Stanton Gilbert Fisher Collection

Writings and memorabilia of Stanton Gilbert Fisher, pioneer and Nez Perce War scout, 1840-1915

Contents: About the Collection | Brief History of the Nez Perce War of 1877 | About Stanton Gilbert Fisher | Sources | Tech

About the Collection

This collection contains writings and memorabilia of Stanton Gilbert Fisher during the time of the Nez Perce War in 1877, along with correspondence and other records from members of the Fisher family through 1988.

Most of the documents include maps, photographs, and written accounts of the war and its participants. There are handwritten letters from the war, maps of Idaho and troop movements, and photographs and drawings of people and places related to the war. Outside literature studying the war is also included, incorporating documents from various magazine clippings, a University of Idaho dramatic production, a small publication pieced together from firsthand accounts, a series of short stories written by one of the scouts, and newspaper articles referencing the war and its scouts.

Letter from Robert H. Fletcher to Stanton Gilbert Fisher
Letter from Robert H. Fletcher to Stanton Gilbert Fisher

The collection also includes personal documents related to Stanton G. Fisher and his youngest son, Don C. Fisher, such as: a trail diary kept by Stanton G. Fisher in 1888; several handwritten essays and a typed manuscript relating adventures he heard or experienced; correspondence between Don Fisher and friends of his father; an envelope from Don Fisher’s niece, Freda Terry; a receipt bearing Don Fisher’s initials; and census papers from 1880, 1910, and 1930 noting various members of the Fisher family.

Brief History of the Nez Perce War of 1877

In 1846, Great Britain and the United States finally settled their dispute over what they called “Oregon country.” As a result, U.S. settlers began traveling to Oregon country on the Oregon Trail and Oregon Territory was established in 1848 and Washington established in 1853.1

In 1855, the territorial government and Nez Perce leaders came to a treaty agreement: “The Nez Perce agreed to cede 7.5 million acres of tribal land while still retaining the right to hunt and fish in their ‘usual and accustomed places.’”2 In other words, the terms of the treaty “had given the Wallowa country in Oregon to the tribe, the area where Chief Joseph was raised.”3 The treaty was later ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1859.4

However, “gold was discovered within the boundaries of the reservation” in 1860.5 “Rather than stop the squatters and trespassers onto reservation land, the U.S. government initiated another treaty council that would shrink the 1855 reservation by 90%, claiming over five million acres.”6 In other words, when “gold was discovered, miners and settlers moved in, and another treaty was signed in 1863, which took the Wallowas away from the tribe.”7

Some Nez Perce signed the 1863 treaty and “moved to the Lapwai reservation in Idaho,” but others, such as “Old Joseph, Chief Joseph’s father, refused to sign.”8 A total of fifty one Nez Perce headmen “who lived inside of the proposed reservation, affixed their marks to the treaty” which was ratified in the U.S. Senate in 1867.9 “The 1863 Treaty became known as the ‘steal treaty’ and created the conditions that would eventually lead to the armed clash between the Nez Perce and the U.S. Army, now known as the Nez Perce Flight of 1877.”10 Tensions continued to mount as “a number of Indians were killed by settlers, but little was done about it.”11

“In the spring of 1877 Chief Joseph and his brother Ollokot met with General Howard on three occasions to try to avoid war and also asked that they be allowed to remain in the Wallowas. That request was denied. Several young warriors made retaliatory murderous raids against settlers along the Salmon River. Joseph and others knew that war was inevitable.”12

The war itself consisted of a series of battles and resulted in hundreds of Nez Perce tribal members leaving their ancestral homeland and traveling on foot and horseback over 1,170 miles through four different states.13 The war officially ended on October 5, 1877, “as Chief Joseph rode slowly up a hill at the Bear Paw battlefield to where General Howard and Colonel miles waited. The Bear Paw was only 40 miles from the Canadian border where the Nez Perce hoped to join with Chief Sitting Bull of the Sioux. Some did reach Canada, but the larger number laid down their guns with the promise they could return to their homeland, a promise that was never kept. It was where Joseph was credited with the famous speech: ‘From where the sun now sets I will fight no more forever.’”14

Joseph's Retreat (Map)
Joseph's Retreat (Map)
Memorial of Chief Joseph's capture of Montana tourists
Memorial of Chief Joseph's capture of Montana tourists

“The Nez Perce were promised by General Miles a safe return to the Wallowa Valley. General Miles was overruled, and the Nez Perce were instead sent to Kansas and Oklahoma, where the survivors of 1877 endured many more years of hardship. It was not until the mid-1880s that the Nez Perce were allowed to return to their homelands. Joseph and the other remaining tribal leaders spent their remaining years on the Colville Indian Reservation.”15

About Stanton Gilbert Fisher

Stanton Gilbert Fisher (b. 1840 - d. 1915) was a civilian scout for the United States Army during the Nez Perce War of 1877. Born in Jefferson County, New York, Fisher and his family moved to a farm in Dodge County, Wisconsin in 1850. By 1860, Fisher moved to California to try his hand at his first career, mining.

Stanton Gilbert Fisher
Stanton Gilbert Fisher

Fisher’s relationship with Idaho began in 1867 when he bought part of a trading station in Ross Fork, Idaho, which was later absorbed by the Fort Hall reservation the following year. Fisher worked as a trader and postmaster for two years before selling the outpost and traveling to Montana to participate in an annual buffalo hunt at the Yellowstone River.

When Fisher returned to Idaho, he was hired by the U.S. Army as a civilian scout to pursue a band of Native Americans that had attacked several white miners who had stolen their land as part of the 1863 Treaty, known as the “steal treaty” (see above for more information). Fisher, thirty-seven years old at the time and eventually known as “Howard’s chief scout,” organized a company of “civilian scouts,” of which he was appointed their leader.16 He led them across Idaho and Montana in pursuit of the Nez Perce. His objective, if he had found the Nez Perce, was not made explicitly clear in our sources. The U.S. Army relied heavily upon him and his men to track down the Nez Perce as they fled violence and were forced to leave their ancestral homeland, mostly because Fisher, while a “post trader for the Bannacks, operating out of Fort Hall, Idaho” became “well acquainted with the Bannacks and spoke their tongue fluently. His knowledge of both the Bannacks and Nez Perce and the region itself made him an obvious choice for Howard as a chief scout.”17

Fisher’s role in the end of the Nez Perce War of 1877 is unclear. In 1882, Fisher returned to Fort Hall, Idaho and the following year, purchased his old trading post and moved his family back to Ross Fork. He retained a trading post he had founded in Pocatello, Idaho for some time and was once again appointed postmaster of the Ross Fork trading post. However, despite these investments, he continued to travel in pursuit of mining work. In 1888, he kept a journal of his journey to a mining camp in Custer County, Idaho.

In 1889, Fisher was appointed Indian Agent for the Fort Hall reservation while also serving as Deputy Sheriff for Bingham County until 1895, when he was appointed Indian Agent for the Nez Perce Tribe at Fort Lapwai. In 1899, he departed again to pursue work as a miner in Grangeville, where he lived for the remainder of his life until his death on July 29, 1915.

The effects of the treaties, war of 1877, and Fisher’s involvement in the war are still felt today.

Sources

“Indian Country Today” is a daily digital news platform that covers the Indigenous world, including American Indians and Alaska Natives. Many people who work for the non-profit are tribal members. This source was heavily relied upon for the history of the Nez Perce War of 1877 in an effort to ensure Native voices contribute to how Native history is shaped and told.

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