BURIAL VOLLEY FOR THE HONORABLE DEAD
General Howard went to bed early on the evening of June 16. About 10 o'clock, however, he awoke with a start. He could hear loud talking emanating from the front porch of his quarters and went out to investigate. Two Indian women sat on horses, and the larger of the two was the source of the noise. She shouted in her native tongue and, since Howard did not speak the language, he ordered a half-breed to interpret for him. The woman turned out to be the wife of Jonah Hayes, one of the agency Nez Perce who had gone with Perry. Mrs. Hayes told Howard that the woman with her had just come from the Indian village with bad news. Perry and all his men, including Jonah and the rest of the scouts, had been killed by the hostiles. The Indians, she said, had laid a trap for the cavalrymen, and they had walked right into it. 
Howard was not disturbed by the report, however. He had already received a message from Grangeville, and he knew that the command had reached the settlement in safety that afternoon. But he did prepare a letter for Perry the next morning in which he cautioned the officer to beware of traps and told him that he might expect reinforcements soon. Howard expected other troops to reach Fort Lapwai in another day.
On the afternoon of June 17, Howard received the stunning news of Perry's defeat. Some of the Indian scouts were the first to return to Fort Lapwai with the story. The first cavalrymen to arrive were Cpl. Charles Fuller and Pvt. John White of Company F, who had apparently been among those who had bolted during the early stages of the fight.  When they had not appeared at Grangeville after the battle, Perry had given them up for lost. The knowledge of the men was incomplete, and they feared that Perry and the rest of their comrades had been wiped out and that the Nez Perce might be on their way to attack the post.
Acting upon their fears, Howard quickly designated his quarters as a rallying point and had it barricaded with cord wood.  It was not until the following day that Howard learned of the full extent of the disaster. Joe Rabusco came riding in with Perry's report. Before he had retired on the evening of June 17, Perry had written:
Howard laid the letter aside and went to call on Delia Theller. He endeavored to control himself and break the news gently, but before he could speak Delia read the message in his face. "Oh, my husband!" she cried. After the first shock of the realization of the death of her husband had passed, the widow regressed into a twilight world of false hopes. She maintained a belief that Theller would eventually be found asleep or that he would be rescued from captivity. She kept the lieutenant's uniform neatly pressed in anticipation of his return. 
As the news of the defeat spread over the countryside, ranchers, townsfolk, missionaries, agency employees, and friendly Indians flocked to Fort Lapwai for protection. Even the residents of far-distant Kamiah, including the lady-missionary Miss Kate McBeth, moved to the post under the guardianship of James Lawyer and Black Eagle, a nephew of Chief Joseph. 
Panic followed panic as the whites waited for the Nez Perce to sweep down on them. On one occasion, when two Indians rode rapidly toward the post, someone cried out that the hostiles were coming. The result was chaos. Officers scrambled to a nearby hill top, enlisted men hurriedly barricaded the doors and windows of the most defensible buildings, women clutched rifles they did not know how to use, and children flitted hither and thither among them. It turned out that the Indians were friendly. They were simply trying to escape from some white men who had fired on them in an attempt to get their firearms.
By June 21, eight companies had arrived from various western outposts and were ready to move to the scene of the outbreak. Col. Alfred Sully of the Twenty-first Infantry answered a call to take charge of the defense of the Lewiston area, while Howard prepared to lead the expedition against the hostiles. On June 22, Howard marched out of Fort Lapwai with 227 regulars, 20 civilian volunteers from Walla Walla, and a large number of packers and guides. The military force consisted of Companies E and L of the First Cavalry, Companies B, D, E, H, and I of the Twenty-first Infantry, and Company E of the Fourth Artillery. Two Gatling guns and a mountain howitzer served for armament. More troops were on the way and would join the force later. 
The expedition left Fort Lapwai about noon and traveled 24 miles before going into camp at Junction Trail. Reveille sounded at 4:30 the next morning, and by 1:30 the command had reached Cottonwood House, a distance of 43 miles from Fort Lapwai. Howard decided to remain in camp in order to gather intelligence concerning the whereabouts of the nontreaty bands. The next day, June 24, Perry arrived from Grangeville to deliver his verbal report. As they talked, Perry conveyed his dissatisfaction with Trimble's performance to Howard. Perry did not believe, however, that the officer's conduct called for disciplinary action. While Trimble's conduct was not above reproach, it had not been vital in determining the outcome of the battle. In Perry's mind the battle had been lost when the left of the line had disintegrated. 
