Nez Perce
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Chapter 14: Consequences

General Howard's soldiers steamed down the Missouri River aboard the Benton and reached Omaha on November 3. Next day, the four hundred officers and men boarded Union Pacific cars for the West Coast. Citizens and military personnel from the Platte department headquarters saw them off, noting that the men appeared "dirty, ragged and footsore[and] presented a sorry appearance." [1] By estimate, the troops had marched more than seventeen hundred miles since leaving Kamiah, Idaho Territory, on July 30, and most of them, by the time they reached their home stations, had gone approximately seven thousand miles. Howard's march was termed in the media "the most remarkable on record." [2] The army, of course, tried to cast the most favorable light possible on what had really been at best a haphazard campaign and, at worst, a sloppy one. The most immediate encomiums went to Miles for the quickness of his victory, which contrasted greatly with the plodding nature of Howard's lengthy pursuit. Congratulations were extended to Miles after Bear's Paw from Generals Sherman, Sheridan, and Terry. Colonel Gibbon sent kudos from Fort Shaw, too, telling Miles that "after coming so far this way to carry off 'our' Indians you might have come a little farther & paid us a visit here." Later, Sherman issued an order thanking Howard's command "that pursued them, as well as the commands of Colonels Sturgis and Miles that headed them off and finally captured them." [3] Regimental general orders thanked officers and men of the units involved, [4] and Secretary of War McCrary proclaimed his "grateful recognition to the zeal, energy, endurance, courage, and skill displayed by General Howard, Colonel Gibbon, and Colonel Miles, and the officers and men under their command, in the prosecution of this most remarkable campaign." [5]

On the evening of November 13, a gala in Howard's honor took place in Portland with many officers on hand who served under him during the campaign. The reception was held at Turn Halle, and Washington and Oregon militia units accompanied the general into the festooned hall to an artillery salute. After welcoming speeches and recitations about the campaign, Howard rose to a thunderous ovation and told the throng: "There has been one campaign continuous, and, we claim, systematic, extending from the time the savage murderers of Idaho forced the unequal battle of White Bird Canyon to the last scene when Col. Miles stood at my side to receive the surrendered rifle of the Indian Chief." [6] On December 1, 1877, Howard issued General Field Orders No. 8, congratulating the men of the Department of the Columbia who participated in his campaign, including "officers and soldiers of the Army, volunteers, scouts, and other citizens, who rendered in various capacities willing and valuable aid as occasion demanded."

From the 14th of June to the 5th of October the pursuit was continuous—not a day passed that some part of the force was not marching, crossing torrents, climbing mountains or threading their rocky defiles. From the Snake and Salmon Rivers in Northeastern Idaho, across the Continent, to within a day's march of the "British Line," you pursued a foe, at first cruel, arrogant, and boastful; but after the successful battle of the Clearwater, intent only on escaping and eluding your attack. [7]

The tributes to and from Howard, while sincere, also helped assuage the bitter and sometimes unjust criticism he had received throughout most of the course of the campaign. Although Howard rationalized his performance to the best advantage, it was perceived generally in a negative light by the media, especially after Miles's sudden victory at Bear's Paw. In his report of August 27, 1877, written at Henry's Lake, Howard—already under scrutiny by the press—had enumerated the positive results of his campaign thus far as (1) the end of citizen murders by the Nez Perces after the Battle of White Bird Canyon; (2) the ejection of the tribesmen from the Salmon-Snake river country and the destruction of Looking Glass's village; (3) the anticipation of the movements of the Nez Perces at Cottonwood, leading to the victory at the Battle of the Clearwater; and (4) the driving of the Nez Perces out of Kamiah, their pursuit out of Idaho into the buffalo country, and "the Department of the Columbia freed from their presence." [8] Before Howard's departure from Idaho Territory, his campaign drew little negative editorial comment in the regional press, even if the New York Herald had mentioned the government's deliberation over replacing him with Crook as early as July 16. His perceived ambulatory progress began to draw sharp notice after the post-Clearwater failure to check the tribesmen before they headed out over the Lolo Trail. After the Fort Fizzle episode, Howard complained of the editorial criticism to Governor Potts in a letter that was widely reproduced. Later, when Sherman contemplated replacing Howard with Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert, the news found its way into print. [9] The Philadelphia Times called Howard a "feeble braggart" whose "career, both military and civil, has been a lamentable failure." [10] After Camas Meadows, the New York Herald averred that "Howard now finds himself reviled as a failure by a public which supposed that he was pursuing the Indians when, in fact, they were pursuing him." [11] (In fact, the Nez Perces themselves grew contemptuous of the general, applying to him the sobriquet, "Day After Tomorrow," because of his propensity to fall so far behind them. [12]) Howard believed that the newspaper abuse of him for a perceived lack of aggressiveness was patently unfair. He was likely correct, for it is implausible that anybody could have done more under the circumstances that existed regarding terrain and logistics, factors augmented by the extreme determination and mobility of the Nez Perces. Even McDowell failed to appreciate these realities, and his own critique of Howard's campaign to his department commander was devastating. [13] A major criticism of Howard, however, has to be leveled at his role in the councils preceding the Salmon River murders. At the least, his lack of diplomatic sensitivity at Fort Lapwai contributed to creating an atmosphere that promoted the outbreak of violence. Moreover, the presence of troops to bolster the dictums of agents of the Indian Bureau only exacerbated existing intratribal tensions and promoted the inevitability of open conflict.

