A Familiar Road

Page 15 of 18

Part 15, A Familiar Road

A Tsoopnitpeloo Legend

As Told by Otis Halfmoon Of the Nez Perce Tribe


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.