online book

cover to document
Nez Perce Summer, 1877







Eruption and White Bird Canyon

Looking Glass's Camp and Cottonwood


Kamiah, Weippe, and Fort Fizzle

Bitterroot and the Big Hole

Camas Meadows

The National Park

Canyon Creek

Cow Island and Cow Creek Canyon

Yellowstone Command

Bear's Paw: Attack and Defense

Bear's Paw: Siege and Surrender

current topic Consequences


Appendix A

Appendix B


Nez Perce Summer, 1877
Chapter 14: Consequences
NPS logo

Chapter 14:
Consequences (continued)

Beyond the rift and ultimate rupture of relations between Howard and Miles over distribution of honors, the army underwent something of an institutional evaluation of its cavalry following its debatable performance during the four-months-long pursuit of the Nez Perces. Although the procedural investigation took place in Howard's department and consequently could have turned into a self-serving exercise tailored to the department commander's publicity-conscious agenda, the resulting report fairly critiqued then-current field techniques and afforded an important insight into the workings of field commands during the Nez Perce and, presumably, other period Indian campaigns. Howard believed that the performance of his cavalry, as manifested particularly at White Bird Canyon, but also at Looking Glass's camp, Clearwater, Weippe, and Camas Meadows, was below par, and at the request of General McDowell, he solicited information from the many cavalry officers who took part in his field operations. Among the recommendations for improvement were (1) establishment of a cavalry school to provide more drill for both horses and soldiers ("Our Cavalry soldiers have been obliged to work as laborers, and have not . . . been drilled enough. . . . It should be remembered that the Cavalry soldier has a double part to perform, namely: to care for and manage his horse, and besides to acquire even more skill with his arms than the Infantry man. . . ."); (2) increased drill with arms, including firing with blanks to keep the animals from bolting, and target practice from horseback; (3) arming the troops with Springfield rifles or with carbines with lengthened barrels; (4) improved training in skirmishing from horseback; (5) development of improved proficiency with the saber ("in drill, if not in campaign") to increase soldiers' confidence and agility; (6) relinquishment of the revolver for combat in favor of the long arm; (7) increased practice in swimming cavalry horses across rivers ("at Salmon river, [some] . . . had to be towed over by boats two and four at a time"); and (8) implementation of a system of reward and recognition for the cavalry soldier (who has "more to do in the way of preparation and subsequent work than the Infantry soldier"), including increased compensation. [27] Beyond improved training in marksmanship, few of these recommendations were immediately implemented, the army opting to continue its overall sluggish and reactive performance throughout the remaining years of the Indian wars.

Army losses in the course of the fighting through June, July, August, September, and early October of 1877, numbered 6 officers, 101 enlisted men, and 6 citizen employees killed (total killed: 113); plus 13 officers, 125 enlisted men, 4 citizens, and 2 Indian scouts wounded (total wounded: 144—of whom 2 later died). Aggregate casualties stood at 257. [28] Total monetary cost of the military campaign—exclusive of private property destroyed or otherwise lost—was $1,873,410.43 [29] (approximately $22,405,989.00 in 1990 dollars). As a direct result of the Nez Perce campaign, a new post was erected near Milk River in northern Montana to keep watch over the activities of the Sioux and Nez Perces in the country adjoining the Canadian border. Fort Assinniboine was also strategically situated between the boundary and the Missouri River to oversee the Assiniboines, Gros Ventres, Crows, and Blackfeet. But by the time the fort was constructed in 1879, the need for it seemingly had passed, for with the surrender of the Lakotas in 1880 and 1881, and the dissipation of the Nez Perce threat, the potential for further large-scale Indian conflicts ceased to exist. Nonetheless, Fort Assinniboine operated until 1911. [30]

two Nez Perce youths
Among the people surrendering to Miles at Bear's Paw were two unidentified Nez Perce youths, photographed by John H. Fouch at the Tongue River Cantonment in late October or early November 1877.
Courtesy James S. Brust

