As Told by Agnes, Chief Victor's Widow

In 1899 Father D'Aste, a Jesuit priest at St. Ignatius Mission on the Flathead Reservation, was told the following story by "a reliable old Indian" who had heard it from Agnes, the widow of Chief Victor. Victor, whose Indian name was Plenty-of-Horses, was born in 1790, and died during a summer buffalo hunt in 1870. He was the father of Charlo, or Small Grizzly Bear Claw, who succeeded him as head chief of the Salish. Three Eagles, or Tcleskaimi, was the leader of the Salish people when they met the Lewis and Clark party.

Agnes' Story

One time when the Flatheads were camping at Ross Hole, Chief Three Eagles left the camp to do his own scouting. He feared that some enemy Indians might be sneaking near the camp, intending to steal horses. At a distance he saw a party of about twenty men traveling toward his camp. Except for two chiefs riding ahead, each man was leading two pack horses. Chief Three Eagles was puzzled by the appearance of the strangers, for never before had he seen men not wearing blankets. Perhaps they have been robbed, he thought.

Returning to his people, he told them about the strange beings. He gave orders that all the horses should be driven in near camp and watched. Then he went back toward the party, hid himself in the forest, and watched them approach.

He saw that they were traveling slowly, without any suspicious behavior. The two leaders would ride ahead, seeming to survey the country, and then would go back and consult with their men.

"They must be two chiefs," Three Eagles thought. "But what are they after? And why does one of their men have a black face? Who can he be?"

The Chief puzzled about the black man. Among his own people it was the custom to have a war dance if, on a buffalo hunt, they should see any sign of their enemies hiding around. For this dance, the warriors painted themselves—some with red, others with yellow, others with black. While dancing, they would encourage each other to fight bravely. This black man, thought Chief Three Eagles, must have painted his face black as a sign of war. The party must have fought with their enemies and have escaped, losing only their blankets.

Once more the chief returned to his camp and reported to his people.

"They are traveling in our direction," he said. "Let us keep quiet and wait for them. They seem to have no intentions of fighting us or of harming us."

So he and his people watched and waited. The strangers approached slowly, still showing no hostile intentions. When they came near the camp, the two leaders got off their horses and walked toward the people, making signs of friendship. They shook hands with Chief Three Eagles. Then all the Indian men shook hands with all the white men.

"Bring the best buffalo skins," said the chief, "one for each man to sit on. Bring the best buffalo robes, and put them over the men's shoulders."

The two leaders saw that the Indians were smoking a strange plant. They asked for some and filled their pipes. But they did not like it. "It is no good," they said.

Cutting some of their own tobacco, they asked the Indians to fill their pipes with it. But the Indians did not like it. It made all of them cough, and everybody laughed. Then the two leaders, making signs, asked for some kinnikinnick. They mixed the leaves with their own tobacco and gave the mixture to the Indians. The Indians liked it. So the people smoked together.

Seeing that everybody was friendly, the white men decided to camp there near the Indians. As they unpacked their horses, they explained with signs that they had blankets in their packs, used only for sleeping. So they gave back the robes.

The white men were very strong. Some of them carried on their shoulders very large logs to use for their campfires.

Our people and the white men continued to be friendly. On the third day they started off. We showed them how to get to the Lolo fork trail, which is the best way to get to the Nez Perce country on the west side of the mountains.12

Refused Gifts, As Told by Sophie Moiese

Sophie Moiese

Elderly Indian woman smiling

© 1997 by Barbara Merriam

Sophie Moiese, with the aid of interpreter Louis Pierre, told this story:

When the dried meat was brought to the men, they just looked at it and put it back. It was really good to eat, but they seemed to think it was bark or wood. Also, they didn't know that camas roots are good to eat. . . . Chief Three Eagles told his people that they must not harm the strangers in any way. Since then, no one has ever heard of the Salish tribe and whites getting into battle. During the Nez Perce War, the Nez Perces went through the Bitterroot Valley, but the Salish people stood by the whites at Fort Missoula. They would have fought their own Indian friends to keep them from harming the white people with whom Governor Stevens negotiated the reservation treaty of 1855."3

  • 1. Ella E. Clark, Indian Legends from the Northern Rockies (Norman: Oklahoma University Press, 1966), 129-31. Used by permission.
  • 2. The "Lolo fork trail" was not known by that name until around 1850.
  • 3. Ella E. Clark, Indian Legends from the Northern Rockies (Norman: Oklahoma University Press, 1966), p. 133. Used by permission.