Nez Perce
Forlorn Hope: The Battle of White Bird Canyon
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Chapter XIII:


In all accounts of conflicts with the Indians it is a noticeable fact that the non-commissioned officers of the regular service have suffered much more than their proportionate percentage in point of numbers would lead one to expect. In the list of killed and wounded the Sergeants and Corporals appear frequently and prominently. Their share in the pomp and circumstance of glorious war is small at best. There is not much glory to be achieved in obscure encounters, but the record shows that these humble and devoted soldiers, with little or no hopes of recognition or promotion, have been regardless of personal sacrifice, and ever ready in the discharge of every duty. Their conduct merits the recognition and appreciation of the country, and they should receive the consideration and reward which is due to heroism and self-sacrifice.


Indeed your action at White Bird was the only one worthy of praise; you fulfilled your orders completely.


For continuous pluck, good sense, clear headedness under fire, and for the salvation of one-half of the command, I think he is deserving a medal of honor.


[The] identical thorn tree where the soldier was mutilated and fastened to the limbs is still standing, and Mr. Swarts intends always to preserve it. It is very noticeable that the tree is no larger today than twenty-six years ago when the horrible act occurred.


All of these returning redskins were dressed in eastern style. At Lewiston a company of well-mounted soldiers met and escorted them to the reservation. I stood on the porch of the Raymond Hotel, and saw the Indians file by. Among others, there passed an old savage, "Scar-faced Charley," who, fearing that he might be shot, and wishing to conceal his identity, had tied a handkerchief over his face. There was quite a feeling of bitterness displayed. I heard one man on the street call out, "Ben, where is your gun?"


Long shall old comrades delights,
When they speak of heroic deeds done in the past,
To tell the youngsters the tale of the fight.


The disappearance and death of Jennet Manuel and her son continued to be a source of speculation during the days and months and years that followed the outbreak. Rumor fed on rumor. Some claimed that the Nez Perce had taken the woman with them; others declared that she had been murdered in the Manuel house, and that her body and that of the baby had been consumed in the flames.

Maggie Manuel swore until her death that her mother and brother had been murdered in the house on the night of June 15. The accounts written by her in later years vary little in detail. According to Maggie, an Indian, whom she identified as Chief Joseph, entered the house and stabbed her mother in the breast with a knife. After the attack, the Indian took Maggie into an adjoining room, where she fell asleep. When she awoke, the house was quiet. She opened the door to the main room, and there, on the floor, was the naked body of her mother, lying in a pool of blood. Near her head lay baby John: he was also dead. Later she left the house and hid in the brush, where Patrick Brice found her the next morning. According to Maggie, she and the Irishman had returned to the house to view the bodies before leaving for Mount Idaho. [1]

Two of the statements made by Maggie Manuel bear comment at this point. First, both white and Indian historians agree that Joseph could not have been in the house on the night of June 15. He was in camp on Cottonwood Creek. Second, in his account of the adventure, published on September 14, 1877, Brice stated that he had gone back to the house after he had been given his freedom and that he had found it empty. [2]

Apparently the first man to examine the remains of the Manuel house was Ad Chapman, and we have already noted that he was convinced that the bones he found in the rubble were those of an animal. [3] James Conely was of the same opinion. Probably at a later date, he and some others carefully raked the ashes, but failed to find any human bones. [4] But there were those who voiced disagreement. In a letter to the editor of the Lewiston Teller dated July 19, 1877, J. W. Poe wrote: "It was currently believed that Mrs. Manuel and the child were still alive until I had examined the ruins and found positive evidence to the contrary." [5] H. C. Brown, who visited the site on the way back to the remains of his store, made a similar declaration. [6] The nature of the evidence that Poe and Brown discovered has never been determined. Perhaps they were earrings. Maggie Manuel came into the possession of the pair that her mother had worn that day. They had been unearthed in probing the Site. [7]

