Of Chief Joseph
This accident happened on a Friday and
the river was so high that Webber's body was not found by
the searching settlers until Sunday.
Joseph's brave act was always appreciated by the
valleys few settlers, although, on the whole, they had
little use for the Indians.
Whatever their attitude toward the Indians, it was
fortunate for the early settlers in the Wallowa country that
they had such a man as Joseph to deal with. For, combined
with his natural honesty and his pride in the clean Nez Percé
record in that tribe's dealings with the white man, there
was his intense love of his native land.
This love made him cautious, made him keep his young
men in check so that there would be no excuse on the part of
the whites to drive the Indians out. That is what kept the
Wallowa Indians and the white settlers at peace with one
another during the early years of white immigration into
this valley. Josephs attitude is clearly shown in a letter
printed in 1873. "From a private letter received from Lapwal
we learn that Chief Joseph has visited the post and
is reported to have said that he heard with sorrow that the
whites of Wallows valley expected him and his Indians to
attack them. He said had not, nor did he intend to do any
thing of the kind
Settlers Chanted Clue to Feeling
The attitude of the majority of the
settlers is shown by another letter in the same paper The
writer tells about meeting a few of the settlers at night on
their way out of Wallowa in their wagons, after some sort of
a scare. As they rode, some of them
"Run nigger, run nigger, and try to get away, before
Old Joseph kicks up a row."
Josephs desire for conciliation with the white settlers
has been amply told about in his biographies. But as far as
actual contacts go his biographers have dealt mostly with
his relations with white men during the Nez Peace war and in
his later years, when be became "history and "news."
It is a different thing, a warmer thing, to come across
these little stories of his actions before the war, when he
was still a free and unbroken man, and to know that he was
not only conciliatory (a matter of policy in those upset
years) with the early settlers, but that he was brave and
just and that he really made friends with several of them.
In 1872 there were a series of councils between the
Wallows Nez Percés and
the earliest settlers in the valley. Joseph F. Johnson. who
acted as the interpreter and chairman of the meetings
between the whites and the Indians, told his son Ernest, in
years, that this conversation took place between him and
"Chief Joseph wanted to know how much
land the whites wanted. He said all the Wallowa valley
belonged to tile Nez Percé
Indians and so he (Johnson) explained that the great white
father at Washington told the whites they could come to
Wallowa and each man have 160 acres or one half a
mile square. Which he illustrated to Chief Joseph by
pointing out how large a piece of land it was. That would be
all the land each white man would need."
Joseph laughed and said: "If that is all, you and your
klutchman (women) and papooses can stay and live in peace.
It's all right."
Joseph and Johnson became friends and later, in 1877,
when matters were coming to a head between the
whites, the Indians and the United States government, and
both settlers and Indians were on edge, Joseph sent six of
his trusted couriers to Johnson. These men told him from
Joseph, that his young men were determined to go on the
warpath, but that he was determined that they would never
fight in Wallowa valley or spill blood there Johnson's son
remembered that his father thanked the men and kept them at
his cabin for dinner.
Another of Joseph's white friends was A. C. Smith.
Smith was very popular with all the Indians, one of the
reasons for which, says T. T. Geer in his "Fifty Years in
Oregon." was that he "habitually wore moccasins and white
In 1872 Smith started to build a wagon road into
Wallowa valley from the Grande Ronde country. Joseph came to
Smith's camp to see him about it. He told him he didn't
want any road built into the Wallowa valley, because it
belonged to him and his tribe. If Smith built the road the
whites would soon be coming in to settle. He told him if he
wanted, however, he could run it his horse in the valley.
Smith said that if he did that the Indians would steal
them. Joseph replied, trying to bargain, that if he wouldn't
build his rood, any of his horses the Indians stole would be
brought back to him.
Smith went ahead and built his road, and later, a
bridge across the Wallowa river. But he and Joseph remained
friends. In fact they stayed friends for more than 25 years.
It was Smith who arranged some of the meetings between
Joseph and the Wallowa valley citizens in latter years, when
Joseph visited the valley trying to get back part of it as a
reservation for his people.
R. M. Downey, Wallowa county's first assessor, has told
about how he traded horses with Chief Joseph and had often
beaten him shooting at marks (He didn't mention who beat at
the horse trading!)
Downey said that one of the times he talked with Joseph,
Joseph told him that Chief Moses, from a neighboring tribe,
said for him to kill all immigrants as they clam into the
Wallowa valley or else he would lose his country, Joseph
Would Not Build
Downey also said that Joseph didn't
intend for the settlers to build houses or plow here, he
thought they would only run their stock on his land he said
it would be all right for them to come in.
Another early settler, William McCormick, told of
Joseph's visit to his cabin on Alder slope and that he
"often gave him a quarter of beef to take back to camp with
him when he left."
Even the killing of the Indian Wil lot yah by A. B.
Findley didn't prejudice Joseph against all the settlers, or
even against Findley. The fault lay with the other white men
In the affair McNall, he said, after being told about it by
the Indians present he continued to visit the Findley home.
Mrs. Findley often told in later years of how he would take
the Findley children on his lap and call them his papooses.
He would join them in their game and, its turn, taught them
An ever present source of trouble, between the Indians
and the whites in the west was gold. After seeing what had
happened between the two peoples in other parts of the
county Joseph must have worried about the discovery of gold
in his Wallowa country.
There is a story told by Dan
Otto, an old prospector, abut gold or what he felt sure was
gold, and Joseph. He said that at one time when he and some
other white men were at Chief Joseph's camp near Wallowa
lake, some Indians rode up and handed Joseph something that
looked like nuggets Joseph looked at them a moment and threw
them into the lake. He talked to the Indians who had
brought the stones for a few minutes and then, said Otto,
"they struck out as fart as they could ride " Otto
and the other men there always supposed that Joseph must
have told It Pro to go back and cover up the place where:
they had found the stones.
To Draw Pictures.
Mentioned by Many
artistic ability is not often mentioned, but that he must
have had some such natural ability comes from several varied
sources. The first person to speak of it was William
Masterson, who was at the council between the early settlers
and the Indians held in the forks of the Wallowa and Lostine
rivers in 1876. He said that Chief Joseph had made a crude
drawing of the killing of the Indian Wil-lot-yah by Findley
and McNall, from descriptions given him by Indians who were
present. Masterson said that the drawing was so plain that
he could recognize McNall, with his old hat pulled down on
his head. and Findley with his bobbed hair hanging nearly to
his shoulders and his beard. The drawing also included the
E. S. McComas speaks of Joseph "dropping to his knees
and sketching a map of northwestern Oregon" when he
interviewed him in 1577.
Another time that his artistry was spoken of was in
"The Oregonian for April 27, 1878 quoting from the
Leavenworth Times. "In front of his neatly arranged tent
stands a large tree, which he has blazed and on the white
wood painted a number of hieroglyphics which detail the
cause of his residence on the bank of the Missouri. The base
of the blaze is filled with a long row of Indian lodges
painted in red Above these are horses, birds, wolves, dogs
and men, all represented in such manner as to convey the
idea that they are all closely connected."
Young Joseph, Hin-mah-too-lat-kahht (thunder rolling
over the mountains) was a remarkable man, friend. artist,
chief, warrior, strategist, diplomat and orator, but the
part of him that will always appeal to the imagination and
touch the feelings of men most closely was his devoted love
for his native country. Wallowa, "land of winding waters."
Newspaper used by permission of