Lewis and Clark Through Nez Perce Eyes

Lewis and Clark Through Nez Perce Eyes

Otis Halfmoon

As Told by Otis Halfmoon Of the Nez Perce Tribe


The Walking Out People

The Nez Perce people—we have two names for ourselves. We call ourselves Ni-mee-poo, which means "The People." We also call ourselves Tsoopnitpeloo, and Tsoopnitpeloo means "The Walking-Out People"—people from the mountains come to the plains, to hunt buffalo. And that was our old-time name. A long time ago, how these people communicate, was through sign language. And our sign was, accordingly, was the right finger out, and a downward motion in front of the face, to show, from the mountains, come to the plains to hunt buffalo. And somewhere along the way a French fur trapper, and some other tribes as well, thought that meant "pierced nose." But we never pierced our nose. Nez Perce was a French word that does mean "pierced nose," but we never did that. We had two names, Nimeepoo and Tsoopnitpeloo. Those are old time names.

You know, with those two names in mind. . . . Back in 1805, when Lewis and Clark first came round to our country . . . It's kind of funny in a way, because . . . I told this story, that when they came through they said they "discovered" my people. In actuality, the Nez Perce people . . . We knew where we were . . . We discovered Lewis and Clark. Those were the ones that were lost. And to top that off, they had a Lemhi Shoshone guide that didn't know the country anyway, so what do you expect?


When they came through that area. . . . It was interesting, though. . . . The Nez Perce people, when they saw them, they weren't quite sure what these creatures were. They had no idea what these creatures were. They'd heard of white people, but they'd never seen one.

Years upon years ago, way before Lewis and Clark, though, we had prophecy songs. We had prophecy songs that came up and told about these creatures. That even talked about the Bible, as well. And they talked about the coming of these things to our people, the Nez Perce. And it was a very powerful belief. . . . the songs. . . . the prophecy songs, that were given to our ancient people. And they talked about coming to our country, and taking over the land. They talked about these race of people that would put fences all over the land and make lines across mother earth, and even make lines in the sky. They predicted all these things, these old prophecy songs, way before Lewis and Clark. So they had an idea about these creatures, already, but yet it was kind of something that was very unknown.

But also, too, way back in that time period. . . . I say back in the 1770s, maybe 1760s, who knows, but at one time the Nez Perce were camped in the Bitterroot Valley with their friends, the Salish. And the Salish and the Nez Perce, they were very strong allies. They used to go fight against the Blackfeet, go fight against the Assiniboines. Strong allies. Intermarriage, as well, a lot of intermarriage.

And so they were camped one time here, and the Blackfeet attacked them. The Blackfeet came down to steal women, to steal horses, to steal children. And this one little girl was stolen by these Blackfeets. And they took her back up north, and they raised her as a slave. They abused her. Then later on they traded her back east toward the Crees, and the Crees toward the Chippewas, and who knows?. . . . Routes back east. But in time, a white family purchased her. A white family purchased her, and this white family bought her, and they treated her with all kinds of respect. And by that time they wanted her to go to her own people, so they came to the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara people, and they went through that way. Then she came through the Crows, through the Crows back to the Salish, and back to the Nez Perce.


Now that name, that lady, as they called her, as she got older. . . . they called her Watkuese. And Watkuese means "lost and was found." And she had two names for these people, these white people. One of them was called Ah-ly-mah. Ah-ly-mah means "the people that live alongside the river." And then the other one was called So-ya-po. And So-ya-po means nothing inside our language. But actually, when you hear it today, among contemporary Nez Perce, it means "white people." But if you try to break down that word, dissect that word, it means nothing at all. But now, when you hear it, it means "white people."

But it was that time period. . . . She came back. She told those stories, Watkuese, "Lost and Was Found." And she told about a race of people was so numerous as the leaves in the trees. There was so many of them, so powerful, and they had all these wonderful things that they had, and so many beautiful things. And that these people would eventually come to our people, some day. Well, she came back, and she told those stories, and no one would believe her. They thought she was crazy. They thought somebody had hit her in the head really hard, or something because, man, they never heard of these things before.

And all of a sudden, in 1805, here we find Lewis and Clark coming out of the mountains. And also one man is completely black. And there was a couple of Indians with them. The Indians had no impact at all. They were Shoshones, what we call Tii-wel-ka. Tii-wel-ka in our language means "enemy to be fought." And so it didn't really mean nothing. That kind of set them on guard to see two Shoshones with these creatures.

When the Nez Perce saw them they weren't quite sure about them. They saw them with the pale skin, with different color eyes—blue like the color of the sky. And that one black one. They wasn't quite sure about him. He was huge. They was trying to envision. . . . Maybe he was the leader. Maybe he was the warrior. Because the Nez Perce were also Northern Plains people in many ways, and so that was the custom was . . . that maybe he was the war leader, because that was the sign of victory.

