Nez Percé Indian War in Bannock County

In the days when Bannock was a part of Oneida County, the Nez Perce Indians went on the warpath. The trouble started in Oregon and ended a thousand miles away at Bear Paw, Montana. Several accounts of this outbreak have been published, some of them going into much detail, but no one, to our knowledge, has told the story of the rapid flight of a band of Chief Joseph’s followers across Oneida County. To fill the gap and because the history of Bannock County up to 1889 is identical with that of the county of which she formed a part, this chapter is written.

The Nez Perce war, like so many of the early troubles between red men and white, was due to a dispute caused by a treaty.

The first Indian treaty in Idaho was executed between Governor Stevens, of Washington Territory, who was also ex-officio superintendent of Indian affairs, and the Nez Perce Indians, June 1, 1855. Up to this time there had been no serious trouble with the Indians in this part of the northwest, with the exception of the Whitman massacre in 1847, when the Cayuse Indians killed Dr. Whitman and several other settlers. The Nez Perce, however, showing signs of uneasiness at the increasing number of whites and the large tracts of land they were appropriating, Governor ‘Stevens thought it wise to have an understanding with them. In brief, the treaty set apart the Nez Perce reservation, allowing to the Indians certain annual payments and providing for the establishment of an agency and Indian schools, in return for which the Indians ceded to the United States their claim to other lands. One independent, sagacious and brave Nez Perce chief, named Joseph, refused to sign this treaty, and with his adherents, continued to roam the country as before, untramelled by reservation limits or the provisions of treaties.

In May 1877, Chief Joseph and his followers were ordered from the Wallowa Valley, Oregon, to the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho, and given until June 14th to make the move. The Indians felt the injustice of being called upon to observe a treaty to which they had never agreed, and instead of obeying the order, made a rapid journey to the east of the Salmon river country in Idaho, and suddenly attacked the thinly settled whites there, killing; seventeen, and wounding many others. They then fired the settlers’ homes and farms and drove away their horses and cattle. Volunteer companies were quickly formed to protect the whites in the outlying districts, but during the mobilizing of the men, several more were killed. Three other small bands of non-treaty Indians linked their fortunes with those of Chief Joseph; one band, under Chief Looking Glass, another under Chief White Bird, and the third under Chief Tehulhulsote, known as the Dreamer Chief.

General Howard, at Fort Lapwai, who had been relying on a promise given by Chief Joseph to obey the order to move on to the Nez Perce reservation, immediately sent two companies of cavalry, under Colonel Perry, to deal with the Indians, while other soldiers were summoned from Walla Walla, Portland and San Francisco.

The Indians continued on the rampage for the next two days until June 16, 1877. On that day, Colonel Perry arrived on the scene and gave battle to the red men in Whitebird canyon. In an hour thirty-four of his ninety men were killed and two wounded. He beat a hasty retreat to Grangeville.

On June 22nd, General Howard himself took the field with a force of two hundred and twenty-five men and an equipment of artillery. From that time until his final surrender to Col. Nelson A. Miles, October 5, 1877, Chief Joseph led his followers from one point to another, extricating them from apparently hopeless predicaments, and showing a military shrewdness that ranks him among the first warriors of his race.

In their flight eastward one body of Nez Perces pursued a southerly course, crossing Oneida County a little above Eagle Rock, now called Idaho Falls. It is thought that they expected the Bannock Indians on the Fort Hall reservation to rise and join them, but if this was the case they were disappointed. Perhaps the Bannocks saw the folly of casting in their lot with an ally who was already in flight, but as will appear presently, the Nez Perces received no help from the Bannocks.

The Nez Perces followed a trail down Birch creek. At the same time, August 1877, two freighters, named Hayden and Green, were traveling northward to Salmon City, with eight or ten wagons, loaded with merchandise. In their party were two hired men, two Chinamen and a swamper, who was working’ his passage. A party of the Indians met the Hayden and Green outfit and approaching them in a friendly manner, said they wanted to buy flour. Hayden asked them the price then current in Salmon City $1.75 per hundredweight. The Indians beat him down fifty cents per hundredweight in his price, bought and paid for their flour, and moved on. Soon Hayden met a second detachment of the Nez Perces, who also wanted to buy flour. He quoted these men the same price he had sold to the first party for, but the second also beat him down. After paying for their purchase, the Indians passed on and joined their comrades. When the two bands compared notes, they found a discrepancy in price, and turned in their tracks to overtake Hayden. When they came up with the freighters, they forced them to go into camp near the sink of Birch creek, and began riding threateningly around the wagons, which the freighters had corralled in regular form. The swamper became uneasy and, when opportunity offered, took to the hills. After a time the Indians took a barrel of whiskey from one of the wagons and having opened it, used it as a free bar. Now Hayden and his companions felt alarmed. One by one they made cautiously for a willow grove on the creek bank, but one of them was killed within thirty yards of the camp, another ten yards further, while a third was shot down when nearly a quarter of a mile distant. All three bodies were mutilated. The Indians, now maddened with drink, turned their attention to the two Chinamen, whom they abused cruelly. Forcing them down on all fours, they rode the yellow men with spurs, using their whips and rowels freely. Tiring of this sport, the Nez Perces after taking what they wanted, made a bonfire of the freight wagons, which were afterward found burned to the hubs. The Chinamen availed themselves of this opportunity to escape. Both they and the swamper were rescued after wandering for several days in the mountains, but all three men were insane from exposure, hunger, fear and abuse.

