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


I shall never forget my father when he came up to shake hands with me, tears running down his cheeks. He said, "Oh, my boy--is it possible? Only a few moments ago you and Ready were reported killed."


My Kingdom in Heaven for a drop of water.


Father was still alive and choked out that I should try to get away, but mother did not want me to go. Father said, "He'll be killed here anyway." Lynn Bowers took off her heavy skirt so that she could run faster, and we both sneaked away toward Grange Hall, through the high bunch grass.


With what guns Joe Moore could crawl out on the ground and secure, he had kept up a constant fire until his ammunition was exhausted. He then secured a shotgun and cut cartridges for bullets, used the powder, loaded the shotgun repeatedly, and kept the Indians at bay until morning. It was heroism of an unusual order. Scarcely able to move from the loss of blood, he worked energetically to keep the hostiles off, always passing a reassuring word of comfort.


We finished getting the harness off the dead horses, and as we could not move the dead horses out of the road, we pulled the wagon around them by hand. This took a little time and the Indians, in a large group, were galloping toward us. Doug and I pulled the saddles off our saddle horses and tied some of the harness and lasso ropes to them and the wagon. Doug and I mounted our horses, leaving our saddles on the ground, and away we went, as the Indians were getting nearer and were firing.


We spread out, searching the tall grass for Jyeloo. We found him. I saw his body myself, all covered with blood. He had many gunshot wounds on his body and legs--eleven in all. His head, crushed, was all over blood. Blood on the ground. I saw he had drawn his sheath knife. It was in the grass not far from him--must have been shot from his hand. We did not find the rifle.


About 4 p.m. on the afternoon of June 14, Lew Wilmot and Pete Ready drove their wagons up to Cottonwood House, a combination store, hotel, saloon, and stage station 18 miles west of Grangeville. [1] Returning from Lewiston with a load of merchandise for Vollmer and Scott, the proprietors of a general store in Mount Idaho, the freighters looked forward to a pleasant pause before beginning the last lap of their journey. [2]

The owner of the establishment, Benjamin B. Norton, was on the porch waiting to greet the men. [3] His wife Jennie, his nine-year-old son Hill, and his wife's 19-year-old sister, Miss Lynn Bowers, were there also, and from their demeanor it appeared that something was brewing. They had heard rumors of Indian unrest, Norton told them, and they were hoping to hear the latest news from the pair. Wilmot did his best to allay the fears of the family. He was confident that trouble was not imminent, because the Nez Perce still had their women and children with them. If they intended to hit the war trail, he said, they would first remove their families to a place of safety; at least that is the way it had been in the past. The argument apparently did not impress Mrs. Norton, since she pleaded with the men to spend the night. Wilmot had a reputation as a crack shot and would be an added asset in a tight situation, but he was anxious to return to his home and family and declined. [4]

As the teamsters were making preparations to leave, a messenger from Mount Idaho arrived. He was Lew Day, an old acquaintance of Wilmot, who carried dispatches from L. P. Brown to the commanding officer of Fort Lapwai. He told the men that the Nez Perce were acting unfriendly and had been practicing war maneuvers and that he was to inform Captain Perry of the situation. Settlers in the vicinity were streaming into Mount Idaho for protection. Obtaining a fresh horse, he was soon on his way again. [5]

Before he was out of sight, another wagon appeared. It contained John Chamberlin, his wife, and two daughters. They were on their way to Lewiston with a load of flour and intended to spend the night at Cottonwood House. They became alarmed at the news and also attempted to detain the freighters, but to no avail. Firm in their resolve to push ahead, Wilmot and Ready climbed aboard their wagons and bumped down the trail. When they reached Shebang Creek, a branch of the Cottonwood, they went into camp for the night. [6]

The Nortons and the Chamberlins soon decided to make their way to Grangeville, and the Norton's hired man, Joe Moore, agreed to go with them. But before they had completed preparations to leave, Lew Day returned. Not more than 20 minutes had passed since he left the waystation.

