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Moral Courage Shown by Indians to Whites

 Native American Nations | A Century of Dishonor                   


It is difficult to do full justice to the moral courage which is shown by Indians who remain friendly to whites under such circumstances as these. The traditions of their race, the, powerful influence of public sentiment among their relatives and friends, and, in addition, terror for their own lives-all combine in times of such outbreaks to draw even the friendliest tribes into sympathy and co-operation with those who are making war on whites.

At this time the hostile Indians in Oregon sent word to the Nez Percé, "Join us in the war against the whites, or we will wipe you out." They said, "We have made the whites run out of the country, and we will now make the friendly Indians do the same."

"What can the friendly Indians do?" wrote the colonel of a company of Washington Territory Volunteers; "they have no ammunition, and the whites will give them none; and the hostiles say to them, 'We have plenty ; come and join us, and save your lives.' The Nez Percé are very much alarmed; they say, "We have no ammunition to defend ourselves with if we are attacked.' "

The Oregon superintendent writes to General Wool (in command at this time of the Department of the Pacific), imploring him to send troops to Oregon to protect both friendly Indians and white settlers, and to enable this department to maintain guarantees secured to these Indians by treaty stipulations. He says that the friendly Indians are " willing to submit to almost any sacrifice to obtain peace, but there may be a point beyond which they could not be induced to go without a struggle."

This outbreak terminated after some sharp fighting, and about equal losses on both sides, in what the Oregon superintendent calls " a sort of armistice," which left the Indians "much emboldened," with the impression on their minds that they have the "ability to contend successfully against the entire white race."

Moreover, " the non -ratification of the treaties heretofore made to extinguish their title to the lands necessary for the occupancy and use of our citizens, seems to have produced no little disappointment; and the continued extension of our settlements into their territory, without any compensation being made to them, is a constant source of dissatisfaction and hostile feeling.

"It cannot be expected that Indians situated like those in Oregon and Washington Territory, occupying extensive sections of country where, from the game and otherwise, they derive a comfortable support, will quietly and peaceably submit, without any equivalent, to be deprived of their homes and possessions, and to be driven off to some other locality where they cannot find their usual means of subsistence. Such a proceeding is not only contrary to our policy hitherto, but is repugnant alike to the dictates of humanity and the principles of natural justice.

" Allow me, my dear sir, while this general war is going on, to point you to at least a few green spots where the ravages of war do not as yet extend, and which thus far are untainted " The principle of recognizing and respecting the usufruct right of the Indians to the lands occupied by them has not been so strictly adhered to in the case of the tribes in the Territories of Oregon and Washington. When a territorial government was first provided for Oregon-which then embraced the present Territory of Washington-strong inducements were held out to our people to emigrate and settle there without the usual arrangements being made in advance for the extinguishment of the title of the Indians who occupied and claimed the lands. Intruded upon, ousted of their homes and possessions without any compensation, and deprived in most cases of their accustomed means of support, without any arrangement having been made to enable them to establish and maintain themselves in other locations, it is not a matter of surprise that they have committed many depredations upon our citizens, and been exasperated to frequent acts of hostility."

As was to be expected, the armistice proved of no avail; and in 1858 the unfortunate Territories had another Indian war on their hands. In this war we find the Nez Percé fighting on the side of the United States against the hostile Indians. One of the detachments of United States troops was saved from destruction only by taking refuge with them. Nearly destitute of ammunition, and surrounded by hundreds of hostile Indians, the little company escaped by night; and "after a ride of ninety miles mostly at a gallop, and without a rest, reached Snake River," where they were met by this friendly tribe, who "received them with open arms, succored the wounded men, and crossed in safety the whole command over the difficult and dangerous river."

The officer in command of the Nez Percé band writes as follows, in his report to the Indian Commissioner :

"Allow me, my dear sir, while this general war is going on, to point you to at least a few green spots where the ravages of war do not as yet extend, and which thus far are untainted and unaffected, with a view of so retaining them that we may hereafter point to them as oases in this desert of war. These green spots are the Nez Percé, the Flathead, and Pend d'Oreille. In this connection I refer with grateful pride to an act of Colonel Wright, which embodies views and motives which, endorsed and carried out by the Government, must redound to his credit and praise, and be the means of building up, at no distant day, a bold, brave, warlike, and numerous people.