Howard decided to send Trimble and Company H to the relief of the settlers at Slate Creek. He needed to protect the settlement in the event that he had to drive the Indians in that direction, and he needed a cover for his left flank as he moved toward the hostiles. Company H had been strengthened on June 23 with the arrival of 2d Lt. Thomas T. Knox and 10 men some of whom had been with him on detached service at Fort Walla Walla and some of whom were apparently recruits. In all there were about 30 well-armed men. Because the Nez Perce stood between them and Slate Creek, the detachment had to circle around the Indians by a little-used and difficult trail. Trimble planned to follow an old mining trail to Florence and then double back to the northeast to reach the settlement. About 6 o'clock in the morning on June 25, Company H rode out of camp. 
At the same time, Howard resumed his march. He took the cavalry and rode into Grangeville and sent the infantry ahead to wait for him at Johnson's ranch. After spending about an hour in the little hamlet gathering information and examining supplies that J. W. Crooks made available to the expedition, Howard set out for Mount Idaho.
In the days preceding Howard's arrival, a number of the missing had reached the safety of the settlement. Patrick Brice and Maggie Manuel had been among the first. George Popham had arrived a day later. He had waited until he had seen the hostiles burn the Manuel house before attempting to make his way to Camas Prairie. Isabella Benedict had been rescued on Monday by Edward Robie. After it had been reported that Isabella had been left behind in the retreat, Robie had gone out alone to find the woman whom he had long admired. His search had been rewarded near Johnson's ranch. William George, who had left Mason and Osborn on the night of June 13, had finally reached Mount Idaho. H. C. Brown, his sister, and her husband had been found near Cottonwood House. Isabella Benedict had reported that George Woodward and Peter Bertrand had been killed at the Baker ranch, but Woodward walked into Mount Idaho shortly after Howard arrived. 
After visiting the fort erected near Mount Idaho in company with H. E. Croasdaile, Howard went to Brown's Hotel to address the principal citizens of the community. In a short speech, he promised them safety and vengeance:
Following the talk, Howard visited the wounded. They were now under the care of Dr. John Morris, the resident physician who had been in Portland on a trip when news of the outbreak reached him.  Howard learned that Lew Day was dead. Mr. Morris had amputated the scout's leg in an effort to save his life, but the shock had been too much for him. He had been buried in the Masonic cemetery. Joe Moore was still alive but in critical condition. Mrs. Norton and Mrs. Chamberlin were there and the Chamberlin girl. Dr. Morris had been a busy man since his arrival. Theodore Swarts and Herman Faxon had been badly wounded in the White Bird fight and required continual care. George Shearer had received a shoulder wound, but it was slight and easily treated. William George, H. C. Brown, Albert Benson, and Maggie Manuel were also on his list of patients, and all were recovering rapidly. 
After lunching at Rudolph's with the Croasdailes and some others, Howard left Mount Idaho with the cavalry to join the infantry at Johnson's ranch. At the camp, Howard received a message that his reinforcements were on the way and would reach him in a couple of days.
After Trimble and his men reached Florence late on June 25, they halted momentarily to gather the latest information and then covered 12 more miles before stopping for a quick bite to eat. After supper, they resumed their journey. The trail at this point ascended the mountains. It was very steep, and near the summit the snow lay deep. The men traveled along the mountain top for some distance and then gradually descended toward the Salmon River. It was a clear, moonlit night, and the view was almost worth the effort. "It would take a more eloquent pen than mine," wrote Sergeant McCarthy, "to portray the beautiful scenery It was our privilege to witness." 
Trimble reached his destination about 2:30 a.m. on the morning of June 26. The settlers welcomed them heartily, and after some confusion, the men obtained shelter for themselves and corrals for their animals. The defenses erected by the settlers impressed the soldiers. William Wilson had done his work well.
On June 26, the cavalrymen rested and allowed their horses to shake the fatigue of the hard ride. The next morning, Trimble made a reconnaissance in the direction of White Bird Creek. Many of the settlers trailed after the scouting party and collected stray stock. Some of them found ponies belonging to the Nez Perce, which they confiscated. Most of the women and children ventured forth--some of them for the first time in a week. In fact, the cavalrymen saw everyone except Helen Walsh and Elizabeth Osborn. Overcome with shame, the women remained in their quarters.  Although the general feeling was one of relief and even gaiety, there was an undercurrent of uneasiness and uncertainty. The Nez Perce were still somewhere in the vicinity. Although they had been told that Howard was in the field, there had been no reports of his movements.
