Nez Perce
National Historical Park
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National Battlefield

Epilogue: Later Lives

Colonel Nelson A. Miles gained the most benefit from his participation in the Nez Perce War. His success at Bear's Paw boosted his stock among the leading Indian-fighting officers of the army. In 1880, Miles won the rank of brigadier general commanding the Department of the Columbia, succeeding Howard in this assignment. Five years later, he took command of the Department of the Missouri, headquartered at Fort Leavenworth. In 1886, he supplanted General Crook in the campaign against the Chiricahua Apaches, finally forcing Geronimo's surrender. When Crook died in 1890, Miles moved to Chicago to command the Division of the Missouri, and in 1895, based on seniority, he became Commanding General of the Army. Yet Miles's astounding lack of strategic vision about how the army should change as it assumed new responsibilities in the world during and following the Spanish-American War, as well as his obstinate and increasingly outspoken disposition, rendered him expendable, and he retired in 1903. Largely forgotten in the years that followed, he collapsed and died in 1925, while attending a circus with his grandchildren in Washington, D.C.[1]

Brigadier General Oliver O. Howard went on to oversee field operations during the Bannock War of 1878, in which he vastly improved his performance over that of the previous year. While he never overcame the criticism of his work in the Nez Perce War, Howard nonetheless continued his army career in departmental and divisional commands for another seventeen years, and he served as superintendent of the military academy at West Point. In 1893, Howard received a Medal of Honor for his service in the Civil War Battle of Fair Oaks, where he had lost his right arm. After retirement, he settled in Burlington, Vermont, where he wrote books and continued his activities on behalf of religious and educational causes, including helping to establish Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee. He died in 1909. His son, Guy, who had accompanied him during the long march of 1877, was killed as a major in the Philippines in 1899.[2]

Among the army personnel who had participated in the rout at White Bird Canyon on June 17, 1877, Captain David Perry endured questions regarding his performance there and at Cottonwood and Clearwater. He was exonerated of all charges of misconduct in courts of inquiry held in 1877 and 1878, and he enjoyed a comparatively quiet remainder of his army career. He eventually became colonel of the all-black Ninth Cavalry before his retirement in 1898. Perry died ten years later and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.[3] His two subordinates, Lieutenants William R. Parnell and Joel G. Trimble testified, respectively, for and against Perry in the courts of inquiry. Parnell stayed in the army for another ten years and was promoted to major before retiring because of a disability. Awarded the Medal of Honor in 1897 for his performance at White Bird Canyon, he retired to San Francisco, where he worked as an instructor in military science at a private school. Parnell died in 1910 after sustaining injuries in a fall from a streetcar. Trimble also retired on a disability in 1879 and died in California in 1911.[4]

Captain Stephen G. Whipple—who led the attack on Looking Glass's camp, commanded at Cottonwood, and fought in the Battle of the Clearwater—retired from the army in 1884 with twenty-one years of military service; he died in 1895.[5] Colonel Edward McConville, of the Lewiston, Idaho, volunteers who fought the tribesmen at Misery Hill, later became a major and brevet brigadier general of the First Idaho Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Spanish-American War. Sent to the Philippines, McConville was killed on February 5, 1899, at the outset of the native insurrection.[6] Captain Marcus P. Miller, who charged the Nez Perce positions at Clearwater, continued his distinguished army career, serving with Howard in the field in 1879 and commanding various artillery regiments until 1898, when, appointed brigadier general of volunteers during the Spanish-American War, he led U.S. troops against Philippine insurgents. In 1899, at age sixty-four, Miller retired.[7] His colleague at the Clearwater, Major and Surgeon George Miller Sternberg in 1893 became Surgeon General and one of the most important doctor-scientists in U.S. Army history through his work in bacteriology.[8]

Colonel John Gibbon commanded the departments of Dakota, the Platte, and the Columbia at various times after 1877, rising to the grade of brigadier general before retiring in 1891. He later served a term as commander of the Loyal Legion, a society of veteran officers of the Civil War. At his home in Baltimore, he authored numerous articles about his army service, including those about the Battle of the Big Hole. Gibbon died at his home in February 1896, from complications of pneumonia, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.[9] Of the officers who pursued the Nez Perces after they attacked the army bivouac at Camas Meadows on August 20, 1877, Captain Randolph Norwood had endured the longest and most dangerous encounter. Despite his apparent hypochondria, Norwood stayed in the army until 1889, when he was discharged for disability.[10] Of the tourists who encountered the Nez Perces, Frank and Ida Carpenter both died within a decade of their captivity, while George and Emma Cowan lived long, happy lives. George became a school teacher and an attorney in Montana and eventually became a district judge. In the years after his experience with the warriors, Cowan kept on his watch chain the bullet from his forehead that had almost killed him. He lived to age eighty-five, dying in Spokane, Washington, in December 1926. His wife, Emma, who had suffered the trauma of being captured and seeing her husband shot, lived until 1938, the last survivor of the encounters with the Nez Perces in Yellowstone.[11]

Colonel Samuel G. Sturgis, who pursued the Nez Perces after they emerged from the national park, and who met their warriors at Canyon Creek, subsequently commanded Fort Meade, Dakota, until 1881, when he became governor of the Soldier's Home in Washington, D.C. He retired in 1886 at age sixty-four and died three years later in St. Paul, Minnesota.[12] Sturgis's co-battalion commander at Canyon Creek, Captain Frederick W. Benteen, was promoted to major in the Ninth Cavalry, was court-martialed for drunkenness and disorderly conduct and suspended from rank and one-half pay for one year, and retired in 1888 to his home in Atlanta, where he argumentatively pontificated about Custer and the Little Bighorn until his death ten years later.[13]

