Nez Perce
Forlorn Hope: The Battle of White Bird Canyon
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Chpater IV:


This lovely burg is nestled at the fringe of the precious metal bearing hills of Northern Idaho, about 65 miles east of Lewiston, with a fertile valley spreading out before it, where grain is raised in abundance and superb quality. Fruit such as apples and their kindred flourishes majestically. There is no church and no minister in that infant town, yet its citizens are good, true and moral for all that. A Grange Hall is now erected three miles this side of Mount Idaho, which, when completed, will be a magnificent and indeed useful structure. It will also do service in that event as a high school. A semi-weekly mail visits Mount Idaho, and Baird Bros. do a fine express business to that point per stage. L. P. Brown, an esteemed and highly respected citizen, keeps a good hotel, and whosoever calls feels like "Home Sweet Home." Warrens diggings are the nearest mines yet the whole country about is saturated with gold, silver and precious metal which time and labor alone will yet develop, when many perhaps will sleep beneath Mount Idaho.

— LEWISTON THELLER, June 2, 1877

In the afternoon of June 14, 1877, two friendly Indians, Looking-glass and Yellow Bear rode up to my place and told me that Joseph's band were on the war path, were very near my place, and that I should go at once; that they had already killed seven white men. I then started to go to my house. They then called me back and told me to go immediately. I then told my two hired men what I had heard, and told them to take my three stallions from the stable and go to town. I got on my horse and started to town ahead of the two men, and as I started I could see the Indians coming.


We were afraid that the Indians would ride through the town at night and shoot into the crowded houses and tents, so wagons and logs were tied across the lanes in Mt. Idaho at night. We felt they could sneak in through the trees any time and kill us in our beds. A sort of fort was built later. Trenches were dug, logs stacked up and Uncle Loyal who ran the mills gave many sacks of flour to make it safer.


We returned to Mount Idaho and I got to see my wife and babies. But only for a few moments, for I remembered that I had on my wagon, one barrel of whiskey, one dozen Martel Brandies and one dozen baskets of Champagne, and I knew there would be a lot of drunk Indians around those wagons. I proposed to some of the boys that it would be a good time to "Get us some Indians."


The little town of Mount Idaho lay about 65 miles south east of Fort Lapwai. Nestled against the northern base of the mountains that skirted the Salmon River, it was the seat of government in Idaho County. It had its beginning early in 1862, when Mose Milner, better known as California Joe, erected a roadhouse on the site to provide sustenance and accommodations for travelers headed from Lewiston to the Florence mines. In July Milner sold his interest to Loyal P. Brown and James Odle. [1] Brown became the sole owner of the property in 1865, and it was he who laid out the town and promoted its development. [2]

By 1877 Mount Idaho was still a lively community, although the hustle and bustle of the early gold rush days were gone forever. L. P. Brown continued to dominate life in the settlement. His hotel was the largest building in town, and his hospitality and cuisine left most travelers with pleasant memories. One satisfied customer wrote: "It is precisely like living at home with a good uncle. The food is choice, abundant and well cooked." [3] Brown also owned a grist mill that was capable of grinding 30 barrels of flour in a 10 hour period.

At the time of the outbreak, there were two general stores in Mount Idaho; a Mr. Rudolph operated one of them, and Vollmer and Scott managed the other. Rudolph apparently occupied space in one end of Brown's Hotel. The village also had a drugstore kept by C. A. Sears and a blacksmith shop run by F. Oliver. J. B Montgomery owned the only saloon in town and was the subject of discussion among the members of an active temperance organization. According to one newspaper reporter, "the Champions of the Red Cross" were so successful in their campaign against King Alcohol that his power was already "very feeble" in that part of the country. Although the town had yet to build a church or acquire a minister it did have a new jail, and a new courthouse was a source of pride. [4]

Three miles northwest of Mount Idaho stood Grangeville, then in its infancy. After the local chapter of the Grange decided to construct a meeting place and a mill, John W. Crooks offered to donate the land in order to encourage settlement on Three Mile Creek, where he was the principal property owner. [5] The farmers erected Grange Hall and the mill in 1876. Both structures apparently needed some finishing work, but both were operable when hostilities began. A boarding house, a blacksmith shop, the residence of Crooks, and one or two other family dwellings completed the scene.

