Boiling Point

Page 12 of 18

Part 12, Boiling Point

A Tsoopnitpeloo Legend

As Told by Otis Halfmoon Of the Nez Perce Tribe


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.1 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.