Conversely, in Howard's support it must be said that he did what he could initially with the limited force at his disposal; requests for reinforcements were in process when the fight at White Bird Canyon commenced. And later, with a weary, footsore army, he kept moving forward, although the realities of the march made whatever progress he achieved nearly unbearable. Persistent criticism that he remained in camp every Sunday to conduct church services for his men was unfounded. "As to the story that he peddled out Bibles to the soldiers, . . . there was not one in the force, the General himself only having a 'Daily Food' selection of Bible texts, which he carried in his vest pocket." [14] The Army and Navy Journal went to Howard's defense:

Howard followed his game untiringly through two [sic—three] departments and over twelve hundred miles of territory, and 'got in at the death,' in hunter's phrase. The fact is equally plain and equally to his credit that after he had hunted his prey successively into the grasp of Sturgis and Miles, General Howard refused to appropriate any of the glory of the final exploit to himself, leaving the command in the hands of Miles. [15]

In an attempt to defuse the censure, Howard issued a highly defensive "Supplementary Report" of his campaign, most of which was drafted by Lieutenant Wood, and which was published at the end of the Report of the Secretary of War, 1877, as well as in a separate edition. So averse was he to the criticism of his reputed slothful pace throughout the expedition that he closed the paper with a point-by-point rebuttal to specific charges regarding his rate of march to White Bird Canyon and to the battlefield at Clearwater, his perceived delay in starting over the Lolo trail, and his proximity to the Nez Perces at various points of the march. In support of his contention, he offered a statistical summary showing, for example, that "the march to Captain Perry's battle-field, of 80 miles, averaged 2 5/8 miles per hour, including all rests and halts." He also presented a computation of "exceptional marches" made by his total force, which included the mileage of treks of consecutive days, and a table showing that in seventy-five days his force traveled 1,321 miles from Weippe in Idaho Territory to the embarkation point on the Missouri River, making an average daily distance of 17.61 miles. [16] While the data must have contributed to clearing up the record in Howard's mind, the public perception of his tardiness in the Nez Perce War, created in large measure by the media, remained.

The combination of bad luck and bad press dogged Howard beyond the end of the campaign. While he continued to draw heated criticism, Miles, conversely, basked in the publicity for his work at Bear's Paw and emerged as the leading Indian fighter in the army, notably rivaling Crook and supplanting the dead Custer. [17] Unfortunately, the controversy that swirled between Howard and Miles in the weeks and months following the surrender at Bear's Paw only added to Howard's woes and tarnished what had earlier been touted as an air of cooperation that had brought about the final success of arms. Miles's initial messages from the battlefield following the capitulation of the Nez Perces slighted (probably purposefully) Howard's presence there. In his announcement of victory on October 5, Miles stated that "We have had our usual success," but made no mention of Howard or the role of his two Nez Perce interpreters in undertaking the negotiations leading to the surrender. And in his more lengthy report of the next day, the colonel acknowledged only that Howard "arrived on the evening of the 4th, having come forward in advance with a small escort," and only at the very end of his dispatch. He was more gracious in his congratulatory message of October 7, in which he cited the general's presence "to witness the completion of his arduous and thankless undertaking." [18] For his part, Howard seemed satisfied. "Permit me to congratulate you with all my heart," he intoned in his letter of October 7 to Miles, "and give you, your officers and men, my sincere thanks for your grand success." [19]