"Before leaving Walla-Walla, Colonel Wright assembled the Nez Percé people, told them his object was to war with and punish our enemies; but as this great people were and ever had been our friends, he wanted their friendship to be as enduring as the mountains around which they lived; and in order that no difference of views or difficulty might arise, that their mutual promises should be recorded."

With this view he there made a treaty of friendship with them, and thirty of the bravest warriors and chiefs at once marshaled themselves to accompany him against the enemy.

When Colonel Wright asked these Indians what they wanted, "their reply was worthy of a noble race 'Peace, ploughs, and schools.'" At this time they had no agent appointed to attend to their welfare ; they were raising wheat, corn, and vegetables with the rude means at their command, and still preserved the faith and many of the practices taught them by the missionaries thirteen years before.

In 1859 peace was again established in Oregon, and the Indians "considered as conquered." The treaties of 1855 were ratified by the Senate, and this fact went far to restore tranquility in the territories. Congress was implored by the superintendents to. realize "the importance of making the appropriations for fulfilling those treaty stipulations at the earliest practicable moment ;" that it may "prevent the recurrence of another savage war, necessarily bloody and devastating to our settlements, extended under the authority and sanction of our Government." With marvelous self-restraint, the superintendents do not enforce their appeals by a reference to the fact that, if the treaties had been fulfilled in the outset, all the hostilities of the last four years might probably have been avoided.

The reservation secured to the Nez Percé was a fine tract of country, one hundred miles long and sixty in width-well watered, timbered, and of great natural resources. Already the Indians had begun to practice irrigation in their fields; had large herds of horses, and were beginning to give attention to improving the breed. Some of them could read and write their own language, and many of them professed Christianity, and were exemplary in their conduct-a most remarkable fact, proving the depth of the impression the missionary teachings must have made. The majority of them wore the American costume, and showed "their progress in civilization by attaching little value to the gewgaws and trinkets, which so generally captivate the savage."

In less than two years the peace of this noble tribe was again invaded; this time by a deadly foe-the greed of gold. In 1861 there were said to be no less than ten thousand miners in the Nez Percé country prospecting for gold. Now arose the question, What will the Government do? Will it protect the rights of the Indians or not?

"To attempt to restrain miners would be like attempting to restrain the whirlwind," writes the superintendent of Washington Territory; and he confesses that, "seeing the utter impossibility of preventing miners from going to the mines," he has preventing refrained from taking any steps which, by a certain want of success, would tend to weaken the force of the law.

For the next few years the Nez Percé saw with dismay the steady stream of settlers pouring into their Country. That they did not resist it by force is marvelous, and can only be explained by the power of a truly Christian spirit.

"Their reservation was overrun by the enterprising miners; treaty stipulations were disregarded and trampled under foot; towns were established thereon, and all the means that cupidity could invent or disloyalty achieve were resorted to shake their confidence in the Government. They were disturbed in the peaceable possession of what they regarded as their vested rights, sacredly secured by treaty. They were informed that the Government was destroyed, and that whatever treaties were made would never be carried out. All resistance on their part proved unavailing, and inquietude and discontent predominated among them," says the Governor of Idaho, in 1805. Shortly after, by the organization of that new Territory, the Nez Percé' reservation had been removed from the jurisdiction of Washington Territory to that of Idaho.

