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Nez Perce Summer, 1877







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Bear's Paw: Attack and Defense

Bear's Paw: Siege and Surrender



Appendix A

Appendix B


Nez Perce Summer, 1877
Chapter 3: Looking Glass's Camp and Cottonwood
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Chapter 3:
Looking Glass's Camp and Cottonwood (continued)

In 1877, Looking Glass was past forty, six feet tall, and in fine physical condition. His father, Apash Wyakaikt (Flint Necklace), also known among whites as Looking Glass, had signed the 1855 treaty. His son, Allalimya Takanin, reportedly carried a flint arrowhead or a small trade mirror suspended from his throat as his hallmark, and likewise was called by whites the same name. Respected for his bravery and leadership, the younger Looking Glass in 1874 reinforced those qualities when he helped his friends, the Crows, defeat a Sioux war party along the Yellowstone River in Montana. [13] In Idaho, he had rejected war and was secure in his belief that the whites well knew that fact. As it was Sunday, some of the people had gone into Kamiah to attend a Dreamer service. Probably fewer than 20 men of fighting age occupied the camp, which also contained about 120 children, women, and old men. [14]

Nez Perce testimony given years afterward clarified much of the detail surrounding the attack on Looking Glass's village. Whipple tersely reported that "an opportunity was given Looking Glass to surrender, which he at first promised to accept, but afterward defiantly refused, and the result was that several Indians were killed." [15] But a Nez Perce participant, Peopeo Tholekt (Bird Alighting), gave a somewhat different account. Halting at the crest of a hill less than one-quarter mile west of the village, the troops announced their presence. Looking Glass sat in his lodge eating breakfast. Alerted to the soldiers, he sent Peopeo Tholekt to tell them he wanted no trouble, that his people were peaceful and wanted to be left alone. The warrior rode across Clear Creek and met several officers and a volunteer interpreter, all mounted. The troops had dismounted and spread out, leaving their horses on a flat of the hill to their rear. In another version of the event, the interpreter, J. A. Miller, of Mount Idaho, told Whipple that Looking Glass agreed to meet him at a point almost a mile away from the village.

The Nez Perce account refuted the promise of a meeting, however. After the warrior delivered Looking Glass's first message, he was directed to return and bring the chief. But Looking Glass distrusted the officers, and he sent Peopeo Tholekt back with another man carrying a white cloth on a pole. According to Peopeo Tholekt, he told Whipple: "Looking Glass is my chief. I bring you his words. He does not want war! He came here to escape war. Do not cross to our side of the little river. We do not want trouble with you whatever!" [16] But Whipple and two or three others, along with an interpreter, demanded to see the chief and rode across the creek to his tipi. Just as they approached the lodge, someone on the hillside fired a shot that struck a villager. [17]

Peopeo Tholekt
Peopeo Tholekt (Bird Alighting), photographed in 1900, was with Looking Glass on July 1, 1877, and provided an important account of the army attack on the chief's village.
Delancey L. Gill, photographer; Smithsonian Institution Collection, Nez Perce National Historical Park, Spalding, Idaho

At that, the officers wheeled their horses and dashed back across the creek to the command, while a general fusillade tore into the camp, ripping through tipis and creating general panic among the tribesmen. Warriors and their families, Looking Glass among them, raced out of the north and east sides of the village and into the bushes and trees as they sought to hide from the troops. In one instance, the volunteers wounded a herder who was quickly rescued by two warriors on horseback who pulled him up and rode off.

map of attack on Looking Glass's Camp

Presently, the firing subsided and the soldiers moved down the slope in skirmish formation, wading through the creek and advancing on the camp. Then the firing opened again. Peopeo Tholekt, struggling to get away on his horse, heard bullets striking lodge poles about him before he could join the refugees up the river. Some villagers fled over a hill to the east to get beyond range of the army carbines. Despite the lateness of the hour, the attack had come as a surprise, and there occurred little return fire as the families evacuated. One warrior is reported to have leveled some shots at Whipple's men. At one point, an Alpowai woman wrapped in a wolf skin advanced on the soldiers, but she eventually withdrew with the others. Another woman with a baby strapped to her back plunged her pony into the icy Clearwater to get away, but fierce currents pulled them under and all drowned. Several more tribesmen received bullet wounds in their scramble from the camp. [18]

One essential component of the army assault was the capture of the Nez Perces' horses, intended to immobilize them for the present and future. This likely happened as the skirmishers advanced on the camp. Lieutenants Forse and Shelton with twenty mounted men accomplished it quickly, and Forse remembered "driving the Indians out of the rocks above us, then surrounding the herd and driving one or two Indians out of it who were evidently about running them off." He noted that, in the process of completing the task, his detachment was well beyond supporting distance from the balance of the command, located on the opposite bluff. "Passing the old camp I drove the volunteers out of it and destroyed it by burning." [19] Actually, only two of the lodges caught fire, and in ransacking the tipis, one volunteer recalled retrieving two buffalo robes along with a buckskin bag of gunpowder and another containing vermilion. Another commented favorably on the performances of Captain Winters and Lieutenant Rains, and the latter later won a citation for "gallantry and daring" in "advancing alone into the enemy's camp and endeavoring to seize the chief." [20] Yet another volunteer, Peter Minturn, received notice in the press as having been "hungry for Indian meat, and proved himself to be a dead shot" during the attack. [21]

Whipple's assault was devastating for Looking Glass's people. Reports are unclear as to the extent of their casualties, one stating that "four Indians were killed and left on the field" and "many others were wounded," while another cited one killed and three wounded. The most detailed Nez Perce account enumerated three killed (one dying of his wounds) and three wounded in the affair. There were no casualties among the soldiers and volunteers. [22] Whipple and his men returned to Mount Idaho on the evening of July 1, bringing with them about six hundred ponies captured during their attack on Looking Glass. [23] Peopeo Tholekt described the aftermath experienced by the Indians:

After the soldiers left, we returned to our ruined homes. Several tepees had been burned or otherwise ruined. Much had been carried away and many objects destroyed or badly damaged. Brass buckets [kettles] always carefully kept by the women, lay battered, [and] smashed. . . . Growing gardens trampled and destroyed. Nearly all our horses were taken and every hoof of cattle driven away. [24]

Despite Whipple's seeming success, it did not altogether please General Howard. Because Whipple had arrived late at the village, he had effectually failed in his mission to arrest Looking Glass, capture his people, and escort them as prisoners to Mount Idaho, thereby removing them entirely as factors in the widening conflict. News of the episode perturbed Howard, who wrote the captain:

Your report of 2 July is just rec'd. I am glad you came upon the Indians, but am sorry you did not succeed in capturing that band, for I counted much on it. I said to you verbally: "Go to the forks of the Clearwater, resting only a couple of hours at Grangeville, and capture them before they can move across the river.["] By the delay till night you allowed them to get the usual warning of your approach, and therefore they escaped. Perhaps I expected too much of [your tired] horses. [25]

In the end, the ill-conceived and poorly executed attack on Looking Glass netted the army nothing but another complication in its goal to contain the outbreak. With the loss of his village and its contents, the chief—previously an advocate of peace—aligned his fortunes with those of White Bird, Joseph, and the others. Moreover, besides adding people to the cause, Looking Glass's presence—as a man respected for his military talent and leadership among all the Nee-Me-Poo, besides one who knew well the buffalo country to the east—brought significant dimensions with which the troops would have to contend. [26]

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