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


I saw at once that if I allowed these Indians to get away with all their plunder without making any effort to overtake and capture them, it would reflect discredit upon the Army and all concerned.


I felt as if I could take forty winks myself even if there were Indians around.


It would be difficult to convey to the mind of an ordinary reader anything like a correct notion of the state of feeling which takes possession of a man waiting for the commencement of a battle. In the first place, time appears to move on leaden wings; every minute seems an hour, and every hour a day. Then there is a strange commingling of levity and seriousness within him; a levity which prompts him to laugh, he knows not why, and a seriousness which urges him ever and anon to lift up a mental prayer to the throne of grace. On such occasions, little or no conversation passes. The privates generally lean on their firelocks, the officers on their swords; and few words, except monosyllables in reply to questions put, are spoken. On these occasions, too, the faces of the bravest often change their color, and the limbs of the most resolute tremble, not with fear, but with anxiety; whilst watches are consulted, till the individuals who consult them grow absolutely weary of the employment. On the whole, it is a situation of higher excitement and darker and deeper agitation than any other in human life, nor can he be said to feel all that man is capable of feeling, who has not filled it.--Siege of St. Sebastian.


Captain Perry had to halt his command at regular intervals in order to permit the pack train of Company H to keep up. The roads were generally muddy and especially bad in sheltered places. The terrain added to the difficulty. Not far from Fort Lapwai, they entered mountainous country. Heavy timber and deep ravines retarded progress, and the blackness of the night made it impossible for the men to proceed at a fast pace. [1]

About one o'clock in the morning, Lieutenant Parnell took charge of a platoon of skirmishers and put out flankers on both sides. The skirmishers moved ahead of the column about 200 yards, and the flankers kept about 150 yards to the right and left of the main force. There were occasional halts to allow the flankers to maneuver around clumps of thick brush and cross ravines. [2]

They reached the Norton ranch about 10 o'clock in the morning. Under a shed near the house, the men found some wagons loaded with goods that had obviously been disturbed, but, generally, the scene was a peaceful one that belied the visit of a raiding party. The inside of the house showed few signs of unwelcome visitors. [3] The Indians had apparently made an attempt to set the building on fire by throwing a torch into a trunk filled with papers and clothing, but something had caused the lid to fall shut and the flames had been smothered before much damage had been done. [4]

The soldiers dismounted in a field behind the house and turned their horses loose to graze inside the fence. Perry stationed pickets at strategic locations around the ranch to warn him of approaching riders. While the cooks prepared breakfast, the rest of the men lay in the grass and tried to catch a few moments of sleep.

After breakfast, they continued the march. It was about noon when they started for Mount Idaho. It was not long before they began to see evidence of depredations. Dead horses, abandoned wagons, and burning ranches testified to the violence that had been unleashed on Camas Prairie a few hours before. About four o'clock, they reached the wagons owned by Wilmot and Ready. Empty boxes were everywhere. Cigars littered the roadside, and an empty whiskey keg stood nearby. A mile down the road, the pickets noticed a group of men on horseback approaching. The men were from Mount Idaho, and Arthur Inghram Chapman was their leader. [5]

Chapman told Perry that the Nez Perce had crossed the prairie about five hours ago, and that they were traveling in the direction of Salmon River. He believed that unless the troops pursued the Indians quickly and caught them before another day had passed, it might be too late. They would have their stock and belongings across the river a few hours after dawn the next day, and they would be very hard to find in the mountains on the other side. The citizens informed Perry that they knew the Nez Perce well, and that the Indians were cowardly scoundrels, and that they could whip them easily, if they only had enough rifles. [6]

The men rode into Grangeville about sunset. While the troopers made preparations to spend the night, Perry continued his discussion of the outbreak with the citizens. Perry knew that if he allowed the Nez Perce to escape without making any effort to overtake and punish them, he would be loudly criticized by the settlers. They reported that the Indians had in their possession a great many horses that had been taken from them, and they were very anxious to reclaim their property. Howard had given him a certain amount of leeway in his orders so that he need not worry about overstepping his authority in giving chase, but, at the same time, he realized the dangers involved and the fatigue of his men and horses. Perry finally decided to lay the matter before his officers and summoned Trimble, Parnell, and Theller for a conference. After explaining the situation, Perry asked for their opinions and found them all in agreement. They believed the attempt should be made. [7]

In the meantime, the men had been busy making camp. They unsaddled their horses and turned them loose to feed and then prepared their own meager repast--bean soup. Almost all of the men lay down to rest while the beans boiled, but before supper was ready, the order came to saddle up. Some of the men attempted to eat the half-cooked beans, but many did not. "Boots and saddles" came at nine o'clock, and one half hour later, the column was ready to move out. Perry left three men to look after the camp and the property that could not be carried with them. He permitted only ammunition and overcoats to be carried as extra items. [8]

Perry had requested Chapman to augment his force with as many volunteers as he could muster and to provide him with a guide. Chapman promised 25 or 30 men but later showed up with 11, including himself. [9]