Captain Edward S. Godfrey enjoyed a lengthy career in the cavalry. His Bear's Paw wound caused him discomfort in later years and made it difficult for him to wear a belt or carry arms. Nevertheless, he continued his facility for being involved in all of the Seventh's Indian campaigns with his participation in the fighting at Wounded Knee in 1890. Godfrey served in Cuba during the Spanish-American War and rose to brigadier general before his retirement in 1907. He lived at Cookstown, New Jersey, until his death in 1932.[14] Captain Henry Romeyn, who took over command of the disabled Seventh Cavalry battalion at Bear's Paw, continued in the army but never recovered from his wound, which brought him frequent paroxysms of pain. Court-martialed in 1897 for striking a junior officer after having made slanderous remarks about the man's wife, Romeyn won a remittal of his sentence and retired. He died in 1913 while a patient at Walter Reed General Hospital.[15] Lieutenant Charles Erskine Scott Wood continued as Howard's adjutant after the general became superintendent of West Point. Wood resigned his army commission in 1884 and practiced law in Portland, Oregon, becoming a defender of radical and feminist causes. He also cultivated his interests in literature and the arts, and during the early twentieth century, he became a noted poet and satirist, authoring Heavenly Discourse, among other widely heralded works. Wood lived until 1944 at his estate, "The Cats," in Los Gatos, California.[16]

Lieutenant Lovell H. Jerome's promising army career ended tragically after his brave but controversial performance in going into the Nez Perce camp at Bear's Paw. Bibulous habits forced him to resign his commission in 1879 while awaiting sentence of a court-martial. In 1880, Jerome enlisted in the Eighth Cavalry, determined to "go to Texas and win my commission back or never return." Promoted corporal, he took and passed the requisite exams and was recommended for appointment, but regressed, was cited for "frequent acts of drunkenness," and was reduced to the ranks and confined. He later appeared inebriated at inspection and "committed a nuisance on the troop street." On October 30, 1881, Jerome "became so drunk as to be unable to saddle his horse." To avoid "the disgrace attending his trial and conviction," and after an appeal from his father to the secretary of war that he be separated from the service "as speedily as possible," Jerome was discharged on January 31, 1882. In later years, he worked for the U.S. Customs Service, held mining interests in Alaska, and became involved in the McKinley-Roosevelt election campaign of 1900. Jerome became the founder of Alumni Day at West Point, and until shortly before his death in 1935, he remained active in reunion activities at the academy.[17]

Most of the nontreaty Nee-Me-Poo leaders were killed at Bear's Paw. White Bird, of course, remained in Canada until his death. Some surviving warriors and headmen—those who returned from Canada and the Indian Territory—lived out their remaining lives on the Nez Perce Reservation at Lapwai or on the Colville Reservation two hundred miles away at Nespelem, Washington. Husis Kute, the Palouse leader, went to Fort Leavenworth and the Indian Territory with Joseph and served as spiritual mentor to the exiled tribesmen. In 1885, he returned to Lapwai with the Nez Perces assigned there, but later emigrated to the Colville Reservation, where he died.[18] In the years after Bear's Paw, Yellow Bull emerged as an able leader and, along with Joseph, worked tirelessly for his people in the Indian Territory and after. He settled at Colville, but six years later accepted a land allotment and removed his family to Lapwai.[19]

Decades later, many Nez Perce men and women related their experiences with the army in 1877, adding significantly to the knowledge, but also to the perspective, of that history. Among them were Wottolen, the tribal historian (who lived to age 109), Two Moon, White Hawk, and Peopeo Tholekt, all participants in the battles and skirmishes. Over the course of almost three decades, Yellow Wolf, who as a young warrior had lived through the events, gave data to historian Lucullus V. McWhorter and accompanied him several times to the sites of the actions, including Big Hole and Bear's Paw. His reminiscences comprise a vital body of information essential to understanding the course of the struggle from Camas Prairie through Bear's Paw, Canada, the Indian Territory, and after. Yellow Wolf died at the Colville Reservation in 1935.[20] The last Nez Perce survivor of the odyssey was Josiah Red Wolf, who had been but a child when the war took place. He passed away on March 23, 1971, at age ninety-nine.[21]

Joseph lived for twenty-seven years after the fighting ended. Although he had not been the leader of all the nontreaty Nez Perces in their historic trek, that perception by the army, the media, and the American public endured, and to a great extent he came to assume that mantle in the years that followed. Joseph became an anchor for his troubled people during and after their exile in the Indian Territory; he traveled to the nation's capital on their behalf. His favorable persona enhanced his positive image and aided in the final determination to move his tribesmen back to the Northwest in 1885. At Colville, however, he was not initially welcomed by resident tribes, and army troops had to help settle his followers. In 1897, Joseph journeyed again to Washington, D.C., to protest the opening to whites of a substantial portion of the Colville reserve. He visited New York City, and in company with his old nemeses, Generals Oliver O. Howard and Nelson A. Miles, he rode in the dedicatory parade for Grant's Tomb—ironically honoring the president whose policies had brought on the Wallowa crisis. In 1899, he finally got to see his beloved valley in eastern Oregon, but during the visit, white residents told him he could never live there again. Joseph never stopped trying. Four years later, he beseeched an audience in Seattle to help him return home: "I have but a few years to live and would like to die in my old home. My father is buried there, my children are buried there, and I would like to rest by their side." On September 21, 1904, Joseph died in Nespelem, where he was laid to rest.[22]


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