Near the Old Board House on Craig's Mountain, Day had encountered three or four Nez Perce who pretended to be friendly. The Indians had ridden along with him for some distance, until he had remarked that he was getting cold and intended to push ahead as swiftly as possible. Urging his horse forward, Day had begun to pull away. He had traveled only a short distance, however, before the Nez Perce had opened fire. Day had taken a bullet in the back but had managed to remain in the saddle. Leaving the road he had entered the timber and taken cover. Day had held his own in the exchange of shots that had followed, and the warriors had soon departed. [7]

Mrs. Norton dressed Day's wound as best she could, while the men readied Chamberlin's wagon for the trip to town. They left Cottonwood House about 9 p.m. It was a starlit night, and visibility was good. Norton, Day, and Moore rode horseback, and Chamberlin drove the wagon containing the women and children. [8]

After traveling a few miles, they reached the camp of Wilmot and Ready. Again the settlers urged the men to come with them, but again the freighters declined. "This is the last time we will see you boys alive," one of the settlers called as the wagon moved down the road.

Wilmot and Ready rolled under their wagons and prepared to sleep. Perhaps an hour later they heard what sounded like gunfire, but it was very faint. At 3 o'clock the men awakened, fed the horses, and continued their journey. Traveling about three miles they neared Cottonwood Butte as the sun began to shine and warm them. It was then that they heard the first war cry.

Unhitching the horses from the wagons, the men mounted them and galloped up a stock trail branching off to the left of the main road. The Indians were about one-quarter of a mile behind and coming fast, but Wilmot and Ready had all the lead they needed. After following the freighters for four miles, the warriors gave up the chase and returned to the wagons in search of plunder. Among the items left behind, they found 12 bottles of Martel brandy, one dozen baskets of champagne, and a barrel of whiskey.

It was not until Wilmot and Ready reached Nathaniel Markham's ranch, about two miles north of Grangeville, that they felt safe from pursuit. Entering the house they found it empty and continued on their way to the settlement. As they neared the town, a crowd of men came to meet them. [9]

The Freighters had been correct in thinking that they had heard gunfire about an hour after the Chamberlin wagon left their camp. About seven or eight miles from Cottonwood House, the party ran into a band of warriors. Whipping their horses into a run they were successful in eluding their pursuers for a time: the chase continued for about four miles before an Indian bullet found its mark, and Lew Day tumbled from the saddle. Chamberlin stopped the wagon long enough to permit the badly wounded man to climb aboard, and they were off again. Norton was the next to be hit. A rifle ball smashed into his leg, and another disabled his horse. He made it to the wagon before the Nez Perce could intercept him but now the warriors were drawing dangerously close, and in a matter of moments one of the harness horses took a bullet and fell. Dragging a dead weight, the wagon skidded to a halt.

Norton, Chamberlin, and the women and children remained in the wagon. Day took a post behind a dead horse, and Moore joined him later. Apparently Moore lost his horse about the same time that the wagon stopped, and he was wounded when he reached the rest of the party. Two of his fingers had been shot away, and shortly after he assumed the defensive position near the wagon, he was hit again, this time in the hip.

Day received a number of other wounds before much time had passed, and he began calling for water. When Norton attempted to bring him some, he took a bullet in the thigh. It severed the femoral artery, and it was apparent that he would soon bleed to death. Gathering her courage in desperation, Jennie Norton begged her husband to permit her to go to the Indians and plead for their lives. He finally assented, since all other avenues of hope appeared to be closed. She was about to jump from the wagonbox, when a bullet found her. It ripped through both legs and knocked her from her perch, and in the subsequent fall to the ground she also dislocated an ankle. [10]

In the meantime Chamberlin decided to run for it and moved off through the grass with his wife and children. Losing his sense of direction, he guided his family toward Tolo Lake instead of toward Mount Idaho. Norton called his son to him after the Chamberlins left and told the boy to make his escape and bring help if possible. He told Lynn Bowers to go with Hill, and, after the girl shed her heavy skirt so that she could run faster, they slipped into the night and headed toward Grangeville. [11]

Mrs. Norton crawled under the wagon and took shelter near one of the dead horses. Moore continued to keep the Indians at bay during the rest of the night. When morning came the warriors circled the wagon a few times and then left, apparently to secure more ammunition.

Mrs. Norton decided to attempt to reach the ranch of J. W. Crooks near Grangeville and began dragging her body through the grass. She had gone only a short distance when she heard a horseman approaching. Thinking it was an Indian, she covered her head and prepared to die. The man dismounted, and she heard a pistol cock. Suddenly Moore cried: "Don't shoot, for God's sake; it is us." The rider was Frank Fenn, one of the volunteers from Mount Idaho. [12]

Fenn had discovered Hill Norton stumbling through the brush near Grange Hall and had learned of the attack on the wagon. [13] After forming a relief party consisting of Charles Rice, George Hashagen, and the three Adkison brothers, he had ridden down the road in search of the besieged party. [14] The first to reach the scene, he had mistaken Mrs. Norton for an Indian and was about to fire when Moore cried out.