At 6:30 on the morning of June 26, Howard broke camp and led his men toward White Bird Canyon. His purpose in going there was twofold. First, the maneuver was for the purpose of obtaining information. He hoped to determine the location of the hostiles. He did not, however, wish to engage them; only after he had been properly reinforced would he be willing to venture an attack. Perry's defeat had given him a healthy respect for his foe. His other reason concerned a matter of honor. The dead had to be buried; they had been almost nine days in the sun.
Howard tapped the Walla Walla volunteers for the scouting mission. With Ad Chapman as their guide, the citizens moved along the top of the west wall of the canyon, retracing in part the route taken by Perry in the retreat. Eventually they reached a vantage point that permitted them a good view of the Salmon River. Looking down the canyon, they saw the Nez Perce on distant hills on the opposite side of the stream.
In the meantime, Howard made arrangements to recover the dead. He left the artillery and a company of cavalry on White Bird Hill to cover his advance and then ordered the rest of his command to descend to the site of the encounter. Capt. Marcus Miller led the advance guard, and a company of cavalry under Capt. Henry Winters followed close behind.  Perry organized the search for the bodies.
The men moved cautiously over the valley floor. They never forgot what they saw. Here and there were decaying bodies, blackened by sun and swollen into unrecognizable shapes. The smell of putrefying flesh permeated the air. The men who had been detailed as the burial party dug shallow graves with bayonets. The bodies were unmanageable. The ripe flesh had lost its tensility; a pull on an arm disengaged it from its torso. After some grisly experimentation, the men discovered that the best way to manipulate a corpse was to roll it into a hole dug as close to it as possible. The men had to seek relief from the stench as the work progressed. Occasionally a man dropped his entrenchment tool and sped for fresher air and then returned to renew the task. 
Many of the bodies had been stripped of outer clothing, but some had not been touched. There were no arms found on the field. Other hands held them now. To some of the men, it looked as if some of the cavalrymen had been scalped, but the Nez Perce later denied mutilation. One officer later remarked that although there was an appearance of scalping in some cases, it had been caused by decay rather than by violent ripping or tearing of the skin. 
The men were ever on the lookout for the return of the enemy, and there were a few anxious moments. As they proceeded down the canyon, they discovered the body of the trooper in the hawthorn tree. From a distance it appeared so life-like that it was mistaken for an Indian and approached with weapons cocked. The corpse was identified as Sgt. Patrick Gunn. One man remembered that the gray-haired veteran had been badly wounded in the retreat, and although a horse had been brought for him, he had been unable to mount it. The body had been ripped and torn by bullets, and there were other indications that the sergeant had been long in dying. 
Later in the day, while the men were busy at their work, the sky darkened as a great cloud moved over them. Suddenly two or three sheets of flame shot from the cloud and struck one of the buttes. The roar of the thunder sounded like a series of rifle volleys. The men dropped to their knees and prepared for the attack they believed was coming, but they soon realized that it was only thunder. To one soldier in retrospect, "It seemed like the burial volley for the honorable dead." 
The burial party interred 18 men before rain forced them to abandon their work. The graves were shallow and the bodies barely covered with earth. Stones stacked on top of the burials promised to keep coyotes from disturbing the graves Some of the men drove stakes into the ground at the head of the trenches and hung the hats of the deceased upon them. But there were several bodies that the men did not have time to bury. These were covered with blankets and left for another day. They were not able to find the body of Lieutenant Theller. 
While the dead found a resting place, some of the command rode all the way down the canyon to White Bird Creek. In an outhouse not far from the charred remains of the Manuel house, they discovered its proprietor. Jack Manuel possessed a will to live. For 13 days he had endured suffering and privation that would have defeated most men. Shot through both hips, his hands were his only means of propulsion. He had lain in the brush for days before dragging himself to the shed. With the aid of a hunting knife, Manuel had been able to extract the four-inch barb from his neck, and he had made a compress for the wound out of horseradish leaves. Haws and other wild berries had been his only fare, and he had reached the point in starvation where hunger no longer gnawed at his belly. The men fashioned a litter from a broken buggy and carried him back to the camp. The next day, they sent him back to Mount Idaho. In time he would regain the power to walk and work, but he would never be the same. 
Ad Chapman examined what was left of the ranch house to see if he could find a trace of the remains of Jennet Manuel and her son. He found some bones in the embers, but they appeared to be of animal rather than of human origin. 