Beyond the twin villages of Mount Idaho and Grangeville was Camas Prairie, a relatively level plain rich in grass and acquiescent to the plow. Its western boundary was Craig's Mountain. Other spurs of the Blue Mountains bordered it on the north and east. Settlers grew a variety of grains and raised livestock on the prairie, and the slopes of the mountains were fertile ground for fruits of many kinds. The main exports were flour, pork, and beef. They found a ready market in the mining towns of Pierce, Elk City, Florence, and Warren. [6]

Rumors of trouble with the Nez Perce had been bruited about for some time, and many of the settlers were understandably nervous when the tribes went into camp near the mouth of Rocky Canyon. The treatment of the Indians by a number of whites in days past had not always been kind; in fact, it had often been brutal and murderous. The Nez Perce list of grievances was as shocking as it was long. Murder, rape, assault, fraud, and unlawful possession of property were but a few of the crimes committed against the Indians. [7] The guilty became anxious, and the innocent were wary. Provocation had been great, and reprisals often visited the clean and the unclean at the same time.

Apparently the first warnings of impending disaster reached Mount Idaho on June 13. John Adkison was one of those who received intelligence from an Indian friend that trouble was brewing. [8] John Crooks visited the Indian camp in the afternoon. Upon his arrival he received warnings to return to his home as quickly as possible, and, taking the advice, he left immediately. One warrior followed him most of the way to Grangeville, and, at one point, the Indian rode up to Crooks and flourished a revolver in his face. Crooks notified a number of settlers of the incident, and many of them chose to spend the night in town. [9] Early on the morning of June 14, Cyrus Overman, a rancher who resided near the head of Rocky Canyon, arrived in Mount Idaho with a number of his neighbors and reported that the Nez Perce were practicing war maneuvers. The day before he had seen them stage a mock war parade, and some of the Indians had openly stated that they intended to fight if the soldiers came to put them on the reservation. Alarmed by the actions of the warriors, Overman had thought it best to take refuge in the settlement and await developments at a safer distance.

Later in the morning some of the Nez Perce entered the town in quest of powder and cartridges. One Indian offered storekeeper Wallace Scott $2.50 for a can of powder, a price so far in excess of its value that it reinforced fears that hostilities might begin at any moment. L. P. Brown believed that the situation was serious enough to report it to the authorities, and he sent a messenger with a letter to the commanding officer of Fort Lapwai. [10]

About 4 o'clock that afternoon, Looking Glass and Yellow Bear rode up to the ranch of Arthur Chapman, who owned a spread on Cottonwood Creek, seven miles from Mount Idaho. [11] They told the rancher that the Nez Perce were on the warpath and that seven white men had already been killed. The Indians advised him to leave at once, since the rest of their tribesmen were nearby, and they could not guarantee his safety. Leaving his hired men to follow with his prize stallions, whom he would not abandon under any conditions, Chapman rode on ahead to spread the word.

Reaching Mount Idaho without difficulty, Chapman gave the alarm. The citizenry quickly formed into a volunteer company of irregulars and elected Chapman its captain. After placing mounted pickets at strategic points on the approaches to town, the new commander sent the rest of the volunteers to warn families living in the vicinity. Lew Day agreed to ride to Fort Lapwai to solicit the aid of the military and galloped down the road leading to Cottonwood House. [12]

As late afternoon grew into evening, settlers poured into Mount Idaho. The townsfolk busied themselves by casting bullets and making preparations for the defense of their lives and property. The men feared that the warriors might ride through the settlement at night and fire into the crowded shops and houses, so the volunteers blocked the street with wagons and logs. On a hill near the north end of town, they began the construction of a stockade. H. E. Croasdaile, a retired English naval officer, superintended the work. When finished, the stockade was circular in shape and perhaps 150 feet in diameter. Apparently the settlers made three of the walls by building rail fences parallel to each other and then filling in the intervening space with rocks and logs. Flour sacks piled on the ground made the fourth wall. The fortification reached about five feet in height, and a narrow passageway at the west end provided access to the interior. Tents both in and about the stockade housed the refugees, but it appears that all of the settlers sought refuge in Brown's Hotel and some of the other buildings during the first night. [13] During those watchful hours and in the days and nights to come, the villagers and their guests maintained their morale by singing such hymns as "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "Near My God To Thee." John Rowton and John Adkison achieved reputations as fine singers during the siege. One evening when the children were especially fearful, Rowton climbed to the top of a large pine tree growing inside the stockade and quieted them with his rendition of "I'll Remember you, Love, In My Prayers." [14]

