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


Captain Perry has done much hard service in the Indian Campaigns in this country, is thoroughly conversant with it and the best mode of operating against these Indians.


He was a fine horseman and could ride farther and show less fatigue than any of his men.


There is a loss of the bones forming the septum between the nasal cavities, and an opening of considerable size between mouth and nose from loss of portions of hard palate, requiring the constant wearing of a plate to make eating and speech possible.


Company Commander thinks Trumpeter Jones is now a good soldier and truthful man. His yielding to drink was temporary and he is now undergoing punishment for what he did while intoxicated. He asks remittance of a part of his sentence, namely the fine.


Rudyard Kipling had a similar character in mind when he created Private Mulvaney.


Let us take a closer look at the men who rode out of Fort Lapwai. Chance and circumstances combined to put them in the same place at the same time, but it had not always been so. They varied greatly in background and experience.

The commander of the expedition, David Perry, was the senior officer of Company F of the First Cavalry. He was born in Ridgefield, Connecticut, on June 11, 1841. Like so many other officers who served in the frontier army, Perry had learned to soldier during the Civil War. He received a commission as a second lieutenant in the First Cavalry on March 24, 1862, and on July 1 of the same year he earned his first promotion. On November 12, 1864, he became a captain, the rank he held at the time he became the commanding officer of Fort Lapwai. At the Battle of Five Forks, fought 16 miles southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, on April 1, 1865, Perry won his first brevet for gallant and meritorious service. [1]

After the conclusion of hostilities, the First Cavalry moved to the Northwest to participate in campaigns against the Snake Indians. On December 26, 1866, Company F engaged a large band of warriors on the Owyhee River in Idaho and won a smashing victory, killing 30 of the enemy and losing only one man in the process. For his part in the action, Perry received a second brevet, that of lieutenant colonel. During the years that followed, he continued to serve on the far-flung frontier. His company was one of those that fought against the Modocs in their stronghold at Lava Beds, and on January 17, 1873, Perry received a wound in a battle with the Indians near Tule Lake. [2]

Perry was apparently a capable officer, if not a flamboyant one. In 1868 Lt. Col. George Crook of the Twenty-third Infantry paid him a high compliment in a letter to departmental headquarters. "Captain Perry is an excellent officer," he wrote. "I assure you it is no easy matter to find an officer who is so conversant with his duty and who is so willing to do it and do it thoroughly." Crook particularly appreciated the captain's knowledge of Oregon and his ability as an Indian fighter. [3]

Perry stood a little over six feet in height and carried himself very erectly. According to Howard, the officer showed "a clear Saxon eye" and usually wore a smile on his face, which the general described as "pleasant but with a reserve in it" that befitted a man of his rank and responsibility. [4] Another observer described him as "tall, handsome, and very arrogant." [5] Mrs. Perry had quickly gained a reputation as a fine hostess and an excellent cook, and it was apparent to all who knew her that she adored her husband. On the other hand, she apparently lacked the self-discipline and stoical resolve so often found in the wife of a commanding officer, and, in this sense, she was a liability. One rival described her as "a foolish and hysterical woman." [6]

At face value, Perry appeared to be an excellent choice--if it had been a matter of choice--to lead an expedition against the nontreaty bands. His bearing inspired confidence and generated respect. He had a long record of military service, and he knew what Indian fighting was all about. If he lacked anything, it was a knowledge of the territory. Northern Idaho was new to him, and others would have to provide him with basic information concerning trails and terrain.

Edward Russell Theller of the Twenty-first Infantry had replaced Peter Bomus as the junior officer for Company F. He was a native of Vermont but had gone west at an early age, since his father was drawn by the magic of California. The family eventually ended up in San Francisco, and it was there that Theller entered military service on October 5, 1861. Commissioned as a captain in the California Volunteers, he saw duty at a number of small posts in his home state during the Civil War, and at various times he commanded Forts Gaston and Humboldt. On March 13, 1865, he received a brevet, that of major, for faithful and meritorious service. [7]

On September 6, 1865, Theller received orders to report to the Camp on San Pedro River in Arizona Territory, and he remained there for six months before returning to San Francisco to be mustered out on May 4, 1866. While in Arizona, Theller participated in several skirmishes with the Apaches and fought in one major engagement near White Mountain. Finding military life to his liking, Theller applied for a commission in the regular army and received it on March 7, 1867. He remained in California as a second lieutenant in the Ninth Infantry, and when his unit prepared to move elsewhere, Theller secured a transfer to the Twenty-first Infantry and a position as Acting Assistant Adjutant General on the staff of Brig. Gen Edward O.C. Ord, the commander of the Department of California. On August 31, 1871, Theller became a first lieutenant, the rank he held at the time of the outbreak. He also served in the Modoc War and saw action in a number of engagements, but of the four officers who rode out from Fort Lapwai, Theller was at the bottom of the list when it came to combat experience. [8]

