen were designated as signatories for the entire “Tribe,” and the reserve was reduced by seven million acres, leaving the Nez Perce approximately one-tenth of lands originally negotiated in 1855. From this point on, the tribe was split between the Lower Nez Perce or “non-treaty” group and the Upper Nez Perce or “treaty” group.

Map 6: reduction of Nez Perce country from Bill Gulick, Chief Joseph Country, p. 159,
courtesy of The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho

Old Joseph (Tuekakas) died in 1871, having renounced Christianity and all treaties, at which time his people remained in the Wallowa Valley on their ancestral lands, but outside the “official” boundaries of the 1863 reservation. Hinmahtoo-yahlatkekht succeeded his father as chief of the Wallamotkin (or Wallowa) Band and was known thereafter as “Chief Joseph” by non-Indians. His older brother Sousouquee, remembered as taller than Joseph and equally handsome, had been dead six years, reportedly killed by other Indians. Now the eldest, Joseph was married to a Nez Perce woman known as Wa-win-te-pi-ksat, the daughter of another important Nez Perce band leader of the Lapwai area named Whisk-tasket. Their marriage produced one daughter named Kap-kap-on-mi, born in 1865. Joseph would later remarry to a woman remembered as “Springtime,” who also bore a daughter in 1877. During his life, Joseph had several wives and many children, some his own, others adopted into the family after their parents had died.

Photo 9: Chief Joseph with family during imprisonment in Kansas. Joseph is believed to have been thirty-nine or forty years old and the women are three of the total of four
wives he would have during his lifetime. F. M. Sargent, photo artist, Anthony, Kansas, 1878 or 1879. Courtesy National Park Service, Nez Perce National Historic Site, Spalding, Idaho. Neg. # 128.


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