Building up chief's image allowed officers to claim more glory over his eventual capture.
Lethbridge Herald March 5. 1995
In late 1877 a large segment of the Nez Perce escaped from the Bear Paw battle into Canada, entering around the Wood Mountains, about 160 km east of the Cypress Hills.
Sitting Bull and his mainly Sioux followers, who the prior year had moved into Canada after annihilating George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry at the Little Bighorn, was in the same Wood Mountain region.
"Eventually the Nez Perce moved west towards Fort Macleod," says George Kush, a southern Alberta historian writing a book about the Nez Perce flight into Canada.
"They had about 20 to 25 lodges of men, women and children. When the buffalo were depleted about 1880 they moved westward to the Fort Macleod area and eventually settled along Pincher Creek on a piece of land now a private ranch, west of the town of Pincher Creek."
As the years advanced some of the Nez Perce drifted back into the United States, but about 10 to 12 lodges remained in the Pincher Creek area. eventually integrating with the Peigan people, says Kush.
There are Peigans today who can trace their grandparents and great-grandparents back to the people following White Bird, including Peigan spiritualist Reg Crow Shoe. On his mother's side he traces his roots back to Chief Joseph himself. Among the Nez Perce coming north with White Bird were some of Joseph's immediate family. Some of the Nez Perce children were brought into the Waterton and Pincher Creek areas and left with the Peigan people to be cared for. Crow Shoe's grandmother Warrior was one of these children, a daughter of Joseph, says Crow Shoe. Kush has a list of most of the Nez Perce who crossed the border, including No Hunter a minor chieftain, White Bird and many others.
"Joseph was not the head chief of the Nez Perce," says Kush. "General Howard and other white generals made him out to be much more than he really was. Joseph was a chief, or leader, but not the head chief.
"The leaders were Joseph, Looking Glass, White Bird. Joseph's brother Ollokot and Tuhul Hutsuthat. Yellow Bird was also a war chief. It is said that in military situations White Bird's opinion always carried. The leaders all shared equal authority, Joseph no More than the rest. Ollokot was really a war chief in Joseph's band. Of these, Joseph was the only leader who surrendered. "
Kush says due to Joseph's prominence in councils held with government representatives before war broke out, coupled with the white's misunderstanding of traditional tribal autonomy and rule by consensus, General Oliver Otis Howard and other military leaders continued to believe Joseph was the sole commander and strategist for the Nez Perce dissidents.
The legend of Joseph grew to unassailable heights. The legends deceived the U.S. government, the public and even some historians into believing there was only one Nez Perce leader, Joseph. They believed he alone was responsible for the continued defeats and setbacks suffered by the military during the pursuit of the Nez Perce over more than 2,735 km says Kush.
"By heaping praise upon Joseph's supposed abilities as a war chief, a virtual Native Napoleon as one officer described him, military commanders like Howard, Gibbon and Sturgis could deflect public criticism. over their failure to resolve a bloody conflict," says Kush.
He says even the elegant speeches Joseph is quoted as imparting after his surrender were not his real words. The gist of the message is right, but the words were those of translators and white generals.
White Bird was one of the most prominent war chiefs and the Nez Perce heading north into Canada were basically his band, and whatever other refugees he picked up says Kush. The Canadian group is thought to have included some of Joseph's children he had three wives including a 12-year-old daughter, Noise of Running Feet, later known as Sarah Moses.
With Looking Glass killed, Ollokot dead at Bear Paw and Joseph surrendering, White Bird was the last great war leader. He was a man about 56 years of age, a great warrior as a youth and was considered the top war chief.
But on March 6, 1892 he too was killed, murdered,by one of his own band, Nez Perce Sam.
Sam was tried at Fort Macleod and sentenced to Stony Mountain Penitentiary. He died about a year later, likely of tuberculosis. There is still mystery surroundihg the murder and some feel Sam's wife committed the act.
The trail of the Nez Perce in Canada stretches from Fort Walsh and the Cypress Hills and ends near Pincher Creek, Alberta.
Mainly they refused to surrender, telling the U.S. government to give them their rightful lands back and then, and only then, would they return.
Along their way in Canada some joined up with a small Métis camp of Louis Riel, some drifted back into the U.S. and some were ambushed and killed by Gros Ventre warriors, sent north by U.S. army people to kill the Nez Perce.
Much of the remainder integrated with the Peigans.
The Flight tof the Nez Perce - An Introduction
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