General Howard described Theller as "a generous, brave man, with a warm heart." The lieutenant and his wife Delia were noted for their hospitality and frequently entertained. [9] Theller apparently lacked the stability and judgment expected of a 44-year-old officer. A year before the outbreak began, William Boyle, then a first lieutenant on an inspection tour, wrote a confidential letter to Howard in which he recommended that the general transfer Company G of the Twenty-first Infantry to another post, if for no other reason than to separate Theller from some of his civilian associates, who were not fit companions for an officer. Theller had a love of fast horses, and one writer has surmised that the lieutenant had probably become involved with gamblers in Lewiston. [10] The Thellers were childless. [11]

Alexander M. Baird was the first sergeant of Company F. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Baird was about 33 years old. Blond-haired and blue-eyed, he was about five feet seven and one-half inches in height. Only three other sergeants were available for duty, because Perry had ordered Louis Bollinger to remain at Fort Lapwai to look after company property. They were Patrick Gunn, Charles Leeman, and Thomas Ryan. [12] Of the three, grey-haired Patrick Gunn probably had the most experience. He had fought the Seminoles in Florida and served in the Mexican War, and, of course, had seen action during the Civil War and in numerous Indian campaigns in the Northwest. [13]

Four corporals completed the contingent of non-commissioned officers: Thomas J. Fanning, Charles W. Fuller, Joseph F. Lytte, and John L. Thompson. The company trumpeters, who held the rank of private, were John M. Jones and Michael Daly. [14] The former was affectionately known as "Jonesy," and was apparently a very likeable young man, who nursed a passion for strong drink. A one-time deserter who had returned to the service under a general amnesty act, Jones had been in the guardhouse as a result of his intemperance at the time. Howard grew tired of the harangues of Chief Sound at the Indian council in May and clapped the old warrior in irons. A strange friendship developed between the private and the savage and Jones had remarked to a friend that if they ever did have to fight the Nez Perce, he knew that he would not be harmed; Sound had promised him as much. Born in Wheeling, Virginia, Jones was about 30 years old. He stood a shade over five feet four inches in height and had hazel eyes, sandy hair, and a ruddy complexion. [15]

The farrier for Company F was John Bressler, but he had also been ordered to stay at Fort Lapwai. He had been detailed to keep the company stables in order. Joseph Schultz was the saddler. The other privates in Company F were Charles Armstrong, Joseph Blaine, Levi L. Buckner, Frank E. Burch, Charles S. Clarke, James C. Colbert, Robert W. Connell, Patrick Connolly, Bartholomew Coughlin, Lawrence Dauch, William Davis, John H. Donne, David M. Fisk, Joel S. Haines, William Harding, William L. Hurlbert, Edward Kenny, Hewy T. Kidd, James S. Lewis, William Liston, Florence McCarthy, Thomas McLaughlin, Dennis Maher, William L. Marriott, John M. Martin, John R. Mosforth, Alexander Ohters, Franklin C. Pratt, David Quinlan, John Rebstock, John Schorr, Peter Schullein, Andrew Shaw, Charles Sullivan, Alexander Tethrow, Louis Warren, James Wilson, and John White. The full strength of the company was 55, excluding officers, but in addition to Bollinger and Bressler, there were 4 others missing but accounted for. Pvt. George G. Brown had remained at Fort Lapwai to take care of the company garden. Pvt. Louis Reiss had stayed behind to help Sergeant Bollinger with the stables. Pvt. John Dailey was in bed in the post hospital, and Pvt. Jacob Shaefer languished in the guardhouse. [16] Pvt. Hurlbert was the only enlisted man who had his family with him at Fort Lapwai. He had enlisted in St. Louis on May 8, 1875, in consequence of some "reverses in business." His wife and children had followed him a year later. [17]

