Chief Joseph, Want but little here below, But wanted that Bad

Contributed by Jim Reavis

Chieftain,  Aug. 11, 1899
Want but Little Here Below but Want That, Bad.

      Chief Joseph, who conducted the famous war in 1877, was in Enterprise the later part of last week on a most peculiar errand.  He was accompanied by four other Nez Percé, on of whom was Joseph’s interpreter.

     It is a well known fact that Wallowa county has always been a favorite spot with the Indians, especially the Nez Percé, and they were always loathe to give it up.

     Chief Joseph said he wanted to meet the citizens of the country last Saturday afternoon, in the hall and explain his mission here.  Consequently there was quite a crowd gathered when the fie stalwart reedmen arrived and entered the hall.  It did not take long to get down to business.  A chairman and secretary were chosen and Chief Joseph began by talking in his native tongue to the interpreter, who repeated it in English to the crowd.  After many preliminary remarks he stated that this country was always considered as belonging to his people and he would like to know who sold this country to the whites.  He was certain neither he nor any of his tribe had ever done so.  He then said he had been back to Washington. D. C. and laid the matter before the officials there.  They told him to come back here and pick out the section he wanted, then notify them and steps would be taken to secure it for him and his tribe.  The statement was very much doubted by those present and considerable sport was made of the old man when he said he wanted the land down near Wallowa at the forks of the river. Where his father, Old Chief Joseph, is buried, the country around and south of the lake, and the Imnaha country.

A.     C. Smith, who is well acquainted with Chief Joseph, and was also with his father, was present and answered all questions asked of him and told Joseph that the government sold this land to the whites, and explained to him, the reason why.  It is quite a long and interesting story of the early difficulties with the Indians and we will endeavor to give a synopsis of it as Mr. Smith related it to Chief Joseph, last Saturday afternoon.  It is as follows:

Sometime in the 50’s, Gen. I. I. Stevens and a man by the name of Palmer, were sent out by the Government to buy all the land belonging to the Nez Percé, except what they should reserve as a Reservation.  The Indians met with Stevens and Palmer and agreed on a treaty which sold all the land claimed by them except the Lapwai county, which was reserved as a reservation.  This treaty was signed by Old Chief Joseph and fifty-two other lading men of the tribe.  But after the treaty had been signed a discussion arose between two different factions of the Indians, called the Treaty Indians and Non-Treaty Indians.  As soon as the Non-Treaty Indians found that the sale included the Wallowa country, they flew to arms and a bloody battle would have followed, had not Stevens and Palmer come to the rescue.  The told the Non-Treaty Indians, that, is as much as they had never drawn the blood of the white men, but had helped them out of trouble with other tribes, they would see that they were protected in their homes outside of the reservation and that Joseph should have the Wallowa country; and that he should take a pencil and mark on a map the boundary line of what he wanted.  This he did, and it included all of the present county of Wallowa, some of Asotin, Wash. And to the southern part of Pine Valley in Union County.  This was all done, it must be remembered after the treaty had been signed and no mention of it was made in the U. S. Treaty book as published.  Old Joseph died and affairs drifted along until a Lieutenant of the Regular army was sent out to see if the claim as set up by young Joseph to the Wallowa country was correct and found it to the case.  The Government then went so far as to make a survey of the boundary lines of the Wallowa reservation.  After this was done Joseph was notified that he must live on this reservation and have an agent of the United States.  Both of these things he refused to do.  He said this country was theirs and they could go and come where and when they pleased and would not ask any white man about it.  The Government insisted that such was the policy and sent troops to force them to live on their reservation.

     Joseph finally agreed to trade this country, in which they would not live, for land near the Lapwai reservation and a fine house and farm for himself. (This part of the history Joseph denies.)

     About this time General Miles appeared on the scene and insisted that the Indians should live on their reservation.  Some of the young bucks got some “fire water’ and held a war dance and before morning made a raid on a white settlement and killed quite a number of men, women and children.  Joseph espoused the cause of his people and the Nez Perce war of the 1877 followed, which ended in Montana, by Gen. Miles capturing the whole tribe and took them as prisoners to Bismarck, S. Dakota.  From there they were sent to Indian Territory.  That country of course they did not like and about seven years ago they were moved and merged in with Chief Moses’ tribe on the Yakima reservation.

      Joseph created quite a stir in Washington and New York about two years ago while representing the condition of his tribe to the government.  It was then he claims the officials told him to come back here and select the land he wants and he should have it.  He has been sick since then until a short time ago, when he started for this county to pick out his land and to go to Washington and tell the official where it lies.  This of course nobody put any confidence in, and was probably concocted by himself.  There are a few contradictions in his story one of which is that, he says he nor any of his tribe ever sold or traded this country to the United States and would like to know where the government got its authority to sell it to the white people.  But later when he began to pick out the country he wants to pick out the country he wants again he only picks out the lake and Imnaha country and the place where his father died and is buried.  If he thinks he has any claim to this county why does he not want the whole thing.

     Nobody ever expects to hear of the government buying out the whole town and thickly populated communities to satisfy the whim of an Indian. 

     Chief Joseph is quite a dignified type of his race, far above the other members of his tribe in appearance.  His coal black hair is streaked with gray, showing that his age is telling on him.  He says he is fifty years old.

     He with his attendants started on Saturday evening for Lewiston from where he claims he will start for Washington City.

Chieftain, May 24, 1962

Settlers Wanted Indians Kept Out

          The fondness of certain Nez Perce Indians for the Wallowa valley for several years after their removal from the county, during the last two decades of the 19th century, proved a source of considerable annoyance to the whites who complained of the Indian’s presence with hands of diseased horses and looked upon them as a menace to the stock industry.  Steps were taken at different times to insure the inauguration of such measured as would prevent their visits to the Wallowa country altogether, and this agitation finally culminated in 1901 in the sending of six petitions to Governor Geer.

Jim Reavis Contributions


Wallowa County

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