At Grangeville, settlers chose Grange Hall for their defense. They obtained logs about 16 feet in height to make a wall around the building and piled sacks of flour against the walls in the upper story to make it bullet proof. [15]

In the wee hours on the morning of June 15, Arthur Chapman left Mount Idaho to keep a rendezvous with Looking Glass and Yellow Bear. He reached a point near his ranch about 5 o'clock and found his friends and two other Indians waiting for him. The Nez Perce told Chapman who had been killed to date, and they included the name of Lew Day among the dead. Chapman persuaded the brother of Looking Glass, an Indian named Tucallasasena, to ride back with him to Mount Idaho. [16]

During Chapman's absence, Hill Norton reached Grange Hall and the news of the tragedy spread quickly throughout both settlements. The attack confirmed the worst suspicions of the settlers: the war had spread from the Salmon and White Bird Creek to Camas Prairie, and it threatened to engulf them at any moment. After L. P. Brown learned that Day had not been able to get through to Fort Lapwai, he wrote a second letter to Captain Perry. A half-breed named West agreed to make the journey. [17]

Chapman returned to Mount Idaho shortly after the first relief column brought in the Norton party, and he talked Tucallasasena into carrying another dispatch from Brown to Perry. West left shortly after 7 o'clock, and the Indian followed an hour later. [18]

The rescue of Mrs. Chamberlin and her child and the arrival of Wilmot and Ready were occasions of sorrow and rejoicing. The mistreatment of Mrs. Chamberlin and the brutal killing of her three-year old daughter must have brought shudders to the women and children who waited in the stockade. Few were exempt in an Indian war. It would have been less of a shock to the Nez Perce women and children. They had learned this bitter lesson in years past. They would learn it again in the months to come.

They took Mrs. Norton and Mrs. Chamberlin to Brown's Hotel and put them in an upstairs bedroom. Mrs. Norton was bleeding badly, and her friends feared that she would not survive. In the absence of Dr. Morris, who was away on a trip, his brother began treatment by running a silk handkerchief through the wounds in both of her legs. Gentle hands placed Lew Day and Joe Moore on litters in the dining room. [19] Brown opened his doors to all comers and fed them without charge. His wife Sarah helped to nurse the wounded and make her guests feel at home. [20]

It was not long after that John Swarts discovered Lynn Bowers hiding in the brush and brought her to town. The girl was unharmed but nearly crazy with fear. [21] Refugees continued to straggle into Mount Idaho, and by the second day, the village contained about 250 people. Henry C. Johnson, a bachelor who owned a ranch about eight miles southwest of Grangeville, was one of the last to arrive. [22] The rest were given up for dead.

Later in the day, Lew Wilmot persuaded seven volunteers to accompany him in an attempt to recover the liquor he had left behind in his wagon. All feared the consequences should the war party find the alcohol. When the men reached the place where the Norton party had been attacked, they saw about 60 warriors galloping in their direction, and they quickly retreated to Grangeville. [23]

The settlers spent the rest of the day strengthening their defenses and hoping for relief from Fort Lapwai. There were few rifles in town, and pickets passed their weapons to those who relieved them. [24]

On the morning of June 16, clouds hung on the horizon, and the promise of rain helped to dampen spirits already dampened. The killing of Jyeloo created a stir and brought satisfaction to some, but it was an empty victory. There were hundreds of warriors close at hand, and if they chose to attack the town, many would die--perhaps all of them. Only soldiers could bring them the help they needed, and there had been no word from Fort Lapwai.

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Last Updated: 09-Mar-2003