On the morning of June 27, the troops returned to the canyon, marched down White Bird Creek to its mouth, and continued up the Salmon River a mile or two to establish another camp, which Howard named after Theller. Companies A, D, G, and M of the Fourth Artillery and Company C of the Twenty-first Infantry united with the command before the day's end. Apparently a volunteer unit from Dayton accompanied the reinforcements. The men continued to search for the dead, but rain made the task a difficult one. Finally Lt. Sevier M. Rains located the bodies of Edward Theller and the seven men who died with him in the dead-end ravine.  A bullet in the brain caused the death of the officer. Many empty cartridge cases lay on the ground near the corpses in mute testimony to the length of their stand. The men buried the dead where they found them and returned to Camp Theller. 
On June 29, Howard received some intelligence that Looking Glass and the Alpowai, who were camped on the Clearwater just above Kooskia, were showing evidence of hostility. Distrusting the professed neutrality of the band Howard sent Capt. Stephen Whipple with two companies of cavalry to arrest the chief and contain his followers, while he made ready to cross the Salmon River and pursue Joseph, White Bird, and Sound.  He also sent Perry and Company F back to Fort Lapwai with the pack train for more supplies. Whipple attacked the Indian camp on July 1, but only succeeded in killing one warrior and wounding two. The most important result of the conflict was that the Alpowai joined the other bands and made the task of the army that much more difficult. 
At the same time that Whipple attacked Looking Glass, Howard crossed the Salmon in pursuit of his foe. High water made the crossing perilous and the work occupied most of the day. On July 2 Trimble and Company H crossed the stream and joined Howard on the left bank, and all began the ascent to the top of the Salmon River Mountains. In the meantime, the Nez Perce recrossed the Salmon at Craig's Ferry and headed back toward Camas Prairie. On July 5, Howard reached the place where the Indians had crossed but failed in an attempt to duplicate the feat. Returning to the mouth of White Bird Creek, Howard and his men were successful in crossing the river, and on July 8, the general rode into Grangeville with an advance party.
After the attack on Looking Glass's camp, Whipple had taken a position near Cottonwood House. On July 3, he sent two civilians, William Foster and Charles Blewett, in the direction of Craig's Ferry on a scouting mission. The men encountered a group of Nez Perce warriors who preceded the main body of the nontreaty force. Blewett was shot, but Foster made it back to Cottonwood. Whipple immediately sent Lieutenant Rains, Foster, and 10 men to determine the strength of the force and to aid Blewett if he was still alive. Rains met a war party led by Five Wounds, Rainbow, and Two Moons. In a desperate fight, the Nez Perce wiped them out.
Perry returned to Cottonwood on the afternoon of July 4 and assumed command of the troops. Fearing an attack, Perry and Whipple improved their defenses. The following afternoon, 17 volunteers from Mount Idaho, led by O. B. Randall, attempted to reach Cottonwood House, but the Nez Perce pinned them down about one-and-one-half miles west of their destination. Perry refused to leave his position to aid the men. Although his decision was the best one in view of the superiority of the Nez Perce force, he earned the lasting enmity of the volunteers. After about 25 minutes had elapsed and the firing had decreased, George Shearer, who was with Perry, rode out to join the Randall party. Shortly afterwards, Perry dispatched Whipple and 2nd Lt. Edwin A Shelton with about 42 men to bring in the volunteers. They were successful in their mission, since most of the Nez Perce had withdrawn. Two of the volunteers were dead and three wounded, one of them mortally.
Perry and Whipple joined Howard as he moved eastward after the Nez Perce. By the evening of July 10, Howard had his forces assembled at Walls, four miles beyond Jackson's Bridge on the east side of the Clearwater. The Nez Perce camp stood just above the juncture of the south and middle forks of the river, about five miles north. Howard engaged the Indians in battle the following day, and it was not until the afternoon that the army forced the Nez Perce to withdraw across the stream. The cavalry under Perry hesitated in crossing the river, and the delay enabled the nontreaty band to escape. They moved downstream and encamped on a bluff beyond the mouth of Cottonwood Creek, near present-day Kamiah. Howard did not pursue them immediately.
Following the Clearwater Battle, Hahtalekin and the Palouse united with the other nontreaty bands. According to Indian sources, the five bands numbered about 600, among whom were 191 fighting men. With Howard moving after them at a leisurely pace, the Nez Perce had little difficulty in keeping ahead of their pursuers. On July 14 they reached Weippe meadows. In council the chief decided to cross the Lolo Trail and find refuge in the land of the Crow in Montana, and on July 16 they began their journey.