The commander of the volunteers was about 36 years old. Apparently born in Burlington, Iowa, he had been named after his mother's father, Colonel Arthur Inghram. The Chapmans left Iowa in 1847 to make their home in the Pacific Northwest. Arthur's father, William William Chapman, was one of the founders of Portland and in 1861 became Surveyor General of Oregon. As a mere boy, during the Rogue River Indian War of 1855-56, Chapman carried dispatches for the Army from The Dalles to Fort Walla Walla. In 1861 he settled on White Bird Creek near the mouth of the rivulet that now bears his name, and, the following year, he began raising cattle and horses. For several years, he operated a ferry across the Salmon River near the mouth of White Bird Creek, and tradition has it that because of the experience he earned the nickname "Ad," an abbreviation for Admiral. [10] He later moved his ranching headquarters closer to the mouth of White Bird Creek. In 1874 he sold his land and buildings to J. J. Manuel and settled on Cottonwood Creek, about eight miles from Mount Idaho, where he continued to raise horses. At the time of the outbreak, he claimed to own 400 head. [11]

Chapman married an Indian woman, apparently a Umattila, who bore him a child. Because he had an Indian wife, some of the settlers held him in contempt, and a number of them resented his election as captain of the volunteers. Chapman was apparently rough and ready--easy to anger and quick to strike out. McWhorter named him as a member of the party that had hanged an Indian called Wolf Head, and according to Many Wounds, Chapman had brutally assaulted two Indian boys whom he had caught stealing his watermelons. He is also supposed to have sold a horse to White Eagle and then taken it from him by force, although Thomas Beal reported that Chapman had been unsuccessful in his attempt to reclaim the animal and that the warrior had given him a sound beating. There are reports that Chapman was on the tribal blacklist for selling Nez Perce beef to Chinese miners, but he apparently maintained good relations with some of the Indians despite his shortcomings. Looking Glass was his friend, and there were others. [12]

George M. Shearer, Frank A. Fenn, Theodore D. Swarts, John Crooks, Charles Crooks, William Bloomer, William Coram, Herman A. Faxon, Vince Tullis, and Johnny Barber, were the other volunteers. Shearer, a 36-year-old Virginian, was second in command. He had attended Tuscarora Academy in Pennsylvania and in 1854 made his first trip west to California. Returning to Virginia five years later, he joined the Confederate Army and rose to the rank of captain. He served on the staff of Brig. Gen. Bradley Johnson and fell into Union hands on three occasions, but each time he made good his escape. After the Civil War, Shearer headed west again, this time to Idaho, and located near the confluence of Elk Creek with Salmon River, where he operated a ferry. In 1874 he won a seat in the Territorial legislature, but lost it the following year to W. H. Rhett. Shearer was a man of tested courage and combat experience and a good choice to serve as Chapman's lieutenant. [13]

Frank Fenn had probably seen more of the world than most men his age. He was born in Nevada County, California, on September 11, 1853. His father, Stephen S. Fenn, who was later to attain political prominence in the territory, took his family to Florence in 1862 and opened the first mercantile establishment in the flourishing mining community. Five years later, Fenn moved to Lewiston to become register of the land office. Frank Fenn attended public school in Florence and later graduated from Whitman Academy in Walla Walla. He received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in 1869, but officials dismissed him in 1873, three months before graduation, for hazing a lower classman. Next Fenn traveled in Europe He was shanghaied in Spain but escaped his captors in Rio de Janeiro and worked his way back to the United States aboard a British sailing vessel. Returning to Idaho in 1876, he located on a ranch near Grangeville and taught school at various times. Hill Norton knew Fenn as his schoolmaster. [14]

Theodore Swarts was born in Warren County, Ohio, on March 11, 1847. In 1852 the family traveled to California and, 10 years later, to Idaho, settling in Florence. After a few years, the Swartses moved to Oregon and then returned to Idaho to farm on Camas Prairie. Theodore attended public school until he was 16 and then tried his hand at mining. In 1877 Swarts worked as an expressman and carried mail from Mount Idaho to Warren. His father, John A. Swarts, was the man who found Lynn Bowers on the morning of June 14. [15]

John and Charles Crooks were the sons of J. W. Crooks, the cattle king and Grangeville promoter. Charles was a boy in his teens. [16] William Bloomer was a prominent Granger and the owner of a steam sawmill located about three miles southwest of Grangeville. [17] William Coram had been born in Bristol, England, on March 29, 1844. The family migrated to Canada and in 1864 settled in New York City. A year later they went west to California. Coram worked as a steamboat engineer until 1868, when he moved to Idaho and became a miner and packer. He had been in Florence on June 14, and had just arrived in time to join the expedition. [18] Little is known about the early lives of Faxon, Tullis, and Barber. Faxon was 28 years old, and the others were also apparently young men. [19]

About midnight the command reached the head of White Bird Canyon. Perry told the men to dismount and passed the word to keep awake. He also issued an order prohibiting fires and smoking. The men were starting on their second night without sleep, and many of them dozed off. Sergeant McCarthy made continual rounds to rouse the sleeping, and he noted that many of the horses had succumbed to fatigue and lain down by their masters to rest. [20]

Forgetting himself, one of the men struck a match to light his pipe. Parnell, who happened to be standing near the man, reported the incident to Perry. Shortly after the match flamed, Parnell heard a coyote howl. He noted, however, that the last note of the howl was different from anything he had heard before and concluded that the sound emanated from an Indian picket, who was signaling their approach. [21] Private Schorr later described the howl as "a shivering one," and declared that it was "enough to make one's hair stand on end." In the silence that followed the men waited for dawn to break. [22]

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Last Updated: 09-Mar-2003