Colonel George L. Shoup, of Salmon City, who was expecting the arrival of the Hayden party, went up into the hills where he could get a view of the road, just at the time the Indians forced the freighters into camp, to see whether the wagons had come into sight yet. Taking in the situation, the colonel hurried back to Salmon City for aid, but the rescuers arrived too late. All they could do was to give decent burial to Hayden, Green, and their two companions.

After this massacre, the Indians followed down Birch creek, crossed the Lemhi River and made a long day’s journey, without water, to Hole-in-the-Rock, in Beaver canyon, close to the present town of Highbridge.

At this time, Mr. E. N. Rowland who now lives on a ranch five miles west of Pocatello was traveling northward with a freight outfit. He had gone a little beyond Eagle Rock when word came that the Indians were on the warpath. Hurrying ahead, he overtook other freighters, who in turn held back for others to overtake them. In this way forty or fifty men banded together for mutual protection. Presently, looking southward, these men saw a great cloud of dust approaching, and prepared for trouble, but the newcomers proved to be friendly Bannocks, a hundred and fifty or two hundred strong, who had heard that the Nez Perces were in the country. They were making a raid to steal the invaders’ horses. Mr. “Rowland says the same band passed them again a few days later, leading with them about two hundred captured ponies.

Further on, just as they were going into camp for their noonday meal, the freighters saw an Indian some distance ahead turn out of the road and disappear among the rocks. A couple of hours later, before resuming their march, a few of the freighters made a cautious search and found the Indian dead from thirst. This was the first of several dead Indians found by the freighters, all of whom had died in the same manner. The hot August weather had dried up the few streams between the scene of the Hayden tragedy and the Indians ‘ next halting place, Hole-in-the-Rock. Their whiskey orgy of the previous night had left them in bad shape for a long, dry march and some of the weaker of them perished by the way. It is but a few miles from Highbridge to the Montana line, and the fleeing Nez Perce circled on toward Bozeman, in that state, without perpetrating any more outrages in Idaho. In June of this same year, 1877, a band of Bannock Indians from Fort Hall, influenced probably by the action of the Nez Perce in refusing to be restricted by the terms of treaties, left their reservation and proceeded toward Boise. The band was well armed and well mounted. When word reached Boise that these Indians were in camp, less than thirty miles away, the town was greatly alarmed and a body of volunteers, under Captain R. Robbins, was quickly equipped for action.

A small detachment of men was sent to interview the Bannocks, with instructions to bring the band, or at least the chiefs, into Boise to have a talk with the governor. The embassy returned the following morning, June 20th, bringing with them thirty or forty stalwart Bannock warriors. They created a sensation as they rode double file through the main street of the city to the governor’s office. Here they were introduced to the governor and several of the leading men of Boise, with whom they held a long peace conference. In the end it was agreed that the people of Boise should provide the Indians with provisions and accommodations for their horses until the following day, and give them a few hundred pounds of flour and meat, beside certain amounts of sugar, tea, coffee, tobacco, etc., the Bannocks for their part undertaking to return peaceably to their reservation.

Mr. John Hailey, who was detailed by the governor to see that the compact was carried out, has given us the following account of their departure:

“Early the next morning, with the assistance of a few of our good boys, we gathered up all these contributions and checked up to see if they filled the agreement. Everything was satisfactory, we helped them to pack up, and then tried to impress on them, first, that we had kept and fulfilled our part of the agreement, and second, that they must not fail to fulfill their part of the agreement. They seemed to realize the importance of fulfilling their part, so we bade them a goodbye, wishing them a speedy and safe journey to their home on the Fort Hall reservation. They went and kept their part of the agreement for this year, 1877, but in 1878 they gave us trouble.”

The trouble to which Mr. Hailey refers was the Bannock Indian war, which we will take up in the next chapter.

History of Bannock County, Idaho

Source: The History of Bannock County Idaho, By Arthur C. Saunders, Pocatello, Idaho. U. S. A., The Tribune Company. Limited, 1915

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