Friday, June 19, 2015

I Will Fight No More Forever; The Story of the Nez Perce

Location: Dick's RV Park (el 3,300 ft); Great Falls, Montana

(click picture to enlarge)
(all pictures taken with Nokia Lumia 929 cell phone)

Note: I have added a new page to the blog called "Map with Dates of Travel", it is located on a "tab" below the picture of Freedom and Liberty. The blog has gotten so large that it is hard to find an old post. The new page is a series of maps with pins at each place that I camped. There is a date by one of the pins about every month. This allows you to narrow down, to within one month, a place that you may want to read about. Once you're within a month, you can then go to the archive listing on the panel on the right side of the blog to find the post. I hope it helps you, because it sure helped me. Dates were blending together and I was having a hard time remembering when I was in a particular place. The memory of the place was still alive in my head, but if I wanted to re-read the post, it was very hard to find. Let me know if it works or not and any suggestions for improvements are welcome.

I've read stories about the Indians since I was a child. The story-lines for the encounters between the whites and the Indians are usually very similar and goes a little like this: 
1) A few whites expand into territory controlled by an Indian tribe, 
2) At first, whites and Indians become friends, 
3) More whites flood into the territory in search of either minerals (gold, silver) or land,
4) Minor conflicts happen between the two different cultures.
5) There is no legal mechanism, recognized by each side, to resolve the conflict,
6) The minor conflicts grow into larger ones or get blown out of proportion, 
7) A treaty is made in an attempt to resolve the conflicts, 
8) The treaty is broken, 
9) Open warfare begins, 
10) The militarily weaker Indians lose the war,
10) The defeated Indians are placed on reservations where they become wards of the government,
12) This dependence on the government slowly destroys the "self" of the Indians,
13) Most reservations eventually deteriorate into what becomes similar to inter-city ghettos. 

Dependency breeds complacency, which limits the determination to improve yourself. Those who were able to leave the reservation and assimilate into the American society usually were more successful in life than those who chose to remain behind. This lesson is still being learned today by groups of people who depend on the government for their basic needs.   

In the story-line, I didn't say who caused the conflicts and hostilities because most of the time it was evenly split between the two sides. During the last half of the 1800's and early part of the 1900's, the stories were slanted in favor of the whites. The Indians were usually portrayed as savages who needed to be conquered and dominated. Although blacks were granted U.S. citizenship after the Civil War in 1868 by the 14th amendment to the Constitution, it was not until The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 that Indians were granted that same citizenship. It was about that time that the tone of the stories began to change in favor of the Indians and they became the "noble savages" in many stories. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between.  

The story I like the best is about the Nez Perce Indians. Their ancestral territory was a large area around the junction of present day Oregon, Idaho and Washington State. They were the largest tribe of Indians that Lewis & Clark met between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean. The two cultures formally met in 1805 as Lewis & Clark emerged from the Bitterroot Range of the Rocky Mountains. They were exhausted and the Nez Perce fed them and allowed them to rest in their villages. Lewis & Clark left their horses in the care of the Nez Perce as they continued their journey to the Pacific Ocean using canoes they built under the direction of the Nez Perce. The horses were waiting for them the following year when Lewis & Clark returned. The Corps stayed a couple months with the Nez Perce while the mountain passes thawed out. A friendship was formed and Lewis & Clark both spoke favorably of the Nez Perce. 

Decades pass as whites slowly begin the inevitable encroachment into the Nez Perce territory. This encroachment is slowed by the Civil War of the 1860's, but once it is over, the flood of whites begin. 

There were several bands of Nez Perce, each with their own territory. Treaties were made with some of the bands, but not all of them. The bands who did not sign the treaty were called the "non-treaty Nez Perce". Eventually, after pushing and pushing from both sides, an ultimatum was issued by the U.S. government in May of 1877 that required all Nez Perce to report to a reservation in present day Idaho. They were given 30 days to round up their herds of horses, collect their belongings and move their entire villages to the reservation. The non-treaty Nez Perce said the time was too short, but General Howard said if they missed the deadline, even by one day, his Army would "drive them like cattle onto the reservation".

After some random killings by both sides during the 30 day period, a meeting was held between the chiefs of the non-treaty Nez Perce to decide what action they were going to take. Some wanted to fight even though they knew they would lose in the long run. This was the attitude of most of the Indian tribes up to this point in time. The most recent example had been the Battle of the Little Bighorn where the Sioux and Cheyenne beat Custer and the 7th Calvary before eventually escaping to Canada to avoid being totally destroyed as a people. The chiefs of the Nez Perce surely knew this story and realized that if the combined strength of the Sioux and Cheyenne could not defeat the U.S. Army then they couldn't either. They also had heard the stories of how Indians were treated on reservations. Either way, fight or reservation life, would be bad for the tribe. What to do?