But later on they noticed the hair all over their faces, and everything. They did not believe they were human. The Nez Perce thought these were creatures to be killed. They're invading our country. Let's kill 'em. And they wanted to destroy them. They talked about it. The Nez Perce warriors. . . . This is our country. And that's one thing. . . . you know. . . . through history, people wonder if the Nez Perce could have really done that. It's been my contention the Nez Perce could have done it if they wanted to.

The Nez Perce, and where they were located at, were very much a power in their own right. They were a power in an area that controlled all of central Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. And any tribe that was going west had to go to the Nez Perce; any tribe that was going east had to go through our country. We were a trading center, very similar to the Hidatsas and Mandans in North Dakota. Every so often you do see a buffalo robe with the Pacific Coast Indian people. That buffalo robe came through our country. Every so often you see dentalium over there among the Northern Plains. Where did it come from? Well, it came through our country. So it kind of gives you an idea—the Nez Perce were a power where they were. So, they looked upon Lewis and Clark as completely invaders. They wanted to destroy them.

Now is the time

Word spread from Weippe Prairie on down to the place we now call Orofino. That's where the old lady was now, Watkuese. And she heard about these people, heard the news about a strange race of people showing up. Had hair on their face, had hair on their bodies. They looked like animals, but yet they walked on two legs. Then she turned around, and said, "Now, now is the time. It is these white people. Help 'em. Do what you can. Feed 'em. Because it was these people here that helped me when I was a slave. When all the other Indian people treated me so bad, these people were the ones treated me well. Feed 'em. Do what you can." And so what the Nez Perce did, with her advice, they said, we will treat 'em well. And so they fed 'em.

It was an interesting time, because the Nez Perce treated them so well—they helped them out all they could. The chiefs that showed up there—they were very cautious, because they weren't too sure. They had these weapons, though. They wanted the weapons. They saw the material wealth that these people had, and they saw the strength, as well. They kind of wanted to get to know these guys a little bit. To guide 'em.

So they started working again. They had guides for them down at the Canoe Camp, down at present day Orofino. And the Lewis and Clark crew started making these canoes in their own fashion. The Nez Perce had to help them do that, because they showed them a different method—burning out the log to make canoes.

And so the Nez Perce guided 'em all the way down the Clearwater River, towards present-day Lewiston, and continued on down the Snake. They got down towards The Dalles, Oregon, and the Nez Perce turned back around and came back home.


Lewis and Clark left an impact. They gave out their medals, and so forth, and the Nez Perce weren't quite sure what to do with these things. It was a nice gift, and all. But again, too, that's another side of the story people don't really understand. It's that a lot of our tribes have purification ceremonies. They had no idea what these medals were. Maybe they had medicine on 'em. Maybe there was something that was going to destroy our people. Maybe it was something that was going to bring bad luck to our people. We had to purify those items that they gave to us. That was our way. We had to purify 'em, clean 'em. There might be bad medicine on 'em. And so they did those ceremonies, to smudge 'em, to clean 'em, to take away whatever evil might be on there. Now these things–Lewis and Clark had no idea that tribes were doin' 'em.

In 1806, on the return journey, they came back up again. And they ran into many of the Nez Perce that they met before. It was a very interesting times, because, I know one thing the Nez Perce remember, was their like of dogs. They loved to eat dogs. The Nez Perce, we don't eat dogs. And they wanted the dogs, and they traded all kinds of things for these creatures. And the Nez Perce kind of made fun of them in a way. In fact, you read in the diaries, where one of the Nez Perce warriors came over and threw a puppy at . . . I believe it was Clark.1 And Clark threw it back, and threatened the warrior. Said I'll kill you if you do it again. But the Nez Perce, that's how they saw it. It was humorous, to see these people eating the dogs. 'Cause they gave 'em camas, they gave 'em some dried salmon, and here it got 'em sick. Some of our best foods we gave 'em, and here they got sick, and was throwin' up. A lot of 'em were just laid out completely flat. And boy, the Nez Perce had a fun time with that . . . with these creatures.

There was another name that came up, too, that I forgot to mention. We hear it every so often with the old Nez Perce. It was that name we called 'em. It was Pai-yo-it. And that means "something that smells." Consider, when Lewis and Clark and their crew came out of the mountains they hadn't had a bath for I don't know how long. They probably did smell pretty bad. So they called them Pai-yo-it. You don't hear that name very much any more.

