Deprived of their traditional lands, unwilling to abandon ancestral religious beliefs or principles and finally given an ultimatum to move to a reservation in Idaho circumstances conspired.
These factors led 800 of the Nez Perce people with Chief Joseph and other leaders to flee Washington State in June of 1877. Attacked and harassed by the over twice as many US soldiers in pursuit of them, they outwitted and evaded the troops for over four months.
Stories are told of the Nez Perce’s humane treatment of prisoners, their purchases of needed supplies from rather than the plundering of trading posts and of bartering for livestock rather than stealing them
On their epic 2,740-kilometre flight, though, they had to fight 18 rear guard actions. The Big Hole Battlefield in southwestern Montana marks the scene of one of the major attacks.
This grass-covered valley with pine clad hills rising from it presaging the not too distant mountains was positively peaceful on the day my family visited it.
At dawn on August 9, 1877, however, when soldiers attacked the sleeping Nez Perce in their temporary encampment horror filled the valley. One survivor, In-who-lise, had her story recorded in Tough Trip through Paradise, edited by Bennett H. Stein.
“The bullets came through Grey Eagle’s lodge like hail and rain, and hit one of Hoot Owl’s women in the head, killing her dead. Her father said, ‘Try and run across the creek and hide in the willows.’ Then they all tried to get out of the teepee at once, trying to crawl over each other, but the soldiers were there, shooting near the tepee flap which faced the river. Hoot Owl and his other woman and two of the small children were shot dead, and her father shot in the belly. All that she could remember was that her sister Lucy, who is trying to run ahead of her, now fell dead, with a bullet through her head.”
Two months later on October, 5 1877, in freezing conditions, facing starvation and army bullets Chief Joseph surrendered to Colonel (soon to be General) Nelson Appleton Miles, the Miles of our Miles Canyon on the Yukon River.
The Nez Perce were just 60 kilometres shy of refuge in Canada when their harsh trek ended in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana. There Chief Joseph burdened by the suffering around him reportedly said “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
The journey did not end for all the Nez Perce, though. In-who-lise along with Chief White Bird and between 150 and 200 Nez Perce did evade capture by Col. Miles soldiers and made it to Canada.
Finding the refuge they sought and aided by Sioux and Assiniboine peoples at Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan the Nez Perce stayed. Eventually they settled in the Pincher Creek and Fort MacLeod area of Alberta.
Our failure to find alternatives to war for resolving our conflicts, takes an evermore terrible toll 130 years later. The horrific waste of lives and resources will assure our mutual destruction unless we can end war now.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported in June that global military expenditures had risen to more than US$1.2 trillion dollars.
With just a fraction of that sum we could make enormous headway in resolving the environmental and social issues that often lay at the heart of the conflicts wracking our planet.
This Remembrance Day we have a duty, the strongest possible obligation to future generations, to say as Chief Joseph did when it comes to war “I will fight no more.”
The 16th annual Global Village Craft Fair Saturday, November 17 from 11a.m. to 3 p.m. in the CYO Hall at 4th and Steele offers Yukoners fair trade, co-operative and self-help-group crafts from around the world and a chance to support local and global social justice work.
On Wednesday, November 14th a first organizational meeting for the Whitehorse Food Bank Society will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. in the basement of the United Church at 6th and Main.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse.