The Mojaves of southwestern Arizona and southeastern California, like the Yumas of the same desert country, often raided travelers along southern trails westward, including the Spanish, Mexicans, and Mountain Men.
In 1827, Mojaves had attacked and killed some members of a trapping expedition led by Jedediah Smith.
Then, during the California Gold Rush, the Mojaves harassed voyagers along the Southern Overland Trail.
In 1850, the army established Fort Yuma near the Yuma Crossing of the Colorado River to protect white migrants (see "Yuma" ).
In 1855, when summoned along with other tribes of the Northwest to a council at Walla Walla in Washington Territory, the Nez Perces had been at peace with whites for half a century, since their contact with Lewis and Clark in 1805.
They even proudly claimed that they had never killed a single white man.
Governor Isaac Stevens’s plan was to open up the majority of Indian lands to white settlement and mining, and to limit the various tribes on reservations.
The Nez Perce bands agreed to Stevens’s terms, in which they were to keep 10,000 square miles of their original domain, including the Wallowa Valley of northeastern Oregon.
The Christianized chief Old Joseph of the Wallowa band was satisfied as long as his people could remain in their ancestral valley.
Yet, in the early 1860s, a gold rush to the region led to another wave of settlers, many of whom decided to stay in the rich Wallowa grazing country.
In 1863, white officials called another council and proposed a revised treaty to further reduce the Nez Perce reservation from 10,000 to 1,000 square miles, all in western Idaho, which meant the cession of the entire Wallowa Valley.
A pro-white faction of the tribe, led by Lawyer, signed the new agreement. However, Old Joseph and the Lower Nez Perces refused.
On returning to the Wallowa Valley, he tore up his Bible out of disgust with the whites’ ways.
In the years that followed, the Lower Nez Perces stayed on in the valley, maintaining a policy of passive resistance. Many of them became involved with the Dreamer Cult,
founded by the medicine man Smohalla, who preached that Indian lands had been bestowed by the Great Spirit and whites had no right to them.
In 1871, Old Joseph died.
Leadership of his band passed to his two sons, one with the Christian name Joseph, the other known as Ollikut.
Shortly after Old Joseph’s death, a new group of white homesteaders moved into the Wallowa Valley and claimed a tract of Indian land.
Young Joseph protested to the Indian agent in the region. An investigation followed.
Based on the results, President Grant in 1873 formally set aside the Wallowa as a Nez Perce reservation.
Nevertheless, the white land-grabbers ignored the presidential order, even threatening to exterminate the Indians if they stayed in the valley.
In 1875, bowing to political pressure, the administration reversed its position to the earlier 1863 decision, declaring the valley open to white development.
In May 1877, General Oliver Howard, following instructions from Washington, ordered the Lower Nez Perces to the Lapwai reservation in Idaho Territory.
They had 30 days to relocate their possessions and livestock. Failure to comply would be regarded by the government as an act of war.
Joseph, fearing a major conflict and the loss of Indian life, argued for compliance in spite of taunts of cowardice from the militant faction.
Ollikut, who had a reputation among the young warriors as a fearless hunter and fighter, backed his older brother, and the issue was settled for the time being.
Yet, at dawn on June 12, while Joseph and Ollikut were south of the Salmon River tending to their cattle, a young man by the name of Wahlitits, publicly shamed for not avenging the earlier killing of his father by a white man and fueled by liquor, set out with two companions on a mission of redemption.
By dark, they had attacked and killed four white men, every one known for his open hostility to Indians.
Their act set in motion a chain reaction of random bloodletting. Over the next two days, other young braves joined the rampage, killing 14 or 15 more whites.
On returning home, Joseph was heartsick at the developments.
But when he saw there was no stopping the other Nez Perce bands from heading south to a hiding place from where they could wage war on the whites, he decided to stand by them rather than abandon his people.
He insisted on one condition, however. Joseph wanted no unnecessary violence—no slaying of women, children, and the wounded; no scalping.
Two days later, with wife and newborn daughter, he joined the others at White Bird Canyon.
In the meantime, General Howard at Lapwai sent a force of more than 100 mounted men into the field under Captain David Perry to round up the hostiles.
The troops received word that the Indians were camped only 15 miles from Grangeville and closed in on them.