During the next three months, military forces continued to pursue the Nez Perce across the Bitter Root Mountains and across Montana. Ten separate United States commands engaged them in fighting at one stage or another, but the Nez Perce fought them to a standstill in four major battles and a number of skirmishes. They continued to resist until they were surrounded by Col. Nelson A. Miles and his men, 42 miles south of the Canadian border. On October 5, after some made good their escape into Canada, about 418 Nez Perce submitted to the will of the military, and what General Sherman called "one of the most extraordinary Indian wars of which there is any record" came to an end.  Military records show that the war had cost the United States Army $931,329.02 beyond normal expenses. One hundred twenty-seven soldiers and approximately 50 civilians had been killed, and the cream of Nez Perce manhood was gone. About 151 Nez Perce men, women, and children died in the campaign and about 88 of them were wounded.
Companies F and H of the First Cavalry were not there to see the end. Both of them remained in Idaho, while Howard and the rest of his men pushed after the fugitives. It was Miles who actually captured the Nez Perce, and he took his prisoners to Fort Keogh. In November General Sherman ordered them to Fort Leavenworth, and in July, 1878, the Government exiled them on the Quapaw reserve in Indian Territory.
After the scene of battle shifted to the ruggedness of Montana, quietness returned to northern Idaho. Life went on much as it had before, except that death held a larger place in the minds of many. The realization of the death of Edward Theller had been slow in coming to Delia, but it had come, and, consequently, the news that the lieutenant had been found and buried came as a relief to the widow. 
Theller had carried some mementos on his person that Delia wished to have, but they had not been found at the time the body had been buried. Delia believed that the Nez Perce had taken the articles with them. In the hopes of eventually recovering some of them, she placed an advertisement in the newspapers:
It was Delia's wish that her husband's remains be transported to San Francisco for reburial, and General Howard asked that it be done. The request went through channels to the Secretary of War, who granted permission for the reinterment at government expense. 
Early in December, a Mr. Pickett of Walla Walla, apparently the contracting undertaker, made the journey to the battle field to disinter the body. Soldiers from Fort Lapwai provided the labor. Pickett found the grave without difficulty.
Theller's feet lay uncovered, but the rest of the body had not been disturbed. The flesh had nearly rotted away from the bones, leaving the skeleton enveloped in loose clothing. In the pocket of the Lieutenant's uniform, Pickett found the missing watch. It had stopped at 9 o'clock. Soldiers placed the remains in a casket and returned to Fort Lapwai. 
The Oregon Steam Navigation Company volunteered to transport the remains without cost to an appropriate railhead. Howard detailed 1st Lt. Melville Wilkinson, his aide-de-camp, to accompany the body to San Francisco. The funeral took place at 2 o'clock on January 3, 1878. The Reverend Dr. Beers conducted the service, held in the Trinity Episcopal Church. Dr. Beers characterized Theller as a faithful, brave soldier, who died as a soldier wanted to die--in the execution of his duty. The church choir sang the funeral anthem "Lord, Let Me Know Mine End," and the hymn "Hark from the Tombs." After the ceremony attendants carried the casket to the hearse and escorted it to Laurel Hill Cemetery, where interment followed. Officers of the First Cavalry, the Fourth Artillery, and the Twelfth Infantry acted as pallbearers. Company F and the regimental band of the Twelfth Infantry were in attendance, and Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell, commander of the Division of the Pacific, conveyed the sympathy of the army to the widow. 
General Howard and his men had been in a hurry when they buried the dead at White Bird Battlefield. In fact, some of the bodies had not been buried at all but shrouded in blankets. Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that J. W. Poe found the bones of many cavalrymen bleaching in the sun and other signs of the furtive work of scavengers in abundance, when he visited the battleground late in July of 1877. "It is a shame," he wrote in a letter to the editor of the Lewiston Teller, that our government should give to her heroic dead no better burial than this." 
About two months after Poe wrote his letter, a detachment of First Cavalry returned to White Bird and reburied the remains in deeper graves. It was not until December, 1879, that the Assistant Adjutant General of the Department of the Columbia issued the order that eventually brought the remains to Fort Lapwai. Because of the cold weather, the work was delayed until spring of the following year. Late in May, the commanding officer of Fort Lapwai visited the site in company with Theodore Swarts, who now homesteaded at the north end of the canyon, not far from the place where Perry and his men had ascended the west wall during the retreat. The former volunteer helped to locate the scattered graves. A detail collected the bones and put them in two big boxes. Wagons carried the containers back to Fort Lapwai, where they were placed in a single grave. 
Last Updated: 09-Mar-2003