The enlisted men of Company F were rather a cosmopolitan group. Eighteen of them had been born in foreign countries: eight in Ireland, five in Germany, two in England, two in Canada, and one in Scotland. Of those born in the United States, eight were from New York, five from Massachusetts, five from Pennsylvania, four from Ohio and one each from Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and the District of Columbia. Thirty-eight of the men were serving in their first enlistment. Their occupations before entering the army had been quite varied. Nine of them had been laborers, four had been clerks, and three had been carpenters. Also in the group were two barbers, two sailors, two farmers, two carriers, two saddlers, a roller, a jeweler, a shoemaker, a salesman, a musician, a wheelwright, a teamster, a machinist, a telegraph operator, a painter, a blacksmith, and a butcher. Generally these men had not had the time to develop into excellent horsemen or good shots. Ten of the men in Company F had previous military experience, and they gave the unit a degree of strength and stability. The average age of the enlisted men in the company was 28-1/2 years. The average height was five feet seven inches. [18]

The commander of Company H was Joel Graham Trimble, the oldest of the four officers. Trimble was born in Philadelphia on September 15, 1832. His family soon moved to Cincinnati, and at the age of 17 Trimble entered Kenyon College. After the discovery of gold in California, Trimble secured his father's permission to leave school, and he started for the goldfields with four companions. Two of them, however, died of cholera in St. Joseph, Missouri, and the other two decided to return home. Not to be discouraged, Trimble continued the journey and walked 60 miles to Fort Leavenworth, where he obtained employment as a herder for the First Rifle Regiment, then making preparations to depart for Oregon. Accompanying the regiment, he reached Oregon City in November of 1849. Hiring an Indian guide, the young adventurer traveled by canoe to the mouth of the Columbia River. In the spring of 1851, he joined the command of Maj. Phil Kearny in another civilian capacity and rode with the First Dragoons to California.

During the trip Trimble participated in two major Indian engagements in what is commonly referred to as the First Rogue River War. In the initial battle, which took place on June 17, Trimble received an ugly wound in the hand as he attempted to rescue a disabled soldier from a ravine. [19]

On February 5, 1855, Trimble enlisted as a private in Company E of the First Dragoons. His first military engagement as a professional soldier took place on October 31, when Company E and a number of other units began a two day battle with the Rogue River Indians on Hungry Hill between Grave Creek and Cow Creek in Oregon. On March 27, 1856, he assisted in a rescue at the Cascades of the Columbia in Washington Territory and on the same day received his first promotion. On January 30, 1857, Trimble made sergeant, but lost his stripes 10 months later for some unknown transgression. In 1858 he was back on the war trail and served with conspicuous gallantry in both the Steptoe and Wright Campaigns. [20]

After being discharged on February 5, 1860, Trimble decided to return to civilian life and spent a few months as a rider for the Pony Express, but he found that he missed the ways of a soldier and re-enlisted on June 16 as a private in Company A of the Second Dragoons, soon to become the Second Cavalry. The beginning of the Civil War found him in Utah, but Company A soon received orders to proceed to Washington, D. C., and arrived in the Capitol City in October of 1861. The next spring Trimble marched with the Army of the Potomac. On May 5 he saw his first action of the war in the Battle of Williamsburg, and two weeks later he made corporal for the second time. Two months later he was wounded in the Battle of Malvern Hill. [21]

Trimble became a sergeant in the Second Cavalry on New Year's Day in 1863, and in February he received the opportunity he had been waiting for: he was offered an appointment as a second lieutenant in the First Cavalry and quickly accepted. He continued to serve throughout the war and participated in many important engagements, including the Battle of Gettysburg, where he received another wound. Gen. Philip Sheridan personally complimented Trimble after the Battle of Cedar Creek and during the pursuit of the Confederate Army to Appomattox. On January 3, 1864, he made first lieutenant, and he earned two brevets shortly thereafter. The first was for gallant and meritorious service in the Battle of Trevilian Station, and the second was for gallantry at Cedar Creek. After the war, Brevet Major Trimble accompanied his regiment to Texas and then back to Oregon. He became a captain on December 26, 1868, after having previously declined promotion and transfer to the Ninth Cavalry. [22]

In 1873 Company H rode to California to fight in the Modoc War. While on patrol on July 1, Trimble's scouts encountered a Modoc named Humpy. Joe, who led the officer to the refuge of Captain Jack on Willow Creek There Trimble received the wily warrior, who surrendered his weapon and gave up the fight. [23] After the end of the Modoc War, Trimble commanded Camp Warner and Camp Hearny in southeastern Oregon. He reached Fort Lapwai with his company on May 9, 1877. [24]

