Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sepia Saturday: The Nez Perce

My grandfather, whose childhood years were spent
in Wallowa County, Oregon, recalled that when he
was a child, he used to see members of the Nez Percé
tribe in the area, their summer hunting grounds.

You may or may not know that the Nez Percé
  had been granted reservation lands in 1855 
by the Washington Territory's 
territorial governor, Isaac Stevens. 
The land reserved for the tribe encompassed 
their traditional hunting lands, 
including the Wallowa Valley. 

But as settlement by whites continued and gold was found, 
the incentive to honor that treaty diminished.

The Nez Percé were offered a much smaller reservation centered around Lapwai, Idaho with schools, 
a hospital and financial rewards. 

In exchange, they had to cede their hunting lands. 
Some of the tribal chiefs agreed, 
but Chief Joseph (1840 - 1904) refused.

 Unable come to an agreement with the U.S. government, 
the non-treaty bands were threatened with forcible removal
 if they did not voluntarily relocate to the reservation. 

Chief Joseph led his followers on a trek
 toward freedom in Canada.

Betrayed by their supposed allies, the Crow, 
who joined forces with the government troops, 
the Nez Percé were forced to surrender 
after a five-day battle in freezing weather. 
The people had no food or blankets to protect them.

Chief Joseph is remembered for
stirring words of surrender,

I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed;
Looking Glass is dead, Too-hul-hul-sote is dead.
The old men are all dead. It is the young men
who say yes or no. He who led on the young men
is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets;
the little children are freezing to death. My people,
some of them, have run away to the hills,
and have no blankets, no food. No one knows
where they are—perhaps freezing to death.
I want to have time to look for my children,
and see how many of them I can find.
Maybe I shall find them among the dead.
Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired;
my heart is sick and sad.
From where the sun now stands,
I will fight no more forever.

which actually may have been invented by an Army Lt. Charles Erskine Scott Wood -- 
or at least elegantly paraphrased.

By the time he surrended, more than 200 
of Chief Joseph's followers were dead. 
The chief and 400 survivors, 
though promised safe passage to the reservation, 
were herded into railroad cars and held in camps 
in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas for 8 months 
before being moved to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) 
for ten years. Many of the surviving members 
died of disease there.

They were finally permitted to return 
to the Pacific Northwest, 
though not officially to their beloved 
hunting grounds in the Wallowa Valley.  

Since my grandfather (1900 - 1994) 
used to see tribal members
 in the Wallowa Valley after the Chief's death, 
it's clear that the tribal lands 
still had a strong pull
 on the psyches of the Nez Percé.

 Photos by Edward S. Curtis 
from the Library of Congress Collection.  


gibknitty said...

interesting stories and photographs.

Titania said...

The native people of any country where the white man has invaded were doomed. Such a proud people with so many traditions, all lost. It is not a proud tale the white man has to tell. There was never kindness, it was always ME, still is!

Joan said...

What a story of sadness you tell. It is the same story told over and over..if only we could learn. Thank you for sharing this. I was very moved. The photos are dignified and that little baby so gorgeous!

Cheri Daniels said...

Wonderful to see a Sepia Saturday post with this diverse focus....beautiful and sad, but too often forgotten.

Marilyn said...

What a wonderful post about a very sad happening in history. Such beautiful photos of very dignified people. It is very difficult to comprehend mens cruelty to men.
One of my ancestors was American and I have been unable to find any link back but one line of the family said that he was Native American or one of his parents was. I would love to know the truth of this.

Nancy said...

What a heartbreaking time, and what a touching retelling of the experience and events.

Alan Burnett said...

It is difficult to think of a better example of the way photographs enliven history. I both enjoyed reading it and learnt a lot from it. Thanks

sEAN bENTLEY said...

Last week we happened to be in the Wallowa Lake area. There was, of all things, a biker convention going on in the streets of the tiny town of Joseph - named for the Chief. The park at the lake was filled with campervans. But the surrounding land, sage-dotted, yellowish sand and stone, with thin pines combing the cloudless sky, was much the same as I imagine it was 150 years ago.

Tattered and Lost said...

Edward S. Curtis was amazing. I have several books of his work. Thankfully his work survived to let us step back in time. Nice post.

Pat transplanted to MN said...

I remember eading about Chief Joseph and that poem; wasn't there a book about it too? We have been through that area too on trips north when we lived in CA. Good history lesson.