Pressure to move the nontreaty bands onto the reservation intensified. On May 3, 1877, and the days following, the final council with the nontreaty Nez Perce was held at Fort Lapwai.

I have been in a great many councils, but I am no wiser.

Chief Joseph

There is a big tent pitched on the parade ground, . and in and around it, squatted on the ground, are about a hundred Indians in the most gorgeous get-ups you can I magine. General Howard and his aides, the Indian Agent, and several of the officers of the post in full uniform are inside talking with Joseph. The outside line of Indians around the tent consists almost entirely of squaws and papooses.

Emily FitzGerald
May 4, 1877

Indian agent Monteith

Chief Toohoolhoolzote, whose band lived in the rough country between the Salmon and Snake rivers, spoke on behalf of the non-treaty Nez Perce. General Howard responded with what he thought was an open mind.

It is my usual manner, proceeding from the kindest of feelings, and from an endeavor to behave as a gentleman to the weakest or most ignorant human being.

Gen. 0. 0. Howard

This patronizing point of view was understood very directly by the Nez Perce.

We have respect for the whites, but they treat me like a dog....

May 3, 1877

Unaware of the offensiveness of a paternalistic point of view, white Americans had no doubt that they knew what was best for Native Americans.

For in the interest of the Indian, in order to change his habits of life and render him speedily self-supporting, there is required. . . "patient and constant perseverance, instructing, correcting and reproving.... They are grown-up children. . . ."

Nez Perce Commission
December 1, 1876

You have no right to compare us, grown men, to children. Children do not think for themselves. Grown men do think for themselves. The government at Washington, "cannot". . . think for us.

May 4, 1877

The negotiations hit one cross-cultural snag after another. Americans, accustomed to a representative form of government, did not un-
derstand how insulting the idea was to people accustomed to self rule. With some of the preliminary misunderstandings unresolved, the talk moved on to another substantive issue: the legality of the Treaty of 1863.

I have heard about a bargain, a trade between some of these Indians [the treaty Nez Perces] and the white men concerning their land; but I belong to the land out of which I came. The Earth is my mother.

May 4, 1877

The Nez Perces did make such an agreement, and as the commission from Washington explained last fall, the non-treaty Indians being in the minority in their opposition, were bound by the agreement and must abide by it.

Gen. O.O. Howard
May 4, 1877

The second day of the council began with restating the crux of the issue from the Nez Perce point of view. This contrasted dramatically with what the whites thought the problem was.

Chief Toohoolhoolzote stood up to talk for the Indians. He told how the land always belonged to the Indians, how it came down to us from our fathers. How the earth was a great law, how everything must remain as fixed by the Earth-Chief. How the land must not be sold! That we came from the earth, and our bodies must go back to earth, our mother General Howard stopped the chief.

Yellow Wolf

I don't want to offend your religion, but you must talk about practicable things; twenty times over / hear that the earth is your mother and about chieftainship from the earth. / want to hear it no more, but come to business at once.

Gen. O.O. Howard
May 7, 1877

General Howard was showing mad. He spoke sharply, "If you do not mind me, if you say, 'No,'soldiers will come to your place. You will be tied up and your stock taken from you."

Toohoolhoolzote answered, "I am telling you! / am a chief! Who can tell me what I must do in my own country?'

General Howard was now strong mad. He spoke in loud voice, "/ am the man to tell you what you must do! You will come on the reservation within time / tell you. If not, soldiers will put you there or shoot you down !'

Chief Toohoolhoolzote did not become afraid. His words were strong as he replied, "/ hear you!... I am a man, and will not go! I will not leave my home, the land where I grew up!'

Yellow Wolf

I then .... say, "Then you do not propose to comply with the orders?' He answers, "So long as the earth keeps me, / want to be left alone; you are trifling with the law of the earth.' I reply, 'Our old friend does not seem to understand that the question is, will the Indians come peaceably on the reservation, or do they want me to put them there by force?'

He [Toohoolhoolzotel declared in substance, 'I never gave the [treaty] Indians authority to give away my lands.... The Indians may do what they like, but I am not going on the reservation!"

Gen. O.O. Howard
May 7, 1877

General Howard now called a soldier to come forward. He pointed to Toohoolhoolzote and ordered, "Take him the guardhouse."

Yellow Wolf

...Chief Toohoolhoolzote was arrested for speaking his mind.

(Bow and Arrow Case)

Chief Toohoolhoolzote was held in the guardhouse for eight days while the council continued.

In a council next day General Howard informed us in a haughty spirit that he would give my people thirty days to go back home, collect all their stock, and move on to the reservation, saying, "if you are not here in that time, I shall consider that you want to fight, and will send my soldiers to drive you on."

I said:" ...I cannot get ready to move in thirty days. Our stock is scattered, and Snake River is very high. Let us wait until fall, then the river will be low. We want time to hunt our stock and gather our supplies for the winter."

General Howard replied, "If you let the time run over one day, the soldiers will be there to drive you on to the reservation, and all your cattle and horses outside the reservation at that time will fall into the hands of the white men."

Chief Joseph



The Nez Perce Flight to Canada - An Introduction

 How do I participate in the student Sketchbook Project?

Back to Our Heritage Home Page