Personal Connection

It's kind of interesting as far as my family is concerned, with Lewis and Clark. In the diaries they speak of two warriors that came back from fighting the Shoshones. And one was named Heyuumpahxit-timna and the other one was called Xah-xahs ill-pillp. Xah-xahs ill-pillp means "the red grizzly bear." And Heyuumpahxit-timna—the diaries don't spell it, all the way through. Heyuumpahxit-timna—that means "grizzly bear's five hearts." Now, the reason why I say it's interesting to my family—'cause Heyuumpahxit-timna, he had a son who took the name of. . . . Eventually that son had a son by the name of Otis Half Moon. Otis Half Moon and Richard Half Moon. And then to myself. I'm a direct descendant of one of those warriors that came back. And that always intrigued me that these two warriors the diaries speak of, and they had these necklaces made of fingers of the enemies that they killed. They spoke about that in the diaries. Made me feel pretty proud. My great-great-grandpa was a true warrior.

But, you know, we talk about these things. Old time stories.

When they were with the Nez Perce, though, in 1806, it was quite interesting times. They got to know each other—the Nez Perce and the Corps of Discovery. They played. They had foot-races. They had horse-races. They had other games that was going on in the valley at Kamiah.2 Kum-ah-ghx, as we call it. It's a beautiful time. I mean, they actually got along so well, the white people and the Indians, the Nez Perce. And later on, Lewis and Clark knew they had to get going over the mountains, to come back home. 'Cause anybody. . . . You get homesick.

And so they worked their way up to Weippe. And the Nez Perce kept telling them "It's too early. Snow's too deep up there anyway. You can't go up there. It's too deep." So Lewis and Clark went on up there. They didn't believe the Nez Perce, I guess. And they got up there, and they realized it was really deep snow, and they thought they could go through it. And they started going through it. And that's the only part in the whole Corps of Discovery where they retreated. They had to retreat, and that's the only part in the whole story. And so they came back down.


The Nez Perce guides that were there with them, they kept trying to entertain them in a lot of ways. And what they done, they went out to the trees, and they set some of these trees on fire. Set 'em on fire. And again that was kind of the old time way to make the weather change. It was like the old-time belief, too—if you see an ant pile, you go over there and kick the ant pile up, you're going to make it rain. Or as the white people say, you kill a spider, it's gonna make it rain. Or if a black cat crosses your path you're going to have bad luck. That's superstitions here and there, but the Nez Perce believe these things, as far as the prayers and things that we had.

And so these Nez Perce guides that were there, they helped them across that area. They worked their way towards what we call Koosaynu-Iskit. Koosaynu-Iskit is now called the Lewis and Clark trail through the Lolo country. They went all the way across that area, and stopped at a place called "Smokin' Place," and smoked their pipes there as well.

And so they continued on over towards the pass, and they came towards Travelers' Rest, as we call it now. The Nez Perce warriors and Lewis and Clark—it was a tearful parting, and people wonder about that. They really wonder about that because what took place then was an old-time ceremony.

Like, for instance, if I'm a friend with somebody, a really good friend, and not necessarily my blood relative, but my good friend—what I would do is, if I'm going to part from them and maybe not ever see them again, is that I would turn around and give that person my name, and he will give me his name. And they had that ceremony down here in Travelers' Rest, where Lewis and Clark traded names with these Nez Perce warriors.3 And these Nez Perce warriors proudly took those names. And they wept, and they cried. And they left from there, and they never saw each other again. That was the last time, as we say, we saw Lewis and Clark.

Ties that Bind

There were some incidents that took place there in Kamiah, though, that was interesting to my people, and to contemporary people might sound kind of odd, but yet you have to consider the times. If you use twentieth century values and use 'em in the 19th century, you're going to be off, and even go further—eighteenth century—you're going to be off. Things change through time.

When Lewis and Clark and crew, and Corps of Discovery, were there in Kamiah, I mentioned they got along real well. And the old time method of making allies, creating allies with another people, with another tribe, was through intermarriage, and children. And some of the women slept with Lewis and Clark, and maybe some of the other Corps of Discovery. But we know two children that was left with the Nez Perce people that were created in 1806. We had a son of Clark, and we also had a son from York.

These two individuals left children there with the Nez Perce people. And that was a tie that the Nez Perce people always had with Lewis and Clark. And that was probably one of the reasons why, then, the Nez Perce people said they would never fight the white people. That they would always be friends with the white people, because of these two children that were left, because of the Corps of Discovery.

The son of Clark, he grew up into quite a young man. And the impact of Lewis and Clark was very strong, because right after Lewis and Clark it seemed we had more fur trappers came to the area, more white people, French fur trappers. And they came to the area, and the son of Clark witnessed these things as well. He grew up watching these—but yet he was Nez Perce. He was half Nez Perce, half so-ya-poo, but yet he was Nez Perce. He was raised that way with the culture, with the ways of our people. Again, to witness these fur trappers come to our country.