As one comrade put it, Trimble was "rather spare." He could not have weighed more than 140 pounds, and yet he was almost as tall as Perry. He was a fine horseman, and had gained the admiration of his men for endurance. "A cup of coffee and a few crackers," wrote his first sergeant, "was [sic.] all he ever required for the longest and hardest day's ride," [25] Howard noted that Trimble had a slight cast in one of his eyes because of a wound he had received at Gettysburg. He was, in fact, partially blind in both eyes. [26]

William Russell Parnell was the junior officer for Company H, and it would have been difficult to have found a better one. Born in Dublin, Ireland, on August 13, 1836, Parnell enlisted in the Fourth Hussars of the British Army at the age of 18. He later transferred to the Lancers and fought in the Crimean War, participating in the capture of Sebastopol. He was one of the few survivors of the fabled Charge of the Six Hundred at Balaclava. [27]

Parnell immigrated to the United States in 1860, and soon after the start of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Fourth New York Cavalry. Probably because of his military experience, his comrades elected him a first lieutenant. In 1861 and 1862 Parnell served with Blenker's Division in the Army of the Potomac in the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia. He took part in the Battles of Cross Keys, Port Republic, Cedar Mountain, and Second Manassas. With the Cavalry Corps he fought in the Battles of Fredericksburg, Beverly Ford, Brandy Station, Stoneman's Raid, Aldie, and Middleburg. During the Battle of Upperville on June 21, 1863, Parnell fell into Confederate hands after leading an unsuccessful cavalry charge, but in August he eluded his captors and made his way to Petersburg, West Virginia. Reunited with his command, he continued to see action in the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Trevilian Station, Petersburg (Virginia), Lee's Mills, Winchester, and Cedar Creek, and in a number of less important engagements. Before being honorably mustered out on December 5, 1864, Parnell had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel and had earned one brevet, that of captain, for the gallantry he had displayed at Upperville. Two years after Appomattox, he received a second brevet for general gallantry and meritorious service. [28]

Parnell applied for a commission in the regular army near the end of the war, and on February 3, 1866, he accepted an appointment as a second lieutenant in the First Cavalry. He made first lieutenant on October 15. During the summer of 1867, Parnell joined his company from detached service and almost immediately received orders to march to California in order to participate in a campaign against a band of hostiles operating on the Pitt River. Lt. Col. George Crook led the punitive expedition, which consisted of Company D of the Twenty-third Infantry, Company H of the First Cavalry (commanded by Parnell), and a group of Boise scouts. Before long the force encountered a band of warriors on the south fork of Pitt River. Entrenched behind boulders on a high and almost inaccessible ledge of rock, the Indians promised to sell their lives dearly. On September 26 Crook ordered an assault. Parnell led Company H and the Boise scouts up the south bluff, but the warriors welcomed them with a devastating volley, and the troops returned to their camp at the base of the mountain as darkness descended. At daylight Parnell led a second charge. Moving through a hail of bullets, the attackers gained ground and were able to enter the stronghold. There they found 20 dead hostiles in a sea of blood. The rest of the Indians, however, had made their escape through a subterranean passage. Crook recommended Parnell for another brevet for his part in the action, and he soon earned the right to be addressed as lieutenant colonel. During the next decade Parnell continued to serve in the Northwest and fought in a number of Indian campaigns. On March 14, 1868, he was wounded at the Battle of Dunder and Blitzen Creek in Oregon, and like the other officers under Perry's command, he saw action in the Modoc War. [29]

Parnell bore the marks of many hard campaigns. At Upperville he had been shot in the left hip, and the bullet had imbedded itself in the bone. His doctor had decided to leave the missile where it was, and the veteran officer still carried it with him. Parnell had also received a number of deep saber cuts at Upperville, and one of them had severed the bone in his nose. Becoming a prisoner of war after the battle, he had received no medical attention, and the bone had corroded and fallen away, leaving a gaping hole in the roof of his mouth and depriving him of the ability to articulate. Parnell had a metal plate made to cover the aperture and although it permitted him to speak intelligibly, it caused his voice to rise in pitch. Too, the plate was fragile, and he lived in constant fear of breaking it. He did just that in November of 1869, and had to travel to Portland to have a new one made and inserted. [30]

Michael McCarthy described Parnell as "a large fleshy man," who "taxed the powers of his horse quite heavily." [31] Although he called the Irishman a fine soldier, McCarthy declared that he could not measure up to Captain Trimble in skill or endurance. In his journal McCarthy referred to Parnell obliquely:

We had the advantage of contrasting . . . [Trimble's] endurance on horseback with that of the first Lt., an ex English dragoon guardsman who claimed a high degree of skill in H. B. M. [Her British Majesty's] service. The ex British dragoon was not in it, when it came to campaigning and physical endurance. [32]

