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Part 3, Lost and was Found
A Tsoopnitpeloo Legend
As Told by Otis Halfmoon
Of the Nez Perce Tribe
ow 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.