Book of Heaven

There was one thing the Nez Perce did notice, the prophecy that was even coming true even more. The prophecy that was saying even so many years back, before. They talked about the Bible. They talked about the white man's religion. And they noticed that these white people do have a religion. They also noticed too that these white people have their religion, and they have a God that sure gives them a lot of material wealth. They have metal, they have rifles, they have—these wonderful things that they have. The Nez Perce thought to themselves, maybe this prophecy song may have something to it. We want to know more about it.

And so what they did is, they got four warriors, and they sent them—it was in 1829—and they sent them back east to go look for this "book of heaven"—actually, the white man's religion. It wasn't the book, yet, because the prophecy songs talk about a tee-mas. But yet they wasn't quite sure what they were looking for. They just wanted to find something for . . . the white man's religion. Well, these four Nez Perce warriors end up of all places in St. Louis, Missouri. They got to St. Louis, Missouri, and now Clark was even still there. Clark was head of Indian Affairs, or whatever it was called, and he was there to greet them. Word spread through town real fast. It's interesting, because some mountain Indians had arrived in town, and no one could understand them. And Clark identified them, who they were. They met with Clark.

People debate if anything was ever told to him about his son. It's my contention, though, that these warriors probably did tell Clark about his son. That his son is doing well, he's a strong warrior. That was, again, to show that tie with the white people. That's what you would do. This is our tie. Like, if I'd meet somebody, I'd bring up something mutual. And that son was that tie.

Then later on it spread through St. Louis that these four mountain Indians were looking for the Bible. Actually, they just wanted to understand the white man's religion. Not so much the Bible, but they wanted the material wealth that came with the religion, not necessarily Jesus Christ.

In that time period they spent there in 1829, 1830, 1831. They were there, in fact, that whole winter. During that time, two of the warriors died, there in St. Louis, and the other two warriors came back home. One died on the way home, the other one stayed on the Northern Plains, and got killed fighting the Blackfeet. But yet they came back, and saw other Nez Perce, and told them they thought they were unsuccessful. "We're sorry we did not come back with any of the missionaries of the white man's religion, just only the words.

But those two warriors that died, they were buried by Father Rosata there, by the Catholics. The Black Robes buried them. And again, Clark was there.


We jump all the way to the 20th century—about those two warriors that died in St. Louis. This year, Chairman Sam Penny and myself were in St. Louis for another meeting with Lewis and Clark. And it was interesting. I got to work with Mr. Bob Moore, who is the historian for the Jefferson [National] Expansion [Memorial]. He was doing some research for me for about a year and a half. And I feed him information about these two warriors—years, names, and so forth. And we finally found the burial records of these two warriors. The reason it took so long to find them was, it's all written in French, and we had to find somebody to translate the burial records. When we were there, Monsignor McCarthy, who is in charge of Calvary Cemetery, said that he found the location of these two warriors.

And so Chairman Penny and I went out there to see those burials. And it was beautiful—the location where they're at. It made me feel really good, that Chairman Sam Penny and I was probably the first Nez Perce to see these graves ever since 1831. Made me feel really good. Chairman Penny is a direct descendent of one of those warriors that died there. And the other warrior that died there is also a direct descendent of Xah-xahs ill-pillp, who met Lewis and Clark in 1805–1806. So again that tie, that circle, continues. The son of Xah-xahs ill-pillp is buried in St. Louis. That was powerful. And that's something down the road—I know we will look for, the Nez Perce people to have a monument erected in memory of these two warriors.


The other two warriors came back home—or tried to. They didn't quite make it. But they told other Nez Perce about their efforts. The son of Clark witnessed all these. He witnessed these times, and I'm sure, as I said, this delegation spoke of him to his father. He continued his life, and he saw many, many changes—the son of Clark. He saw the coming of the soldiers, he saw some of the other tribes fighting the soldiers, and he saw some of the other tribes getting beat by them as well.

In 1855 he saw the coming of Governor Isaac I. Stevens. He saw the creation of the treaty that was done in Walla Walla, a great time, and a great power for the Nez Perce. Because at Walla Walla they said three thousand warriors came into the camp. So powerful. He witnessed the power of his people, but yet he was watching the power of his father's people, as well.