The post-Bear's Paw period brought manifold changes for the Nee-Me-Poo. It involved the incarceration of the people who had surrendered to Miles, as well as the troubled coexistence of White Bird's followers and other of the tribesmen who, one way or another, had managed to escape before or during the tumult of Bear's Paw, with the followers of the Hunkpapa Lakota leader, Sitting Bull, in the Cypress Hills region of the Northwest Territories (present southern Saskatchewan). The odyssey of the Nez Perce prisoners began almost immediately following their arrival at the Tongue River Cantonment on October 23, 1877. While Miles and his command basked in the favorable publicity engendered by their victory, the prisoners raised their lodges and shelters on the south side of the Yellowstone in a grove of cottonwood trees where troops kept careful watch over them. [31] In the days after their arrival at the cantonment, Joseph and others of his people sat before the camera of photographer John H. Fouch. [32] Yet Miles's plan to keep them at the post through the winter and return them to Idaho in the spring—presurrender terms agreed upon by Miles, Howard, and Joseph at Bear's Paw—quickly dissipated with receipt of a directive from General Sheridan that the tribesmen were to be sent to Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory. Even before the prisoners had reached Tongue River, Commanding General Sherman had effectually nullified the surrender accord, believing that as an example to other tribes the Nez Perces should be punished and never allowed to return home, and he directed their conveyance instead to the Indian Territory. Sheridan told Sherman that he agreed with him, but cited the expense of feeding the Nez Perces at Tongue River, and he recommended that the people be "shipped to Yankton" to await their future disposition. [33] When Miles learned of Sheridan's intention, he directed a letter to departmental headquarters:

I presume the Government is not aware of the severe punishment the Nez Perces received or the number of badly wounded. I have brought them 265 miles from the battle-field; three (3) died on the road, two (2) on arrival and others cannot live. I consider it inhuman to compel them to travel farther at this season of the year. [34]

But this appeal was too late. The decision had already been made. Finally, Secretary of War McCrary directed Sheridan to remove the Nez Perces either to Yankton or Bismarck (Fort Lincoln), and the general chose Bismarck. On the evening of October 29, Miles received the order to transport the Nez Perces to Fort Lincoln, which would be but a stop en route to the Indian Territory. [35] Joseph quoted Miles as telling him: "I have endeavored to keep my word, but the chief who is over me has given the order, and I must obey it or resign." [36]

On October 31, accompanied by a detachment of troops, the Nez Perces who could stand the trip (along with seventeen Northern Cheyenne prisoners) started down the road to Fort Buford, at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers. [37] Two days later, the ill, wounded, and women and children set out via fourteen mackinaws—each about thirty-two feet long by eight feet wide—to the same destination. Miles traveled in a boat until he overtook the party traveling by land. The journey was difficult, and the people agonized greatly from the cold. On November 6, Lieutenant Frank Baldwin wrote of the movement as "most inhumane, and if the public could get a hold of it, they would raise a glorious row. The General can't sleep or take any comfort thinking as he does of their suffering." [38] The people traveling by boat reached Fort Buford on November 5; those coming by wagon and horseback arrived at the post on the seventh. [39] A Fifth infantry officer remembered that "when we reached the Missouri, cakes of ice were floating in it, . . . but many of the Nez Perces took off their clothing and jumped in the water for a bath." [40] At Buford they rejoined fifteen refugees (including those taken by Lieutenants Maus and Scott at Milk River) who had been forwarded from the Seventh Cavalry camp opposite Squaw Creek on the Missouri. [41] Also, one of the men died and was buried "near the water's edge, where the Missouri and the Yellowstone, meeting, form angle." [42] Between November 8 and 10, the people left Fort Buford for Fort Lincoln, some two hundred departing aboard the boats on November 9 guarded by two companies of the First Infantry, the others on horseback escorted by troops of the Seventh Cavalry en route to their winter quarters. [43] At the Fort Berthold Indian Agency, the flotilla stopped briefly and the tribesmen took the occasion to meet some members of the Mandan tribe before starting downstream again. The mackinaws reached Bismarck on Monday evening, the nineteenth. [44]