A powerful party was organized in the tribe, advocating the forming of a league with the Crows and Blackfeet against the whites. The non-arrival of promised supplies; the non-payment of promised moneys ; the unchecked influx of miners throughout the reservation, put strong weapons into the hands of these disaffected ones. But the chiefs " remained firm and unwavering in their devotion to the Government and the laws. They are intelligent-their head chief, Sawyer, particularly so and tell their people to still wait patiently." And yet, at this very time, there was due from the United States Government to this chief Sawyer six hundred and twenty -five dollars! He had for six months been suffering for the commonest necessaries of life, and had been driven to disposing of his vouchers at fifty cents on the dollar to purchase necessaries. The warriors also, who fought for us so well in 1856, were still unpaid ; although in the seventh article of the treaty of 1863 it had been agreed that " the claims of certain members of the Nez Percé tribe against the Government, for services rendered and horses furnished by them to the Oregon Mounted Volunteers, as appears by certificates issued by W. II. Fauntleroy, Acting Regimental Quartermaster, and commanding Oregon Volunteers, on the 6th of March, 1856, at Camp Cornelius, and amounting to $4665, shall be paid to them in full in gold coin."

How many communities of white men would remain peaceable, loyal, and friendly under such a strain as this?

In 1866 the Indian Bureau report of the state of our diplomatic, relations with the Nez Percé is that the treaty concluded with them in 1863 was ratified by the Senate, "with an amendment which awaited the action of the Indians. The ratification of this treaty has been delayed for several years for various reasons, partly arising from successive changes in the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Idaho, whose varying opinions on the subject of the treaty have caused doubts in the minds of senators. A later treaty had been made, but, on careful consideration of the subject, it was deemed advisable to carry into effect that of 1863. The Nez Percé claimed title to a very large district of country comprised in what are now organized as Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, but principally within the latter Territory; and already a large white population is pressing upon them in the search for gold. They are peaceable, industrious, and friendly, and altogether one of the most promising of the tribes west of the Rocky Mountains, having profited largely by the labors of missionaries among them."

By the treaty ratified in this year they give up "all their lands except a reservation defined by certain natural boundaries, and agree to remove to this reservation within one year. Where they have improvements on lands outside of it, such improvements are to be appraised and paid for. The tillable lands are to be surveyed into tracts of twenty acres each, and allotted to such Indians as desire to hold lands in severalty. The Government is to continue the annuities due under former treaties, and, in addition, pay the tribe, or expend for them for certain specific purposes having their improvement in view, the sum of $262,500, and a moderate sum is devoted to homes and salaries for chiefs. The right of way is secured through the reservation, and the Government undertakes to reserve all important springs and watering-places for public use."

In this same year the Governor of Idaho writes, in his annual report to the Department of the Interior: "Prominent among the tribes of Northern Idaho stand the Nez Percé, a majority of whom boast that they have ever been the faithful friends of the white man. But a few over half of the entire tribe of the Nez Percé are under treaty. The fidelity of those under treaty, even under the most discouraging circumstances, must commend itself to the favorable consideration of the Department. The non-payment of their annuities has had its natural effect on the minds of some of those under treaty; hut their confiding head chief, Sawyer, remains unmoved, and on all occasions is found the faithful apologist for any failure of the Government. Could this tribe have been kept aloof from the contaminating vices of white men, and had it been in the power of the Government promptly to comply with the stipulations of the treaty of 1855, there can be no doubt but that their condition at this time would have been a most prosperous one, and that the whole of the Nez Percé nation would by this time have been willing to come under treaty, and settle on the reservation with those already there."

In 1867 the patience of the Nez Percé is beginning to show signs of wearing out. The Governor of Idaho writes: "This disaffection is great, and serious trouble is imminent. It could all be settled by prompt payment by the Government of their just dues; but if delayed too long I greatly fear open hostilities. They have been patient, but promises and explanations are loosing force with them now. Their grievances are urged with such earnestness that even Sawyer, who has always been our apologist, has in a measure abandoned his pacific policy, and asks boldly that we do them justice. Even now it may not be too late; but, if neglected, war may be reasonably expected. Should the Nez Percé strike a blow, all over our Territory and around our boundaries will blaze the signal-fires and gleam the tomahawks of the savages-Kootenay, Pen d'Oreille, Coeur d'Alene, Blackfeet, Flat-head, Spokane, Pelouse, Bannock, and Shoshone will be involved."