It was interesting, close to the end of the treaty proceedings, was almost done, one of our great warriors, great chiefs, Ah-pus-Wah-hailkt, he came riding into camp. He came back here from buffalo country. He had scalps that he had on his pole, and he was singing a song. Ah, it was so beautiful. He and his warriors was drummin' on these hand drums, horseback, ridin' into the camp. And the white people, they don't know quite what to think of this. The song that they sang is still preserved yet today. We use that song as our Nez Perce national anthem. You hear it during our pow-wows in Lapwai and Kamiah. But again, that song has survived that long. Who knows how old that song was before that.

But again, the son of Clark saw these things, and heard it. He heard the promises that was given to the Nez Perce people in 1855, that this land was yours, and no white people would be allowed to come in there. Can you imagine the mixed feelings he had, him being half white? His hair was even kind of red, as well, again, to set him aside from other Nez Perce. But no one held that against him, 'cause he was Nez Perce, the way he was raised. He knew who his father was. He was gettin' to be a middle-aged man by that time, 1855.

Boiling Point

And it was where the soldiers turned around and said no white people will be allowed to come into your reservation. And then, soon enough, in 1860 they found gold up on the Nez Perce reservation. They had gold seekers comin' to our country, to Orofino, and down at Florence, and so forth. And next thing you know, gold makes people go crazy. We had people comin' every which way. All of a sudden, at a place called tsim-in-it-ka on a row of campsites, a town was born, and that town is now called Lewiston, Idaho. It's an illegal town, as we see it. It was created, then, at the time.

And now the government found themselves in a situation. Now what are we gonna do? We told the Nez Perce no white people would be allowed to come on the reservation, and now they're all over the place. They had soldiers in there tryin' to control it as well, but they weren't controllin' nothin'. Who knows how many of them were probably lookin' for gold themselves? So the government decides, Well, let's make another treaty.

In 1863 another treaty was written up. In 1863 they came by and cut the reservation to almost a third of what it was. The Nez Perce chiefs—again, they were divided. Some of them signed it, and most of them did not. They said No, we don't have nothin' to do with this treaty. The Nez Perce people were divided as a nation. First time in our history, our own people were divided. And again you can see the emotions that must have been going through everybody that still remembered Lewis and Clark. They still remembered the promises. "Do these people no harm. Do them no harm," as Watkuese said to our leaders.

And during that time period there was killings that were going on, rapes that were going on, of our people, the Nez Perce by these gold seekers and settlers that were comin' in. The Nez Perce did not retaliate. That astounds me. Why didn't they retaliate? As I said before, we were the power there, but they did not fight back. They held it. They knew they had to hold it. They remembered that promise. And Clark's son was there to make sure—I mean he wasn't going to make sure it wasn't going to occur, but he was there physically to remind them of the good feelings that at one time existed.

Finally things come to a boil. Things got from bad to worse, as time goes. The leaders change. Now we have Chief Looking Glass, Tu-huul-hu-tsuit, Chief Husis-kute, Chief Hatalikan, Chief Eagle from the Light, and many, many others.4 The leaders changed, but yet there's still the idea to keep that land base. To save it. Our culture. It must have been somethin'. And I think back on it, and try to put myself in Clark's son's eyes, and how he might have seen things. And again to witness a time period when we were one of the most powerful tribe in our area. And to go hunt buffalo. And the Northern Plains tribes knew us. The Blackfeets knew us. The Cheyennes knew us. They all knew the Nez Perce people. They knew they were warriors. And all of a sudden, now things have just turned from bad to worse, and again, see his culture of his people die. Right in front of him.

Great Victory!

In 1877 the war, that no one wanted, started. Clark's son was right there with them. With the non-treaty Nez Perce. He was there with them the whole time period. He witnessed all the battles that took place in 1877. He saw each one of 'em. He's an old man now. He's in his seventies. He witnessed June 17 at the Whitebird Battlefield. He witnessed probably one of the greatest victories the Nez Perce ever had against the white people. Ninety-nine soldiers of the First Cavalry came down the White Bird Battlefield.

The Nez Perce wanted one more time to have a truce. We don't have to fight. They sent a white flag out there to the soldiers, to negotiate, "talk about this, before we fight." And here, the first shot of the whole battle, the whole war, was not by the Nez Perce, not by the soldiers, but by a civilian volunteer. He shot at that white flag. That Nez Perce with the white flag, he threw — his name was Wetti-wetti-How-lits — he threw that flag down, and he retreated. The Nez Perce attacked. Both flanks — left and right flank. And they riddled those soldiers. Chased them out of that valley. And of the ninety-nine soldiers that came down that valley, thirty-three of them were killed. Another thirty was wounded. Two-thirds of this command was taken out. Casualties of the Nez Perce? Not one Nez Perce was killed. Four wounded. Great victory!