But in the aftermath of the event, Howard's attitude soured. He believed that Miles's initial dispatch—purportedly mentioning that Howard was present and had assisted in the surrender—had been forwarded purposefully omitting any reference to himself; in fact, the brief statement of October 5 announcing Joseph's surrender (and subsequently published both in tabloids and in Report of the Secretary of War, 1877) did not contain a reference to Howard. The dispatch of the following day, while alluding to his presence, was not published in its entirety, and the portion published did not include the reference to Howard. Thus, the acknowledgment did not appear in the newspapers, and editorially Miles was credited solely with the victory. Howard, deprived of any of the initial reward, came to believe that the original dispatch had mentioned him, but that Miles had deviously expunged the reference before his courier departed the battlefield.

Howard learned of the omission on arriving in Bismarck. He was, recalled Lieutenant Wood, at once "heart-broken and furious." On October 22, he telegraphed to Sheridan a report in which he stressed his intentional slowing of his command to let Miles overtake the tribesmen, as well as the role of his Nez Perce interpreters in producing the surrender. Then he and Wood journeyed to Chicago, ostensibly to discuss the arrangements he had made with Miles respecting the Nez Perces. There Wood delivered an account of the surrender, together with a copy of Howard's report to Sheridan"a flattering account of his share in the hostilities" to the Chicago Tribune (published the morning of October 25). Howard also granted a disconsolate and paranoiac interview to the Chicago Times (published October 26) and then sought an audience with a fuming Sheridan—who believed the publication of the dispatch to be a breach of military formality—to set the record straight. [20] In a letter to the division commander, a contrite Howard wrote:

I wish to assume the entire responsibility for the publication of the dispatch sent to you from the Missouri River. I wished the publication made with a view of placing in succinct form before the public the facts of the campaign as they appeared to me and I did not dream of there being any objection from yourself in the premises, and I am very sorry to have compromised you in any way. [21]

Miles initially stayed aloof from the brewing storm, but eventually he could not resist getting involved, despite Sherman's private admonition to him to "Keep quiet." [22] In December, Howard addressed a note to Miles: "In my presence, in your tent, you inserted the fact of my being with you—giving, I think, the arrival, the evening before. Were the words of this struck out before the dispatch left you or after?" [23] More than a month later, Miles wrote back, assuring Howard that the October 6 dispatch had gone forward in its entirety; he also noted that the newspapers had omitted the last paragraph of his general order of the seventh in which Howard's presence was mentioned. Miles continued: "If this garbling of official documents has been done by one officer to the prejudice of another, it has been done without my knowledge and outside of my command, and in my opinion is a dishonorable act." Then he took Howard to task:

Your statements in public, your official documents and comments thereon, particularly your congratulatory order, have been received with just indignation, as the representations contained therein are not considered in accordance with well-known facts, or your letters written to me at the time. I can appreciate your desire to compliment your own troops, but I regret that you should have found it necessary to claim that which you were not entitled to, as well as to ignore the bloody engagements on this side of the mountains, for in so doing, you do an injustice to those who were killed and wounded, days after you, with your command, had abandoned the pursuit. [24]

For the next several months, Howard and Miles exchanged a bitter correspondence over the affair, with Miles just as adamantly critical of the general's slighting of his command's role in his public accounts. In one letter to Miles in 1878, Howard claimed to be "astonished" at Miles's allegations. Howard wrote that:

My own report has, I think, done you and your officers no injustice. I claim nothing but simple truth, and would, as you know, rather have honored you than myself. You fought the battle and succeeded and if there is any language in which I can state it to the credit of yourself, your officers and your men I was willing, and remain willing to do so. [25]

Miles responded to Howard: "You virtually gave up the pursuit." But the dispute always came back to the initial announcement of the victory. Almost twenty years later, Howard still complained that "the telegram . . . should not have been altered so as to leave out the fact of my being there. Who changed the telegram I do not know. Gen. Miles was my devoted friend till then." [26]


Nez Perce, Summer 1877
©2000, Montana Historical Society Press
greene/chap14.htm — 26-Mar-2002