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The Nez Percé Campaign, 1877

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The Nez Percé Campaign, 1877
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Author(s): G. O. Shields & Edmond Stephen Meany
Date Published: 2010/10
Page Count: 136
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-229-1
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-230-7

A great Indian chief and giant of the history of the western frontier

Many of the names of the leaders of the tribes of native American Indians of the nineteenth century have become known to the entire world. Though they often appear in tandem with the generals who opposed them, it must be remembered that these men—warriors from martial races—were not at the head of an enemy army. They sought only to maintain the fundamental right of their people to live freely on their ancestral lands. They were brave to a fault, always fighting to protect their way of life, women, elderly and children. Under resourced and ultimately outnumbered theirs was destined to be a losing battle against the pale faced newcomers; their ends and those of their people were therefore universally tragic. Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé had given pledged to his dying father that the land that held his bones would never be given up. But ‘Manifest Destiny’ knew no compromise and so it was that in 1877 Chief Joseph found himself leading his cold and hungry people on a fighting withdrawal to the safety of British Canada pursued by the US Army under Howard and Miles. This is the history of those times accompanied here by the reflections of Chief Joseph himself in an interview given in later life. An essential chronicle for all those interested in the history of the West. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.

Finally the night ended and the day approached from behind the eastern hills. As soon as it was light enough to see to move advantageously the little army was again astir; but its movements were yet as silent as the grave. Under whispered orders and with stealthy tread Sanno’s and Comba’s companies, deployed as skirmishers, descended the bluff into the valley, groped their way through the willow thickets, waded the icy river, the water coming nearly to their arm-pits. Logan, Williams, and Rawn, with their companies, were sent to the extreme right to cross and attack the camp near Ruby Creek, while Lieutenant Bradley, with his handful of soldiers and citizen scouts, was sent down the stream with orders to cross and strike the camp lower down. As the light increased the troops were advancing cautiously, when an Indian who had crawled out of his lodge and mounted a horse, rode out of the willows directly in front of Bradley’s men and within a few feet of them. He was en route to the pony herd on the hill-side above, and so quietly had the advance been made that even he had not heard or seen the men, and was within a few feet of them when he emerged from the thicket of willows. He and his horse were instantly shot down.<br>
The order had been given, “When the first shot is fired charge the camp with the whole line.” And most eagerly was this order obeyed. Volleys were fired into the teepees, and with an eager yell the whole line swept wildly into the midst of the slumbering camp. The surprise was complete. The Indians rushed from their lodges panic-stricken by the suddenness and ferocity of the attack. They ran for the river banks and thickets. Squaws yelled, children screamed, dogs barked, horses neighed, snorted, and many of them broke their fetters and fled.<br>
Even the warriors, usually so stoical, and who always like to appear incapable of fear or excitement, were, for the time being, wild and panic-stricken like the rest. Some of them fled from the tents at first without their guns and had to return later, under a galling fire, and get them. Some of those who had presence of mind enough left to seize their weapons were too badly frightened to use them at first and stampeded, like a flock of sheep, to the brush.<br>
The soldiers, although the scene was an intensely exciting one, were cool, self-reliant, and shot to kill. Many an Indian was cut down at such short range that his flesh and clothing were burned by the powder from their rifles. Comba and Sanno first struck the camp at the apex of the V, and delivered a melting fire on the Indians as they poured from the teepees. For a few minutes no effective fire was returned, but soon the Indians recovered in a measure from their surprise and, getting into safe cover behind the river banks, and in some cases in even the very bed of the stream, opened fire on the soldiers, who were now in the open ground, with terrible effect.<br>
The fire was especially destructive on the right or upper end of the line where the river made a short bend. As Logan, with a valor equal to that of his illustrious namesake, swept forward, he and his men found themselves directly at the backs of the Indians hidden in this bend, who now turned and cut them down with fearful rapidity. It was here that the greatest slaughter of that day took place. Logan himself fell, shot through the head, and at sight of their leader’s corpse, his men were desperate. Regardless of their own safety, they rushed to the river bank and brained the savages in hand-to-hand encounters, both whites and Indians in some cases falling dead or wounded into the stream and being swept away by its current.<br>
In twenty minutes from the time the first shot was fired, the troops had complete possession of the camp, and orders were given to destroy it. The torch was applied with a will, and some of the canvas lodges with the plunder in them destroyed, but the heavy dew had so dampened them that they burned slowly and the destruction was not as complete as the men wished to make it. Many of the lodges were made of skins, and these would not burn at all.<br>
Though the Indians were driven from their camp they were not yet defeated. Joseph’s voice, and that of his lieutenants, White Bird and Looking Glass, were heard above the din of battle, rallying their warriors and cheering them on to deeds of valour. <br>
“Why are we retreating?” shouted White Bird. “Since the world was made, brave men have fought for their women and children. Shall we run into the mountains and let these white dogs kill our women and children before our eyes? It is better that we should be killed fighting. Now is our time to fight. These soldiers can not fight harder than the ones we defeated on Salmon River and White Bird Canyon. Fight! Shoot them down! We can shoot as well as any of these soldiers.”