It must have been a beautiful sound, a beautiful thing to hear, 'cause these warriors had the most motive of all to fight — it was the women, and children. And the elders. And one of those elders was Clark's son. He was there, inside the camp, witnessing this. With the women that was going through making the sounds, the sounds with the tongue, they quiver it there, to encourage the men to fight. He was there with them. Great victory!

Flight for Freedom

The Nez Perce again moved towards the Clearwater Battlefield, and that's where they met General Howard. Another battle took place. Thirteen soldiers killed, and I think it was twenty-some wounded. The Nez Perce KIA's, it was four Nez Perce killed and three wounded. But again they both called a victory. The Nez Perce decide to have a meeting one more time, in Weippe Prairie. "What 're we gonna' do?" And again, the old time way of our leaders was, the decisions were made among the chiefs. But they also included the voices of the warriors. And also, too, the women probably had a role as well.

The elders. It's always been that way, to respect the elders, listen to their wisdom—what do they have to say? And I'm sure somebody probably asked Clark's son, being an elder by then.

It was decided then. They smoked, and they talked. They decided then that they should go to Crow country. y' know, people wonder about that, in 1877. Chief White Bird, he wanted to go directly to Canada. He wanted to go to Canada right away.

"Let's get outa here. Let's go to grandmother's country. The soldiers can't touch us up there."

They talked about that, and talked about that. Pretty soon Chief Joseph, he was sayin':

"Let us stay in our country and fight. We know this area. Maybe we can hide from the soldiers. We can sue for peace, eventually. We can negotiate."

They smoked, and talked about that. Pretty soon Chief Looking Glass—it was his idea to go to Crow country.

"Let's go over there, 'cause the Crows owe us a favor."

In the 1870s, the Battle of Pryor Creek. We had thirty lodges of Nez Perce that were there with Chief Plenty Coups and his people. The Sioux and the Cheyenne made an attack upon the Crow village, and the Nez Perce helped 'em. And that's what they remembered. In fact, the Crows gave a pipe to the Nez Perce, to remember that battle, and that pipe still exists, even though it sits in a museum at Lewiston, Idaho. It's in the Luna House Museum now. It would be good to have back that pipe, again maybe to sit down and smoke with the Crows again, to remind 'em.

A Familiar Road

So they came over the Lolo Pass—Koosaynu-Iskit—the same road that Lewis and Clark came over on, and went back on. The same road that they traveled, Lewis and Clark. Clark's son's father traveled that area. How many other times has he traveled it? And now we have the Nez Perce people tryin' to get away from the soldiers, tryin' to find peace, tryin' to find a home. They were movin' east to find help from the Crows.

So when they finally got over this area here, into the Bitterroot Valley, they came to a placed called Fort Fizzle, and ran into Captain Rawn. His and his troops were there, along with civilian volunteers, and a number of Flatheads. I know, history always has—and I get a kick outta that, I read that in the museum on the Salish reservation—where one of the chiefs, he took the credit for forcin' the Nez Perce to go south. The Nez Perce were headed south anyway, so I don't know what credit he had to take. 'Cause the Nez Perce weren't goin' to go through Flathead country anyway. They were goin' to go to Crow country. And our route was to go to the Big Hole, and go towards that area, towards Crow country.

And they got down here, though, and they told the settlers, "Hey, you folks know us already. We took care of your horses, and you took care of ours." And so the settlers backed down. "y'know these Nez Perce didn't do nothin' wrong."

So they ditched Captain Rawn. The Nez Perce went right around the stockade—that's Fort Fizzle. They came through the Bitterroot Valley, then they went through Fort Owen, Stevensville—that area. In fact, they even got along with the settlers there. They traded for food, and clothing, bandages, things of that nature. Whatever they wanted. Horses. One guy even gave 'em whiskey, which he got in trouble for from resident townsfolks. And they left there.

And Chief Lookin' Glass says, "See, the war is over."

They finally come to a place the Nez Perce call Its-koom-tsi-lah-lik-pah. It means "The Place of the Buffalo Calf." They got in that place. And August ninth, 1877, Col. John Gibbon made an attack on this site. Over a hundred Nez Perce were killed, most of 'em women and children. It was a terrible battle that took place. And again the son of Clark had to witness these things. Can you imagine the heartbreak that was going through him, to see these things—where babies were bein' killed outright. Women were bein' killed outright by these soldiers. Some of our great warriors were killed there. Sarpsis Ilppilp [Red Moccasin Tops], Pahkatos [Five Wounds], Wahchumyus [Rainbow], Wahlitits [Springtime Ice]. Many of our great warriors died in that battle. Many, many women and children.