Several Indian boys, herding horses outside the camp, spotted the cavalry’s approach.
On the morning of June 17, the Nez Perces sent out a party of six under a flag of truce to parley.
A trigger-happy bluecoat fired at them, however. The Indians fired back, killing two army buglers.
There was no chance of a last-minute peace now.
The remarkable flight of the Nez Perces—their running battle, against overwhelming numbers, that fell just miles short of the goal—would soon be launched.
The battle at White Bird Creek was a one-sided rout.
The smaller force of Indians proved to be superior marksmen despite their old weapons, and they outmaneuvered the soldiers on the rocky terrain.
Thirty-four whites died and four were wounded. By contrast, no Indians died, with only two wounded.
Moreover, the Indians captured a large number of newly issued firearms.
General Howard now led a much larger force into the field to track the renegade Nez Perce bands.
For nearly a month, the warriors and their families evaded the troops along the banks of the rugged Salmon River.
The Indians killed all the members of Lieutenant S.M. Rains’ scouting party.
Meanwhile, other Nez Perces were joining the breakaway bands, including one band under Looking Glass, whose people had been driven off their reservation in an unprovoked attack by a unit under Captain Stephen Whipple.
The Nez Perces now counted about 700 among their ranks, but at least 550 of these were women, children, and men too old to fight.
Leaders among them, in addition to Joseph, Ollikut, and Looking Glass, included Toohoolhoolzote, Red Echo, Five Wounds, Rainbow, White Bird, and Lean Elk (a mixed-blood, known to the whites as Poker Joe).
On July 11, Howard’s regulars, now some 600 strong, caught up with and attacked the rebels at their encampment on Clearwater Creek.
But once again, the Nez Perce warriors outfought and outflanked the larger force, giving their families a chance to escape before finally, after a two-day battle, themselves retreating.
Howard lost 13 men, with three times that number wounded; the Nez Perces suffered four dead and six wounded.
After the Battle of Clearwater, the various band leaders held a council on Weippe Prairie in which they decided to give up band autonomy and govern by democratic vote.
Then they planned their next move. Joseph argued in favor of returning to the Wallowa Valley to fight for their ancestral homelands.
The majority, however, chose to head east through the Bitterroot Mountains to seek a military alliance with the Crows. Looking Glass was given overall command of the journey.
The ragtag force crossed into Montana through the treacherous Lolo Pass.
On July 25, by guiding their horses along the face of a cliff, they bypassed a barricade hastily built by volunteers from Fort Missoula under Captain Charles Rawn.
The failure of this operation led to the name Fort Fizzle for the temporary position.
The Nez Perces outdistanced the volunteers and peacefully traded for desperately needed supplies at Stevensville.
Then they cut south along the Bitterroot Valley. Unaware that Howard was telegraphing messages ahead to military posts in the region with instructions to intercept the fugitives, the Nez Perces stopped to rest in the Big Hole Valley.
At this location, on August 9, about 200 troops under Colonel John Gibbon surprised the exhausted Indian sharpshooters in a fierce counterattack managed to extricate themselves and flee southeastward, crossing back into Idaho.
It had been a costly stopover. Eighty-nine Indians had died, 77 of them women, children and the elderly.
The war leaders Red Echo, Five Wounds, and Rainbow were among the casualties.
But Gibbon’s men, with 33 wounded in addition to the 35 killed, were in no condition to follow.
The colonel, who had been wounded himself, decided to dig in and wait for Howard’s troops.
The pursuit continued.
Howard’s force closed ground on the battered Indian survivors, then commanded by Lean Elk because of Looking Glass’s misjudgment at Big Hole.
On the night of August 18, Ollikut and 28 others cut back for a raid on Howard’s Camp at Camas Creek.
The Indians managed to drive away 200 of the army’s pack mules. During the delay, while the soldiers rounded up their beasts of burden, the Nez Perces angled through the Targhee Pass into Wyoming Territory and the recently established Yellowstone National Park.
Parties of vacationing tourists were startled to see Indians passing through their midst.
The Nez Perces pushed on through the Absaroka Mountains east of Yellowstone.
Looking Glass forged ahead to seek out the help of the Crow Indians, but received nothing more than a pledge of neutrality from one band.
To his dismay, he also learned that some Crows were scouting for the army.
