Finding Sanctuary

Page 16 of 18

Part 16, Finding Sanctuary

A Tsoopnitpeloo Legend

As Told by Otis Halfmoon Of the Nez Perce Tribe


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.