A decision is made by the group of chiefs to simply leave the area and head to the lands of their Indian friends, the Crows. The Crows were located to the east of the Rockies on the plains of present day Wyoming and Montana. To get there, required the tribe to cross the Rocky Mountains which their hunting parties did every year to get to the place where the buffalo lived. This time though, it meant carrying the entire village with older people, women and children. The Chief that was chosen to lead this effort was 37 year old Chief Joseph of the Wallowa band. Of course the U.S. Army wouldn't just let them leave, especially after what General Howard had told them about driving them like cattle onto the reservation. This set in motion one of the greatest retreats against a superior military force in history. 

The Army had almost 1,500 soldiers and civilian volunteers in the field trying to catch the Nez Perce. The Indians had about 250 warriors and 500 women, children and older people plus all of their belongings. The retreat lasted 5 months and covered nearly 1,250 miles across the Rocky Mountains, through Yellowstone Park and into Montana. There were a few times where the Army thought they had the Indians but the Nez Perce either won the fight or held the army off long enough so the rest of the people could escape and continue the retreat. The Army tried to catch the Indians from behind as well as sending word ahead for troops to head them off. 

The Nez Perce sent word ahead to the Crow Indians asking for help and to let them know they would be passing through their lands. The Crows refused to help the Nez Perce and actually became part of the Army's scouts. After refusal by the Crows, the Nez Perce had no choice other than to head to Canada with hopes of joining up with Sitting Bull and the Sioux/Cheyennes. They made it as far as the Bear Paw Mountains in north central Montana which is about 40 miles from Canada. The land was rolling hills with plenty of game for hunting and grass for their horses. The Indians, knowing that General Howard was at least a week or more behind them decided to rest. Little did they know that General Howard had sent word to General Miles who was near the border of Montana and the Dakotas to intercept the Nez Perce. General Miles, who one year earlier had chased the Sioux into Canada, marched his troops quickly westward to cut off Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce from escaping to Canada. He caught up with the Indians near the Bear Paws while they were resting. After an initial attack failed, he laid siege to the Indians until General Howard could arrive. The siege lasted for 5 days. Several of the chiefs had been killed, they were running out of food, the weather was turning colder and most were just plain worn out from the trip. 

A decision was made by the remaining Chiefs that those who were able, could slip away and try to escape to Canada which was only 40 miles away. Those that were unable to leave would stay with Joseph who would surrender. That would mean a chief would be with both groups. About 200 made it to Canada and joined up with Sitting Bull, 400 surrendered and about 200 died along the way. 

During his surrender, Chief Joseph gave his famous speech which ended with, "I will fight no more, forever". General Miles promised Joseph that they would be taken back to the Wallowa Valley, but instead they were taken to reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma where many died from poor living conditions. Eventually, Joseph and several of the survivors were allowed to relocate to reservations in Idaho and Washington state. He died at the Colville Reservation in Washington State in 1904 at the age of 64. 

I had read about Joseph and the Nez Perce a long time ago. As I was passing through Oregon, I thought about going to see the Wallowa Valley that Joseph and his people were forced to give up, but decided against it. Instead I wanted to see where they passed through Yellowstone and the Beartooth Mountains. I saw those places when I was staying at West Yellowstone and then again when I rode the Beartooth Highway and Chief Joseph highway while staying at Red Lodge, Montana. Finally, I wanted to see the surrender site. Having seen the tough mountains they had crossed, I wanted to see the landscape where they finally said, enough is enough. 

The final battle and surrender site is a National Historic Park and I visited it the other day. I was very, very disappointed. It is small, which is understandable, but there were very few displays or information stands. There is no visitor center or place to talk with someone about the place. I was the only one there and I stayed about 45 minutes. Heck, there was a flag pole but no America Flag flying. I guess my expectations were too high and I thought it would have been a place of honor to the Nez Perce and the U.S. Army who participated in this 5 month, 1500 mile epic journey. Live and learn, I guess.

The Entrance to the Battlefield. Notice
the flagpole in the background, with
NO flag. I guess the federal
employees treat this place as an outpost
to visit once a month or so.

To the left is the total amount of
information and tributes.

There was a bench but it was cold
and uncomfortable. 

This is a panoramic view of the battlefield. It marks the end
of one of the greatest retreats and chases. It is very different from the mountain valleys were the Nez Perce had always lived. Although they still exist as a tribe today, the Nez Perce culture ended here. 
Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road. 

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