The men placed the dead and wounded in the wagon and sent James Adkison hustling back to Grangeville to bring more volunteers. John and Doug Adkison cut the harness from the dead horses and, chucking their saddles, hitched their mounts to the wagon. As preparations ended the men saw a large band of Indians rapidly approaching. Fenn, Rice, and Hashagen formed a rear guard, while the Adkisons leaped to the back of the wagon horses and urged them forward.

The warriors began to close the distance, but before they were able to draw near enough to do any damage, they observed a group of white riders racing down Crooks' Lane to meet the wagon and abandoned the chase. James Adkison and the reinforcements escorted the wagon into town and saw to the care of the wounded. [15]

Not long afterward another relief party left Grangeville to find the Chamberlins. Not more than a few hundred yards from where the wagon had been, they found the body of John Chamberlin. Both children were with him. Hattie, the older girl, was dead, but the other child was still alive. She was in bad condition, however, suffering from an ugly neck wound. She had also lost the tip of her tongue, probably severed in a fall, although some claimed that an Indian who had grown tired of her crying was responsible for the deed. When Cash Day found the little girl, she was trying to hide behind the corpse of her father. Remembering back to the scene, J. G. Rowton wrote: "May such trials be forever gone." [16] Within a mile of the wagon Rowton found Mrs. Chamberlin in an hysterical condition. She had been shot in the breast with an arrow and raped repeatedly. [17]

On the morning of June 16, Five Winters, Going Fast, and Jyeloo left their camp at White Bird Canyon and rode back to Camas Prairie. Coming to the ranch belonging to Ab Smith, about three miles southwest of Grangeville, they entered the house and found it deserted. Helping themselves to everything that happened to catch their fancies, the Indians decided to rest awhile. They had been drinking heavily and soon lapsed into sleep. Later they awakened, and Going Fast left the house to bring the horses. [18]

Twenty volunteers under George Shearer were scouting in the vicinity, and when J. G. Rowton noticed some movement at the Smith homestead, he went to investigate. He saw Going Fast and reported his find to the rest of the company, who quickly moved into action. [19]

Seeing the body of horsemen riding hard toward the ranch, Going Fast called to his comrades. He and Five Winters hastily mounted and galloped away, but Jyeloo had a game leg and a bad back and had to move more slowly. He had some difficulty in catching the horse brought for him, and by the time he was ready to leave, the volunteers were only one-quarter of a mile away. The horse turned out to be a poor runner, and the posse soon closed the gap.

Coming to a fence Jyeloo dismounted and set out on foot. Before he had traveled very far, he took a number of bullets in the back and slumped in the tall grass. Shearer galloped up to the Indian and emptied both barrels of his shotgun. Dismounting he broke the stock of his weapon over the head of the old warrior, crushing his skull. While the volunteers wreaked their vengeance on Jyeloo, the other Nez Perce made good their escape. [20]

Going Fast and Five Winters made their way to the Camp at Drive-Inn. After hearing the news, about 30 warriors hurriedly mounted and returned to the scene of the attack. They found Jyeloo. The misshapen head and 11 bullet wounds testified to the fury of his assailants. Half of the party returned to camp with the corpse, while the rest went to the Smith ranch.

As they were poking around the house, one of the Indians noticed a white man approaching. He was Charles Horton, a single man of about 35, who was on his way home. The warriors concealed themselves until Horton drew close and then gave chase. On the side of a steep hill about two miles from the house, they caught him. Five Times Looking Up rode along side the fleeing rancher and drew an arrow to his bow. Reacting quickly Horton grabbed the arrow and nearly wrenched the warrior from his saddle. Going Alone fired, and the chase ended. Norton got up again, but a second bullet finished him. [21]

Returning to camp the Nez Perce went into council. The Alpowai and Palouse bands under Looking Glass, Red Echo, and Naked Head had already gone back to their homes on the Clearwater, where they believed they would be safe from war. "We will move to Lahmotta," said the chiefs, and the remaining bands under Joseph, White Bird, and Sound began the march to White Bird Canyon. It was about 8 o'clock when the caravan left Cottonwood Creek. [22]

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Last Updated: 09-Mar-2003