The citizens of Bismarck turned out en masse to welcome the Nez Perce prisoners, providing a sumptuous buffet for them and the troops composing their military escort. Miles stood with Joseph while a band played the "Star Spangled Banner." [45] The tribesmen encamped across the river at Fort Abraham Lincoln, remaining there for four days. Miles's request to accompany a number of the Nez Perces to Washington, D.C., "in order that they may learn the intention of the Government and be satisfied that no wrong is intended" was turned down, and Sheridan's petition that the tribesmen be transferred to Fort Leavenworth won Sherman's speedy concurrence. [46] Joseph's response on learning of the new destination was: "When will these white chiefs tell the truth?" [47] On the nineteenth, Miles was feted at a banquet given by the city of Bismarck. Following the colonel's departure for St. Paul, the townspeople similarly honored Joseph with an expressly prepared invitation to him, as "Head Chief of Nez Perces," to dine with them at the Sheridan House. Joseph "and other chiefs" attended a reception at the Sheridan, where he "was presented to a number of the ladies of the house." At the dinner, Joseph ate salmon and reportedly said that it reminded him of his own country. [48]

On November 23, the Nez Perce prisoners loaded their lodges and equipment in freight cars and themselves into eleven rail coaches, and they started down the tracks to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, escorted by Companies B and G, First Infantry. [49] The route lay east, through Jamestown, Dakota, and to St. Paul, Minnesota, then southwest through Marshalltown, Iowa, to Fort Leavenworth. [50] They reached the post on Monday afternoon, November 26. There the tribesmen, wrote Sherman, would be "held as prisoners of war until spring, when I trust the Indian Bureau will provide them homes on the Indian reservation near the Modocs. . . . They should never again be allowed to return to Oregon or Lapwai." [51] At Fort Leavenworth, however, Major General John Pope, commander of the Department of the Missouri, informed that he had only tents to shelter the Nez Perces and recommended that they be transferred to either Fort Riley, Fort Larned, or Fort Hays, where they might better be accommodated through the winter in barracks. Sheridan denied this application to remove the Indians, and they stayed at Fort Leavenworth in 108 army tents arranged in the Missouri River bottom about two miles above the garrison. [52] Howard's request that thirty-nine more Nez Perce prisoners being held at Forts Vancouver, Lapwai, and Missoula be sent to join their kin was summarily rejected by General Sherman, who directed that they instead "be sent to the Agency near Lapwai and then released." [53]

Army records indicate that the number of Nez Perces arriving at Fort Leavenworth consisted of 87 men, 184 women, and 147 children—a total of 418 people. The discrepancy between that figure and the number 448 given by Miles as having surrendered to his command is probably not accountable, although several of the people had died since the action at Bear's Paw. Other Nez Perces who subsequently turned themselves in to the military authorities were also sent to Fort Leavenworth. [54] Regardless of the numbers, the tribesmen remained in the center of a defunct race track on the alternating cold, humid, and hot Missouri River flats from the time of their arrival until July 1878. [55] Officials of the Bureau of Indian Affairs who visited the Nez Perces denounced the location "between a lagoon and the river, [as] the worst possible place that could have been selected." A doctor reported that "one-half could be said to be sick, and all were affected by the poisonous malaria of the camp." [56] Late that month, the Nez Perces—now numbering 410—embarked for a new home on the Quawpaw reservation in extreme northeastern Indian Territory. Three children died en route south from Fort Leavenworth, and at the new location 260 of the people became sick, many from malaria. Within months, more than 100 had died. [57]

Continued >>>

top Top

History | Links to the Past | National Park Service | Search | Contact

Last Modified: Thurs, May 17 2001 10:08 pm PDT

ParkNet Home