The Nez Perce, they did somethin' you don't see very much in Indian warfare—I hate that word "Indian warfare," but that's what they use these days—but the Nez Perce re-took that village. And they chased the soldiers, and put 'em on siege on the hillside. The Nez Perce buried their dead, best as they could. And they went on south. On to Crow country.

Finding Sanctuary

After the battle, the Nez Perce were on their way south. And it was interesting, because when I worked at the Big Hole Battlefield we found one of the sites which the Nez Perce called Tahk-siin, and—Tahk-siin means "willows"—we found some field pits there. It is now on privately-owned land, but it's still there today. They were expectin' an attack from the soldiers. It was interesting to me because I read through the books, that the soldiers said the Nez Perce kinda fought like military. It was interesting to me that the rifle pits was very similar to what they teach today in basic training in the U.S. Army. As far as the formation of these pits—how they're situated. It was really intriguing to me, how they set that up.

And so the Nez Perce moved on south. They moved on down towards Yellowstone National Park. And they got to Yellowstone National Park and they started takin' their time. History books again wonder, Why did they take their time going through this area? But again, it's logical, if you know what I mean by "home." Home is the place where we grew up—memories, childhood memories. Think of our parents, think of the grandparents, of old people. When they went through Yellowstone National Park, and especially goin' through Sunlight Basin—that country looks almost like our own country. When they came through there, again, they probably started getting' homesick. To smell the fresh air, to hear the birds, hear the animals. They had to take their time. Who knows what's in the future—especially after the terrible Battle of Big Hole?

They went through that area. They got to the Crow country. They asked the Crows for help. The Crows would not help 'em. They met with Chief Ku-ni-ku. But there were some things that happened. Many of the contemporary Nez Perce are angry at the Crows for that. But there were some other things that happened, that a lot of people don't know, and I learned about this when I lived among them. Among the Crows. The Nez Perce women left their children—not all of them—left their babies, with the Crows to be raised. 'Cause they had no idea what was in store for them in the future. And it's interesting, 'cause there's probably four or five families on the Crow reservation that have Nez Perce blood, that go back to this time period.

The Nez Perce moved north. And during this whole time period a man named Poker Joe, Ho-toe-toet, was in charge. It wasn't Chief Joseph. It was Ho-toe-toet. And he pushed 'em hard, ruthless. And he wanted to stay ahead of the soldiers. He did not want his people attacked, like they were attacked, again, at Big Hole. And he ran into the soldiers at the Canyon Creek, north of Laurel, Montana. They got over into that area—and it was interesting, 'cause Col. Sam Sturgis—he overestimated the enemy, whereas the other soldiers underestimated 'em. Mr. Sturgis, he did the opposite. He overestimated 'em. He told his cavalry to dismount, and turned 'em into infantry. I think they could have stopped the Nez Perce right there. As it was, the Nez Perce got away. And that's where they. . . . South of the Judith Gap, going towards Laurel, that's where the Crows and the Nez Perce had a fight. Two Nez Perce were killed by the Crows. The Crow warriors were there fightin' against our people.

Defeat and Exile

They finally come up there towards the Missouri River. They come to Cow Island, and the Nez Perce helped themselves to some stores, and burned the rest. Went up Cow Creek. And eventually end up to a place called Tsi-nim-Ala-kin-wass-pah. And at Tsi-nim-Ala-kin-wass-pah . . . They got to this place and they camped there on the thirtieth of September in 1877.

Little did they know at that time period, though, that they were going to be under attack by Col. Nelson Miles—the Seventh Cavalry, Second Cavalry, and the Fifth Infantry mounted. There was a five-day siege that took place. Looking Glass was killed. Chief Joseph's brother was killed. Tu-huul-hu-tsuit was killed. Again, many of our leaders were killed in this battle. The Nez Perce elders, and women and children, were dug in, in the caves that were made. They were under fire by a howitzer that was on the west, that was lobbin' shells into the canyon, into the little draws.

October fifth, in 1877—Chief Joseph, he had to call it quits. He surrendered his rifle, there, to Colonel Nelson Miles. First he offered it to General Howard, and General Howard passed it on to Colonel Miles, to have the honor. Probably about 200 Nez Perce made it to Canada. Escaped on into Canada, to live with Chief Sitting Bull and his Hunkpapa Lakota.

But of those ones that surrendered, you will find Clark's son. He surrendered with Chief Joseph. He did not make it to Canada. From there the Nez Perce were moved east towards Bismarck, and sent on flatboats down the Missouri River towards Baxter Springs, Fort Leavenworth, eventually on their way to Tonkawa, Oklahoma. We figure in 1880—maybe 1879-80, thereabouts—that's the last we heard of Clark's son. He died. He died as a prisoner of war.5

Again, it's the ironies of history. The ironies of history, what took place. His father was Clark, one of the first white people that the Nez Perce ever met, and befriended. A positive relationship with these white people. And the son that was created in hopes of havin' allies, friends. And here his son died as a prisoner of war in Oklahoma. His grave is unmarked. We have no idea where it's at, but we know that it's down there somewhere.