When the other leaders learned there would be no refuge among the Crows, they decided in council to head northward through Montana Territory to Canada.
They now planned to seek the assistance of Sitting Bull, the famous Sioux leader, who had escaped across the border that same year (see "Sioux" ).
Colonel Samuel Sturgis and 350 troops of the Seventh Cavalry were now also in pursuit, approaching from the east out of North Keogh.
The Nez Perces, having spotted their trackers, decoyed them towards the Shoshone River, then doubled back and headed north along Clark’s Fork, a route the whites considered impassable.
On September 13, Sturgis’s men, driving their horses to their limit, caught up with the Indians at Canyon Creek, a dry, high-banked streambed.
But once again, the Nez Perces outfoxed the formally trained American military.
They fought a rearguard action from behind rocks and crevices in a slow retreat along the streambed, while their families hurried on ahead.
Then the warriors blocked the canyon floor with boulders and brushwood.
With three men dead and 11 wounded, plus a shortage of rations, Sturgis gave up the chase.
During the next two weeks, the trail-weary and battle-weary Nez Perces wound their way through the Mountain wilderness toward the safety of the Canadian border.
On several occasions, Crow scouts on fresh horses caught them and forayed against them before retreating.
Many of the Nez Perce horses had gone lame by now, making travel even more difficult.
Some of the old and wounded began dropping behind to whatever fate might come upon them.
The main group crossed the Musselshell River and headed toward the northern reaches of the Missouri River.
On September 25, they reached Cow Island on the river and, while a 13-man garrison hid out, they raided an army depot and obtained desperately needed supplies.
After a minor skirmish north of the river with a small detachment out of Fort Benton, The Nez Perces forged over a stretch of rolling plains and crossed the Bear Paw Mountains.
Feeling more secure north of the range, convinced they had left behind all pursuers, they set up camp in a hollow next to Snake Creek, just 30 miles south of the Canadian border.
Here they would regain some of their strength for the final leg of their monumental trek.
What the Nez Perces did not know was that Howard, again via telegraph, had ordered out still another force, from Fort Keogh to the southeast, under General Nelson Miles,
including cavalry, infantry, and Cheyenne scouts—with orders to skirt the Bitterroot Mountains and block the escape route.
The fresh troops spotted the Indian camp on the biting cold morning of September 30.
Wasting no time, Miles ordered an immediate charge. The cavalry units galloped forward across the plain, the infantry sprinting behind.
In the course of a series of assaults from different directions, many warriors fell, including Joseph’s brother Ollikut and Toohoolhoolzote.
But Nez Perce marksmen took their toll, singling out enemy officers with deadly accuracy.
Miles called off the assault and had his men dig in for a siege, rolling up the artillery.
During the fray, a considerable number of warriors had managed to reach the remaining horses before the soldiers scattered them, escaping either to Canada or to wilderness hideouts; others escaped on foot.
Many probably died in the days to come from exposure. Joseph, separated from the main body of Nez Perces during the early fighting, worked his way back, under rock cover, to center camp.
Howitzers and Gatling guns pounded the Nez Perce positions, but, sniping back with their small arms, the Indians stubbornly held out.
Rain came on the second day, then snow.
A party of six warriors slipped through enemy lines and headed north to seek help from Sitting Bull, only to die at the hands of Assiniboine Indians.
Howard’s troops reached the scene on October 5.
Looking Glass, believing that Sioux reinforcements had arrived, moved forward to observe and took a sniper’s bullet in the face.
Of all the chiefs, only Joseph and White Bird remained.
The time for surrender had come, they agreed.
When White Bird successfully escaped through the ring of soldiers with warriors of his band, only Chief Joseph remained to speak for all the rest—about 350 women and children and 80 men.
Joseph mounted a horse and slowly rode across the battlefield toward the rows of bluecoats, several of his warriors following on foot.
General Howard gave Miles the honor of accepting the surrender.
It was at this time that Chief Joseph gave his speech, a translator and recording officer on hand: "Tell General Howard I know his heart.
What he told me before, I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead.
Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no.
He who led the young men is dead [Joseph’s brother]. It is cold and we have no blankets.
The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food.
No one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death.
I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find.
Maybe I shall find them among the dead.
Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired.
My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."
With those words Chief Joseph carved a special place for himself in Indian history.
