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Nez Perce Summer, 1877







Eruption and White Bird Canyon

Looking Glass's Camp and Cottonwood


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Bear's Paw: Siege and Surrender



Appendix A

Appendix B


Nez Perce Summer, 1877
Chapter 6: Bitterroot and the Big Hole
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Chapter 6:
Bitterroot and the Big Hole (continued)

While the Nez Perces replenished their supplies in Stevensville, six lodges of Nez Perces under Wahwookya Wasaaw (Lean Elk), better known as Poker Joe, who had been summering in the Bitterroot, joined the main body, thereby augmenting the force and providing fresh horses. [25] All the while the tribesmen meandered along the bottom, a scout for Captain Rawn observed them and reported back daily on their progress. Speculating that the people, including a reported 250 warriors, were heading to Big Hole Prairie, Rawn informed Governor Potts that he would lead fifty or sixty regulars in pursuit, but, on instructions from Gibbon, would "temporize" his march so that he and Howard could catch up. "I am pretty well satisfied," Rawn wrote Gibbon, "that they will not hurry out of the Valley until they know that your command and Howard's have arrived. They are watching and know nearly everything that is going on." Rawn then delayed his movement to await Gibbon's arrival at the post at Missoula. [26]

On July 31, Governor Potts issued a second proclamation (his first was on July 26), this time calling for 300 volunteers. In response, several Montana communities announced their readiness to aid in the subjugation of the Nez Perces. The towns and mining camps of Philipsburg, Deer Lodge, Cable, Bear, New Chicago, Yreka, Bear Mouth, Yamhill, and Pioneer could together provide a total of 75 men. Butte raised three companies totaling about 150 men, while Helena and Pony each offered to raise 50 if they received arms from the territory. But the call was premature, and the War Department denied Potts's request to organize volunteers without congressional authority; moreover, Generals Sheridan and Terry believed they could provide sufficient regular troops to handle the crisis. Nor could Potts legally obligate the territory for costs incurred in raising and supporting troops. The organization of local militias was suspended. General Sherman wrote Potts that "if the citizens, in their own interest, will join the regular troops and act with and under them, the commanding officers will loan them arms and ammunition when possible, and may certify to beef or food taken en route." [27] The statement seemed to justify the formation of some spontaneously raised groups, such as those from among the Bitterroot Valley residents bent on protecting their homes and families. [28]

By coincidence, while all these events proceeded, General Sherman and a small entourage was in the territory, having come up the Yellowstone to consult with Terry, Crook, and Sheridan concerning the Sioux question, before touring the Yellowstone National Park preparatory to passing through western Montana en route to the west coast. While at Fort Ellis on August 3, Sherman wrote Secretary of War George W. McCrary. In a statement suggestive of the imperviousness of the army hierarchy to the causes of the conflict, Sherman declared that "these Nez Perces should be made to answer for the murders they committed in Idaho, and also be punished, as a tribe, for going to war without any just cause or provocation." Furthermore, he declared his preference to stay aloof from the conflict. "I do not propose to interfere, but leave Gibbon or Howard to fight out this fight," wrote the general. Although Sherman thereafter maintained a keen interest in the course of the pursuit, he deferred to McDowell and Sheridan to manage the overall strategy for stopping the Nez Perces. [29]

In the meantime, over the next several days the people continued their leisurely pace up the valley. They proceeded past Corvallis, some of the diehard entrepreneurs of Stevensville even following them in wagons hoping to prolong the commerce. Farther up the valley, one group of young men with Toohoolhoolzote ransacked the ranch home of a settler named Myron Lockwood, taking large quantities of flour and coffee and several lesser items. Reportedly, Looking Glass demanded that the men leave seven horses in payment. Elsewhere, the warriors took five cattle, which they later killed to eat. The assemblage paused at the sacred Medicine Tree, offering prayers and gifts in a traditional homage observed by area tribes for generations and practiced still. [30] The slow progress agitated some of the Nez Perce leaders, and White Bird admonished Looking Glass for dragging lodgepoles that further impeded the advance. Moving at about fifteen miles per day, the travelers paralleled the East Fork of the Bitterroot River, surmounted the Continental Divide, and moved their caravan down a tributary of the Big Hole River, intending to rest for several days before beginning the long trek to join the Crows. [31] As Yellow Bull averred, "From the friendly talks we had had with the soldiers in Lolo Pass, we did not suppose there would be any more fighting, especially if we did not disturb the settlers, and we had not molested them." [32]

In fact, as the Nez Perces settled into their camp along the north fork of the Big Hole River (Ruby Creek), new soldiers were gaining on them. Colonel Gibbon had mobilized troops from Camp Baker, Fort Benton, Fort Ellis, Fort Shaw, and a camp at Dauphin Rapids on the Missouri River, finally setting out from Shaw on July 28 with eight officers and seventy-six enlisted men. Traveling 150 miles via Cadotte Pass and down the Big Blackfoot, Gibbon and a mounted detachment, including a few men from the Second Cavalry, reached the post at Missoula on August 2, followed the next day by his infantrymen, who arrived in wagons sent out to meet them. [33] On his arrival, Gibbon immediately requested Governor Potts to send militia to guard the passes leading into the Big Hole Basin once the Nez Perces had passed through, hoping thereby to trap the tribesmen while Gibbon advanced to fight them. "Please give instructions . . . to have no negotiations whatever with the Indians, and the men should have no hesitancy in shooting down any armed Indian they meet not known to belong to one of the peaceful tribes." [34]

Chuslum Moxmox
A Lamtama Nee-Me-Poo war leader, Chuslum Moxmox (Yellow Bull), photographed ca. 1878, was a veteran of Gibbon's attack at the Big Hole and most of the other 1877 encounters.
Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

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