In 1885, Chief Joseph won his battle. He was not really a war chief, but he was more of a diplomat. And he was a good one. He was an excellent diplomat. He was a great chief. He went to Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, and all these other places, and he won his battle. And these people came home in 1885. Further divided. Half of them went to Lapwai, half went to Nespelem, Washington.

That's the last we heard of Clark's son. We do know that he had two daughters, and I'm still on the trail of that, yet. I'm tryin' to find the descendants of these two.


There's some things that I do want to mention, though—about the names that Lewis and Clark put upon our people. When Lewis and Clark came on our people they named a lot of places. They named a lot of places, and a lot of it was wrong. In the history books they call us chu'-nish, or Chopunnish, or whatever you want to call it. I believe that's a corruption of the Nez Perce word, Tsoopnitpeloo. They could not pronounce Tsoopnitpeloo so they called us Chopunnish. Thus, by the same token, they refer to the Clearwater River as Koos-koos-ki-a. Now, they translate it as "Clear water." Now, the Nez Perce name for "clear water" is Kaix-kaix-Koose, which means "clean water." Now, the name, Kooskooskia—where did that come from?

Now, some of the interesting things that we try to piece together about some of those words—'cause those names still exist yet, even today. 'Cause we have Kooskia, Idaho. And, you read in the history books, Kooskooskia—then, with the upcoming Lewis and Clark bicentennial they're going to use those words even more. And it's my contention—to dissect the word Kooskooskia—now, they were tryin' to—hey could talk our language, but they were usin' sign language to talk with our people. And they were looking for the "big water." They were lookin' for the Columbia River. The Nez Perce people, the warriors, probably what they done is, they pointed down-area, sayin' "kooskooskee," which means "there's a small water." Kooskoos is "small." Koos is "water." Kee is "there." Thus they probably thought that was Kooskooskia, so they wrote that down.

So there's a lot of mis-names that Lewis and Clark—came through—when they came in our country—which still exist today.

And I know one of the things that they talked about is "Pierced Nose." But we never pierced our noses, as I mentioned at the very beginning. And there's an explanation for that as well, 'cause the Nez Perces were probably camped with some of the Wasco and Wanapam and Wyam people on the Columbia River. And the spoke the Sahaptan language of our people. And they were probably camped there, and they wore dentalium in their nose. But they weren't Nez Perce. And that's probably where they saw some of those, but we never pierced our noses. And that's why we don't say, today, Nez Pierce, as you hear a lot. We say, Nez Perce. And I know every so often I do correct people on that.

But there's a lot of mis-names about this. Whatever happened to Watkuese? She died not too soon after that. Again people wonder about the age she really was, and again there's great debate on that. Some call her a very old lady. Some thought she might be in her forties. They wasn't sure, but she's unwell. She was dyin'. It was even said one time—recently we discovered in some of the artifacts, or literature done by some of the Evans family and McWhorter family, is that Watkuese met Sacajawea. That Sacajawea and she visited with each other.

Specially videotaped for Discovering Lewis & Clark® December, 2001.

  • 1. It was Lewis. May 5, 1806: "While at dinner an indian fellow very impertinently threw a half Starved puppy nearly into the plate of Capt. Lewis by way of derision for our eating dogs and laughed very heartily at his own impertinence; Capt Lewis was So provoked at the insolence that he cought the puppy and threw it with great violence at him and Struck him in the breast and face, Seazed his tomahawk, and Shewed him by Sign that if he repeeted his insolence that he would tomahawk him. The fellow withdrew apparently much mortified and we continued our Dinner without further Molestation." –Ed.
  • 2. Kamiah—pronounced KAM-ee-eye—is a town of about 1,300 inhabitants situated at the mouth of Lawyer's Creek on the Clearwater (Kooskooskee) River about seven miles downstream from the confluence of the Middle and South Forks of the Clearwater. –Ed.
  • 3. On July 2, 1806, at Travelers' Rest, Lewis wrote: "In the course of the day we had much conversation with the indians by signs, our only mode of communicating our ideas. . . . I gave the Cheif a medal of the small size; he insisted on exchanging names with me according to their custom which was accordingly done and I was called Yo-me-kol-lick, which interpreted is the white bearskin foalded."
  • 4. See also Discovery Path America after 1806: The Nez Perce after Lewis & Clark.
  • 5. See also Discovery Path America after 1806, Clark's Indian Offspring.