It will be remembered that Harry Cone, one of the settlers in the stockade at Slate Creek, wrote in a reminiscence that he had heard one of the Nez Perce say on July 18 that Mrs. Manuel had been killed by an Indian who was under the influence of liquor. [8] Yet on July 28, the Lewiston Teller carried a short news item that read: "Squaws still report that Mrs. Manual [sic] is living and a prisoner," [9] and years later a settler reported that he had seen a white woman with the Nez Perce when they passed up the Bitterroot Valley. [10]

It was not until 1900 that one of the Indian participants commented on the fate of Mrs. Manuel. Yellow Bull told the story to C. P. Stranahan, but swore his listener to secrecy. However, he did give his friend permission to publish the account after his death. Yellow Bull stated that Mrs. Manuel was taken prisoner and kept in the custody of a certain Indian, whose name he would not divulge. After they had crossed the divide, her keeper and another warrior had an argument over her, and the next morning she was missing. Yellow Bull believed that she had been killed and her body hidden in the brush. [11]

There is other corroboration for the statement that Mrs. Manuel did become a captive. In 1935, Band of Geese was an impoverished old man. He looked on the world with a jaundiced eye; life had the taste of a copper penny. He had seen the white man take the land of his people. He had fought for it and lost. Defeat was not bad, but he had been left without honor.

His culture had been ridiculed and suppressed; his beliefs had been belittled and banned. Bitterness bubbled over and saturated his being, and when Many Wounds offered to record his story, the old warrior consented. He would tell the white man about the way it really was. The product was a thin document--about 20 typewritten pages--but it was full of insights and interpretations not usually found in accounts of this kind. Indian talked to Indian, and although Many Wounds was not the master of the English language, he knew it well enough to communicate. Many Wounds began the interview by asking Band of Geese to describe the trophies strewn about his cabin and to relate their significance. One of the first mementos taken in hand was a human scalp and hairlock. "Hair of white woman, Mrs. Manuel," said the warrior. He went on to relate that the woman had been taken prisoner and started with them to Montana. Before long, however, she had taken sick and died. The Indians had buried her body under some rocks by the Lolo Trail. He said that Joseph was the one who had taken the scalp; the hair was nice. Band of Geese had fallen heir to it. He knew that Joseph was sorry, and he was sorry. [12]

Some historians have pointed to the statement of George Popham in support of the contention that Mrs. Manuel and her son died in the house. In a letter published on June 30, 1877, Popham declared that the home had been burned on Sunday, and that his daughter and grandson had been burned in it. He did not say that he had seen the bodies. In later accounts written by him, it becomes clear that Popham did not have personal knowledge; his information came from his granddaughter, with whom he had been reunited before he wrote the first version of the affair. He had been hiding in the timber at the time the alleged murders occurred, and he had not been able to return to the house after he left it for the last time on June 15. [13]

The only other man who could have been an eyewitness to the fact of death was Jack Manuel, but he had been physically unable to reach the house. In the one of the few statements he ever made concerning the matter, Manuel simply said that his wife and youngest child had been captured by the Nez Perce and "doubtless killed as they were never found afterwards." [14] Obviously Manuel had his doubts about the cremation theory.

No one has ever questioned the integrity of Maggie Manuel. Those who talked with her were convinced that she believed her story. Some have suggested that the little girl may have suffered hallucinations. [15] The assumption is not an unreasonable one in view of the age of the girl and the emotional turmoil created by the attack on her parents, the killing of James Baker, and the hours of fear and suffering that followed.

There is one way of reconciling all points of view without resorting to the hallucination theory. Perhaps Maggie Manuel did see an Indian stab her mother. Perhaps she did see her lying in a pool of blood. Perhaps she appeared to be dead. Perhaps she was not. The testimony of Harry Cone is easy to pass over. An Indian may have told the whites at Slate Creek that Mrs. Manuel was dead, because he did not want them to know that she was alive. The remains found in the ashes may also be dismissed. Earrings are not proof of death. The identification of charred bone fragments is not an easy task even with modern equipment and techniques. On the other hand, it is more difficult to discount the stories told by Yellow Bull and Band of Geese. Why would they lie? They had nothing to gain by it. The mystery is an intriguing one. Perhaps sometime it may be solved conclusively. Presently the evidence indicates that Jennet Manuel did not die in the house but days later somewhere in the mountains.