This disaffection, says the agent, " began to show itself soon after the visit of George C. Haigh, Esq., special agent, last December, to obtain their assent to the amendments to the treaty of June 9th, 1863-the non-ratification of that treaty had gone on so long, and promises made them by Governor Lyon that it would not be ratified, and that he was authorized to make a new treaty with them by which they would retain all of their country, as given them under the treaty of 1851, except the site of the town of Lewiston. They had also been informed in March 1866, that Governor Lyon would he here in the June following, to pay them back-annuities due under the treaty of 1855. The failure to carry out these promises, and the idea they have that the stipulations of the treaty of 1863 will be carried out in the same manner, is one of the causes of their bad feeling. It showed itself plainly at the council lately held, and is on the increase. If there is the same delay in carrying out the stipulations of the treaty of 1863 that there has been in that of 1855, some of the chiefs with their bands will join the hostile Indians. There are many things it is impossible to explain to them. They cannot understand why the $1185 that was promised by Governor Lyon to the Indian laborers on the church is not paid. He told them when the walls were up they should receive their pay. These laborers were poor men, and such inducements were held out to them that they commenced the work in good faith, with the full expectation of receiving their pay when their labors ceased."

The head chief Sawyer's pay is still in arrears. For the last quarter of 1863, and the first and second of 1864, he has received no pay. No wonder he has ceased to be the "apologist" of the Government, which four years ago promised him an annuity of $500 a year.

Spite of this increasing disaffection the Nez Percé are industrious and prosperous. They raised in this year 15,000 bushels of wheat. " Many of them carried their wheat to be ground to the mills, while many sold the grain to packers for feed, while much of it is boiled whole for food. Some few of the better class have had their wheat ground, and sold the flour in the mining-camps at lower prices than packers could lay it down in the camps. Some have small pack-trains running through the summer; one in particular, Cru-cru-lu-ye, runs some fifteen animals; he sometimes packs for whites, and again runs on his own account. A Clearwater Station merchant a short time ago informed me of his buying some oats of Cru-cru-lu-ye last fall. After the grain had been weighed, and emptied out of the sacks, the Indian brought the empty sacks to the scales to have them weighed, and the tare deducted, saying he only wanted pay for the oats. Their sales of melons, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, squashes, green peas, etc., during the summer, in the different towns and mining-camps, bring in some $2000 to $3000. Their stock of horses and cattle is increasing fast, and with the benefits to be derived from good American stallions, and good bulls and cows, to be distributed to them under the stipulations of the treaty of 1863, they will rapidly increase in wealth."

In 1869 their reservation is still un-surveyed, and when the Indians claim that white settlers are establishing themselves inside the lines there is no way of proving it, and the agent says all he can do is to promise that "the white man's heart shall be better;" and thus the matter will rest until another disturbance arises, when the same complaints are made, and the same answers given as before-that " the white man's heart shall be better, and the boundary-line shall be surveyed."

Other treaty stipulations are still unfulfilled; and the non-treaty party, while entirely peaceable, is very strong, and immovably opposed to treaties.

In 1870, seven years after it was promised, the long deferred survey of the reservation was made. The superintendent and the agent both remonstrated, but in vain, against the manner in which it was done ; and three years later a Board of Special Commissioners, appointed to inquire into the condition of the Indians in Idaho, examined the fence put up at that time, and reported that it was " a most scandalous fraud. It is a post and board fence. The posts are not well set. Much of the lumber is deficient in width and lengths The posts are not dressed. The lumber laps at any joint where it may chance to meet, whether on the posts or between them, and the boards are not jointed on the posts where they meet; they are lapped and fastened generally with one nail, so that they are falling down rapidly. The lumber was cut on the reservation. The contract price of the fence was very high; the fencing done in places of no value to any one, for the reason that water cannot be had for irrigation. The Government cannot be a party to such frauds on the people who entrust it with their property."

In this year a commission was sent to Oregon to hold council with the band of Nez Percé occupying Wallowa Valley, in Oregon, "with a view to their removal, if practicable, to the Nez Percé Reservation in Idaho. They reported this removal to be impracticable, and the Wallowa Valley has been withdrawn from sale, and set apart for their use and occupation by Executive order."

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

A Century of Dishonor, By Helen Hunt Jackson, New York, Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, 1885

A Century of Dishonor


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