Michael McCarthy was the first sergeant of Company H. Born in St. John's, Newfoundland, he was 32 years old. He had apparently enlisted in the army shortly after the close of the Civil War. He had seen duty on the Mexican border and had fought in the Modoc War, where he had participated in the capture of Captain Jack. Before entering the army, McCarthy had been a printer. He was five feet seven inches in height. He had reddish brown hair, brown eyes, and a ruddy complexion. [33]

The other non-commissioned officers of Company H were Sgts. Patrick Reilly, Isidor Schneider, Henry Arend, John Conroy, and William Havens; and Corporals Michael Curran, Reman D. Lee, Michael Milner and Frank L. Powers. The company had only one trumpeter, Frank A. Marshall, since Albert Reilly had been tapped for detached service at Fort Walla Walla on May 6. John Drugan was the farrier, John Galvin the saddler, and Albert Meyers the company blacksmith. Other privates in Company H were Michael Behen, Theodore Bezent, Maier Cohn, Adalaska B. Crawford, Thomas Daly, John S. Davidson, John B. Davis, Valentine Edwards, John Foley, Charles E. Fowler, William Gallagher, Charles O. Hammer, Aman Hartman, Joseph W. Held, William Hellman, Laurence Kavanagh, Joseph Kelly, James Kennedy, Jackson Mardis, James McAndrew, Frank McCullough, Jesse S. Minnerty, James E. Morrisey, John J. Murphy, Henry Neal, Olaf Nielson, George Patrick, Thomas Powderly, Richard Powers, Timothy Quinn, Joseph Renaud, Charles E. Savonell, Michael Seyler, James Shay, John Shea, John Simpson, Henry Staples, Andrew E. Unger, Albert Werner, and Gottfried Zilly. The normal strength of the company was 58, but in addition to Trumpeter Reilly, Pvts. Burrill, Shafer, and Schultz had been detailed at Fort Walla Walla. [34]

The majority of the men in Company H were foreign-born. Fifteen of them came from Ireland, eight from Germany, three from Canada, and one each from England, Denmark, France, and Austria. Of the 24 men born in the United States, eight came from Massachusetts, four from Pennsylvania, two from New York, two from Connecticut, and one each from Maine, Maryland, Tennessee, Texas, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and California. Forty-five of the men of Company H were in their first enlistment. Before becoming soldiers, 13 of them had worked as laborers, five as farmers, three as teamsters, two as blacksmiths, two as bricklayers, and two as tailors. Other occupations represented were bodymaker, shoemaker, boatmaker, peddler, barber, mill hand, gardener, baker, shopman, boilermaker, painter, plasterer, miner, bookkeeper, engineer, stonecutter, machinist, and carpenter. Nine of the men in Company H had previous military experience. In later years Lieutenant Parnell remembered many of the men in his company had been raw recruits. Actually there were seven that had been in the army less than a year. About 10 of the men in Company H had been in an Indian fight of one kind or another. The horsemanship of the company was generally good. According to Sergeant McCarthy, the men, with a few exceptions, would "stick" a horse bareback and lead another at a gallop. The average age of the men in Company H was 27-1/2 years. The average height was five feet seven and one-half inches. [35]

Two of the enlisted men in Company H were especially worthy, according to McCarthy. Private James Shay had no equal as a soldier when he was sober, which unfortunately was not too often. Shay was five feet eight inches in height. He was born in Tipperary, Ireland, in about 1838. During the Civil War he had received a commission, but before joining his command he got into trouble and had his appointment revoked. McCarthy remarked that Shay had a knack for getting into scrapes, and if there happened to be a "strange" breach of discipline, the Irishman was sure to be involved. Once he rode his horse through the commanding officer's tent. On another occasion he tried to put out a fire by pouring alcohol on the flames. However, in the field and away from whiskey, Shay was a model soldier, noted for his courage and clearheadedness. [36] The other enlisted man was Private Charles E. Fowler. Although he had only been in the army for nine months, Fowler had already demonstrated that he possessed the necessary talents to become a fine soldier. He was brave to the point of recklessness, but, like Shay, he also had a flaw in his personality. He was high-strung and hot-tempered and found himself continually in difficulty because of it. Fowler was about 22 years old. He had been born in Jackson, Michigan, but had spent most of his life in California. Grey-eyed and brown-haired, he was five feet six and one-half inches tall. [37]

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Last Updated: 09-Mar-2003