What happened to the rest of the characters in the drama of death? Joe Moore died two months and three days after receiving his wounds. The rest of the wounded eventually recovered. John Manuel lived until 1889, but he was never the same. Catherine Elfers, Isabella Benedict, and Jennie Norton all remarried: Catherine to Philip Cleary on April 13, 1884, Isabella to Edward Robie on April 19, 1880, and Jennie to Thomas J. Bunker in 1883. Neither Isabella nor Jennie ever returned to her former home, but Catherine Elfers continued to live in the house near John Day Creek. She had four children to care for. The last, Marie Elizabeth, was born on January 1, 1878. Helen Walsh was reunited with her husband in Lewiston about six weeks after the beginning of the outbreak. In 1906 she met Howard in Roseburg, Oregon, and told him the story of her experiences. Patrick Brice continued to pursue his trade as a miner. In 1897 he was living in Anaconda, Montana. [16]

Arthur Chapman went with Howard as a scout and served through out the Nez Perce campaign. At the request of General Miles, he accompanied the captured Nez Perce to Fort Keogh, then to Fort Leavenworth, and finally to Indian Territory, where they were exiled. He left them in the fall of 1879. Eleven years later, he was still in the employ of the army, working at Fort Vancouver. [17]

Frank Fenn went on to have a distinguished public career. From 1901 to 1921 he was a supervisor for the United States Forest Service at Kooskia, Idaho. One day an Indian came into his office at Kooskia and introduced himself as Philip Evans. "You shot me," he said. Fenn recalled that he had noticed a warrior gaining on him during the retreat and had fired at him, but he had not waited to see the results. This time he and Bow and Arrow Case parted friends. Frank Fenn died on June 19, 1927. [18]

Theodore Swarts continued to live near the scene of the battle. On August 21, 1877, he married Electa Brown. They were blessed with nine children. George Shearer died on January 2, 1890, from war injuries. Herman Faxon was still alive in 1937. Eighty-eight years old, his only source of income was a pension of $50 a month, paid to him by the government in compensation for the wound he had received in the Battle of White Bird Canyon. Concerned about the cost of his burial, he wrote a letter to the Winners of the West, the official organ of the National Indian War Veterans, to inquire if his relatives would receive a burial allowance for him after his death. He must have been pleased to learn that the government would pay $100 and present his survivors with a $7 flag. [19]

Some of the Nez Perce who fought in the Battle of White Bird Canyon did not survive succeeding engagements. Among them were Shore Crossing and Red Moccasin Tops, who died in the Battle of the Big Hole on August 9, 1877, and Frog and Sound, who died in the Battle of the Bear Paws on October 1. White Bird and No Feet were some of those who escaped into Canada. A tribesman murdered White Bird there in about 1882. No Feet continued to live with the Sioux and eventually married into the tribe. A few, like Four Blankets, succumbed to disease in Indian Territory. Others lived to return to the Northwest in 1885, when the government settled the remnant of the captured band on the Lapwai and Colville reservations. [20]

Joseph spent his remaining years on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington. He died on September 21, 1904. The agency physician said that he died of a broken heart. In 1905 the Washington University State Historical Society erected an appropriate monument to mark his resting place in the Nespelem cemetery. Wounded Head died in about 1912 at his home on the Lapwai reservation. Swan Necklace also survived the war and later returned to his native land. Because they feared reprisals the Nez Perce kept Swan Necklace's true identity a secret. To the whites he was known as John Minthon. The last of the avengers died in the late 1920's. Bow and Arrow Case apparently lived into the middle of the 1930's. Yellow Wolf died on the Colville Indian Reservation on August 21, 1935, but not before he had given Lucullus McWhorter his life story. Josiah Red Wolf, a small child at the time of the battle, still lives. [21]

