About 1988 I read a book by David Latimer. It was "Let Me Be Free: the Nez Perce tragedy". Since reading that book I've been fascinated by their history. The words of Chief Joseph remain in my heart, because all he wanted was what we all want. To be Free.
His words. "Let me be a free man- free to travel, free to shop, free to work, free to trade, where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself- and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty."
What Chief Joseph wanted is to enjoy the same protections and rights afforded all citizens of this country. During my trek across 24 of these United States, I encountered signs of the Nez Perce and their flight to freedom. The first time I crossed their path and was aware of it was in Yellowstone National Park. In Idaho and Washington we crossed paths several more times. It was mostly about gold and farmland. It was there, where the Nez Perce lived, so we moved in and moved them out. Several of the tribes of the Nez Perce Nation refused to accept the reservations and would not sign the treaty. For thousands of years the valleys, prairies, and plateaus of north central Idaho and adjacent Oregon and Washington have been home to the Nez Perce peoples. Their first contact with white men came when the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through their lands. They received the travellers graciously, gave them supplies, and told them about the river route to the Pacific. Soon fur trappers and traders, both British and American followed in their wake. In the 1840's settlers began making their way westward along the Oregon Trail, and in 1846 the Nez Perce found themselves part of the U.S. when we divided the Oregon Country with Britain along the 49th Parallel. Washington Territory was formed in 1846 and it's governor met with the chiefs of the Nez Perce and created a reservation under their exclusive domain, which included most of their traditional homelands. The discovery of gold on the reservation in 1860 raised calls from white people for a smaller reservation which excluded the gold fields. In 1863 a new reservation was drawn up which included only a tenth of it's original size. A few tribes submitted to this treaty, but many did not. Among those in opposition was Old Joseph, who led a band in Oregon's Wala Walla valley. His son, Joseph, who would succeed him as chief, hoped a peaceful solution could be found for he didn't want war nor did he want to leave his home. In May 1877 these non-treaty Indians were told that the U. S. Army would forcibly move them to the new reservations. A couple of incidents made it impossible for a peaceful solution and the Nez Perce War began on June 17, 1877, when a small band of Nez Perce imposed a crushing defeat on a superior force of soldiers at White Bird Canyon.
This is White Bird Canyon - I'm not very practiced at merging these photos, but I am working on it.(Scroll back left)
White Bird Canyon Battlefield Memorial
White Bird Grade
For 60 years after it's construction was completed in 1915, White Bird Grade served as Idaho's only north-south highway. Many tortuous curves and switchbacks let the road climb 2900 feet in 14 miles. The highway (US 95) from which I took the photograph did not replace it until 1975.
Part of the Camas Prairie
Nez Perce land
Part of the reservation
Most looks like this
We didn't give them the best of their lands
A railroad trestle across Lawyer's Canyon (1908)
More of the White Bird Grade
The Lapwai Mission
The Nez Perce Indian Agency House
The Indian Agency cabin (1862)
The bridge into the park
The Nez Perce Historical Park
A vew from the visitors center
A sweat lodge
The Colville Reservation in Washington
Way of the Cross Indain Baptist Church
The grave of Chief Joseph
They still put flowers there
Sunset over Nespelem, WA
Sundown in Nespelem
The same sunset further west
There are times when travelling you can view the same sunset or sunrise from different points. Because of the terrain I was able to photograph this sunset again about 50 miles further down the road.
The boulders you see here were dropped by glaciers eons ago. The truck in the first photo is closer than the boulder, so you can see the size. These were not put here by man. Below you can see they dot the landscape wherever the glacier decided to leave them.
St. Joseph's Mission
Father Joseph Cataldo began working among the Nez Perce in 1867 and built this church in 1874. Chief Slickpoo, a Catholic Nez Perce gave the land; and Lewiston friends, some Nez Perces, some Coeur d'Alenes, and even some Chinese miners gave money for the building. The small village of Slickpoo grew up around the mission. However weekly mass was faithfully attended by all Nez Perces who lived near enough to ride in. Years ago it was a long way between Catholics and a long way between masses. The people stayed home and used long prayers and hymns in Nez Perce. Annually they came to St. Joseph's for the bishop's visit and sang the Latin mass "cum jubilo" from memory -- without organ or sheet music. Religion played an important part in the lives of the Nez Perce. I will close here with some more words from Chief Joseph. These were said when he accepted defeat and surrendered to General Howard. He resorted to the Indian way of referring to time in terms of the position of the sun or moon. He brought the story of a once-free people to a close by saying,
"From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."
Music is "Wind Voices" by John Two Hawks From his CD "Good Medicine" Visit him HERE