Other chiefs had played a larger part in the strategy of the tribe’s remarkable 1,700-mile flight, but by the end of the journey Joseph had become the tribe’s soul;
his anguish, so powerfully expressed, came to symbolize all Indian suffering.
Yet, despite his national prominence and the sympathy generated by his words, he was never granted his desire to return to the Wallowa Valley.
He was sent to Kansas by officials, then to the Indian Territory, and finally to the Colville reservation in Washington, where he died in 1904.
The reservation doctor reported: "Joseph died of a broken heart."
The Paiutes of the Great Basin, ranging within or just beyond the boarders of Nevada, consisted of two major subgroups, the Northern and the Southern Paiutes.
Both sets of peoples resented white intrusion into their territory, beginning in the 1850s with the influx of gold-seekers, and both were involved in conflicts with white troops.
The Northern Paiutes included a number of bands.
The northernmost among them, ranging into Oregon and Idaho as well as Nevada, were the Walpapi and Yuhuskin, also known collectively as the Snake Indians.
Some of these Indians played a prominent role in the Coeur d’Alene War of 1858 and the Bannock War 20 years later.
But they also were the principal players in a war to which they gave one of their own names, the Snake War of 1866-68.
During the Civil War, with most federal troops drawn from the region, the rugged Paiutes had had a relatively free hand in their raids on miners and mining camps, stagecoaches and stage stations, ranches and farms, and freight caravans, especially in the drainage areas of the Malheur, John Day, and Owyhee rivers.
Oregon and Nevada volunteers proved unequal to the task of taming them; in 1865, post-Civil War regulars were assigned to Fort Boise, Idaho, and other posts in the region.
The anti-Paiute campaign began unpromisingly for the army, with warriors under chiefs Pauline and Old Weawa outmaneuvering patrols and suffering few casualities.
But when Colonel George Crook took command of the operations in 1866, the tide turned.
Crook began a relentless series of small tracking patrols that kept the insurgents on the run for a year and a half, forcing them into about 40 skirmishes in which, it is estimated, some 330 Paiutes were killed and 225 taken prisoner.
Chief Pauline was killed in April 1867.
In June the following year, Old Weawa surrendered to Crook with about 800 followers.
The Paiutes remained in the region, drawing rations from Fort Harney.
Some were later settled on the Malheur reservation in Oregon, and they became caught up in the Bannock War of 1878; others were settled on the Klamath reservation, also in Oregon.
Meanwhile, the Northern Paiutes of western Nevada had also engaged white forces in a conflict generally referred to as the Paiute War (also called the Pyramid Lake War) of 1860, the last major western Indian war before the Civil War.
Two trading posts—Williams and Buckland—were situated in the Carson Valley, a relatively hospitable stretch of the California Trail running south of Pyramid Lake, and they served as Central Overland Mail and Pony Express stations.
War broke out with the Southern Paiutes when two Indian girls were abducted and raped by traders at Williams Station.
Warriors attacked and burned the station, rescuing the girls and killing five whites.
Miners at Carson City, Virginia City, Gold Hill, and Genoa organized 105 Nevada volunteers under Major William M. Ormsby.
In May, the force marched northward towards Pyramid Lake. Numaga, a Paiute chief, had fasted for peace but, in view of the recent occurrences, foresaw the inevitable;
he set a trap at the Big Bend of the Truckee River Valley, his warriors hiding behind sagebrush on both sides of the pass. In the original ambush and panicked retreat through the Indian gauntlet, as many as 46 miners lost their lives.
Reinforcements out of California came to Carson Valley, as did a number of regulars, bringing the force to 800.
A former Texas Ranger, Colonel Jack Hays, was given the command. At the beginning of June, the force encountered the Paiutes near the site of Ormsby’s defeat.
After an initial indecisive skirmish, Hays’s men pursued the Indians to Pinnacle Mountain.
Twenty-five warriors died in the fighting and survivors scattered into the hills.
That summer, the army established Fort Churchill near Buckland Station to patrol the valley and keep the trail open.
Three decades later, a Paiute by the name of Wovoka, the founder of the Ghost Dance Religion, played an indirect role in the tragedy on the Plains that brought the Wars for the West to an end—at Wounded Knee (see "Sioux" ).