Thomas McLaughlin of Company F recovered from his wound and returned, to active duty. Florence McCarthy deserted on September 3, 1878. Joseph Lytte deserted on July 13, 1878, but was apprehended on May 12, 1880. He completed his enlistment on July 10, 1882. Written on his discharge papers were the words, "Drunkard, worthless." Maier Cohn of Company H died in the Battle of the Clearwater on July 12, 1877. Joseph Kelly eventually recovered, but he was incapacitated for military service and retired on disability on December 11, 1877. Charles Fowler deserted on June 3, 1879. James Shay completed 30 years of service and then retired. McCarthy saw him for the last time in Walla Walla, Washington. He was drunk, and a crowd of boys was having fun at his expense. [22]

On October 1, 1885, the United States Army abandoned Fort Lapwai but made provision to maintain the cemetery. On August 1, 1890, the Secretary of War approved the disinterment of the White Bird dead in order to ship them to Fort Walla Walla for burial. Second Lt. Nathaniel F. McClure superintended the removal. He reached Fort Lapwai on October 30, and laborers began the work of disinterment the following day. McClure examined the remains carefully and made a full report. He found 26 skulls and the fragments of others. Several of the skulls had bullet holes in them, and one showed evidence of having been damaged by a hatchet. On November 6, the dead wagon lumbered into Lewiston. The coffin traveled by rail to Fort Walla Walla and reached the military post on November 12. Reinterment occurred the same day. [23]

After Michael McCarthy heard of the transfer of the remains to Fort Walla Walla, he began writing letters for the purpose of getting enough money to erect a suitable monument to mark the grave. The men of Company H responded with $155, and Joel Trimble added $5. McCarthy immediately contracted for a monument. Made of Vermont marble, it stood 15 feet high. Workmen placed the shaft over the grave on December 19, 1891. The total cost of the memorial was $225. McCarthy made up the difference. David Perry later donated $20, which McCarthy used to build a fence around the monument. Construction workers uncovered the skeleton of another cavalryman in September of 1919. Reburial took place a short distance away. A monument marks the spot at the southern base of White Bird Hill. [24]

William Parnell reached the rank of Captain on April 27, 1879. Eight years later he retired on disability. He was promoted to major on the retired list on April 23, 1904. He spent the last ten years of his life as a military instructor at St. Matthew's School in San Mateo, California. He died at 2:54 a.m. on August 20, 1910. The presiding doctor gave the cause of death as senile debility with chronic cystitis and exhaustion following a prostatectomy. Parnell received the Medal of Honor for rescuing Aman Hartman during the retreat to Grangeville on September 16, 1897. [25]

Joel Trimble went on sick leave on April 2, 1878, and retired on disability on August 21 1879. He had lost the sight in his right eye and most of the vision in his left. Trimble died at 7:30 p.m. on November 16, 1911, in Berkeley, California. He left three sons and two daughters. [26]

David Perry became a major in the Sixth Cavalry on April 27, 1879. Twelve years later he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Tenth Cavalry, and on December 11, 1896, he reached the rank of colonel in the Ninth. Promoted to brigadier general on the retired list, he died at 3 p.m. on May 18, 1908, in Washington, D. C. The cause of death was pyelitus and consequent chronic interstitial nephritis. He was buried in Arlington Cemetery. [27]

Michael McCarthy became the Quartermaster Sergeant of the First Cavalry on June 10, 1878. He completed his military service in the regular army on May 24, 1879. Entering the Washington National Guard, he rose to the rank of colonel before his death in 1907. McCarthy received the Medal of Honor for his part in the Battle of White Bird Canyon in 1897. [28]

Delia Theller continued to live in San Francisco. A Maltese cat and a fine bird dog, which had been a special favorite of her husband, were her only companions. She was laid to rest beside Edward Theller on January 4, 1888. [29]

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Last Updated: 09-Mar-2003