1877 Reports of the Commissioner Affairs and Indian Agent Reports
"Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs," pp. 397-728. In U.S. House. 45th Congress, 2d Session. Report of the Secretary of the Interior, 1877 (H.Ex.Doc.1, Pt. 5, Vol. 1). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1878. (Serial Set 1800).


titlepg-5.JPG (76314 bytes)

Department of Columbia Map of the Nez Perce Indian Campaign

Harper's Weekly Illustrations

War of 1877 Selected Annotated Bibliography


The Nez Percés originally inhabited the country in Idaho lying between the Bitter Root and Blue Mountains, and extending from the Pelouse River on the north to the Salmon River and Valley on the south. By the treaty of June, 1855, signed by fifty-eight chiefs, headmen, and delegates, a portion of this Territory on the west and south was ceded to the United States, Chief Lawyer occupying the Kamiah Valley, Big Thunder the Lapwai, Timothy the Alpowa, Joseph the Wallowa, and Billy the Salmon River Valley.

Upon the discovery of gold in the fall of 1860 the reservation was soon overrun with settlers rushing to the mines, and to avoid a conflict between them and the Indians an agreement was entered into, but not confirmed by Congress, on the 10th of April, 1861, between Superintendent Geary and Agent Cain on the one part, and Chief Lawyer, with forty-seven chiefs, headmen, and delegates, on the other part, whereby that portion of the reserve lying north of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers, the South Fork of the Clearwater, and the trail from said South Fork by the "Weipo root-ground" across the Bitter Root Mountains, was opened to the whites in common with the Indians for mining purposes. In defiance of law, and despite the protestations of the Indian agent, a town-site was laid off in October, 1861, on the reservation, and Lewiston, with a population of twelve hundred, sprung into existence. To this another grievance was added in the distribution of annuities, articles being supplied in inadequate quantities. In 1862, only 247 blankets were furnished the tribe, or one blanket to six Indians, and 4,393 yards of calico, which was less than two yards to each Indian. Giving a blanket to one Indian works no satisfaction to the other five, who receive none, and two yards of calico to each Indian affords but little help and no advancement; yet this was all that could be distributed owing to the meagre appropriations allowed.

By the spring of 1863 it was very evident that, from the change of circumstances and contact with whites, a new treaty was required to properly define and, if possible, curtail the limits of the reserve. Accordingly, on the 9th of June, 1863, Calvin H. Hale, Charles Hutchins, and S. D. Howe, commissioners on the part of the United States, and Chief Lawyer, whose opinion Governor Stevens held in higher esteem than that of any other Indian in the Territory, with fifty other chiefs and headmen, (twenty of whom were parties to the treaty of 1855,) on the part of the Nez Percés, made a new treaty, whereby the reserve was reduced to its present limits, excluding Wallowa, Salmon River, and Alpowai Valleys. After the conclusion of these negotiations, the Nez Percé tribe divided into two factions, viz, the treaty or peace party and the non-treaty or war party, the latter being led by Joseph, Looking-Glass, Big Thunder, White Bird, and Eagle from the Light. Chief Joseph and his band, utterly ignoring the treaty of 1863, continued to claim the Wallowa Valley, where he was tacitly permitted to roam without restraint, until the encroachments of white settlers induced the government to take some definite action respecting this band of non-treaty Nez Percés.

A commission, consisting of Hon. J. P. C. Shanks, Hon. T. W. Bennett, and Agent H. W. Reed, was appointed March 26, 1873, to investigate and report upon Indian affairs in Idaho; and Superintendent T. Odeneal and Agent J. B. Monteith were designated, February 7, and 25, 1873, receptively, as a special commission to make an investigation and hold a council with Chief Joseph and band, and other Indians occupying Wallowa Valley in Oregon, with a view to their removal, if practicable, to the Lapwai reserve. The first-named commission state[d] the source of the then existing troubles with the Nez Percés Indians to have been the encroachment of whites upon their farming-lands and upon their fishery and hunting-grounds, as well as the actual settlement of four white men within the limits of the reduced reservation, in violation of treaty stipulations. The other commission held the removal of these roving Nez Percés to the Lapwai reservation to be impracticable.

So long as the Wallowa Valley remained unsettled, Chief Joseph and his followers retained it in quiet possession, under the full sway and influence of Smohalla and other "dreamers" or medicine-men, who held that the earth was a part of themselves, and that Chief Joseph had a right to roam wherever impulse or inclination led him. As a removal had been declared to be impracticable, and his right as a non-treaty Indian to occupy the Wallowa Valley was still mooted, it was deemed to be good policy, in avoidance of a conflict liable to be the result of additional settlement, to declare the valley an Indian reservation, and thereby check further encroachment of settlers until some decisive action could be taken by Congress to remove the whites from Lapwai reserve, and to settle the non-treaty Indians thereon. Accordingly, on the 16th of June, 1873, the President declared the Wallowa Valley a reservation for the roving Nez Percé Indians, so long as they remained peaceable and committed no depredations on the settlers or their improvements. There being a number of settlers within the reservation thus set apart by the President, an appraisal of their improvements was made and submitted to the department to be recommended for appropriate legislation. Congress, however, failed to make any appropriation for the payment of the claims of these settlers, and Chief Joseph, after a lapse of two years, showed a disposition neither to settle upon the Wallowa reserve nor to respect the rights or property of the whites whom he encountered in his unrestricted roving. Having thus failed to secure the results contemplated by the issue of the order of June 16, 1873, the Indian Office then recommended a revocation of said order, which was signed by President Grant June 10, 1875.

Owing to the imminent danger of a conflict between the settlers and these roving Indians, growing out of the murder by the whites of one of Chief Joseph’s band, and of the depredations upon the crops and stock of the whites by the Indians, a commission, consisting of D. H. Jerome, esq., Brig. Gen. O. O. Howard, Maj. H. Clay Wood, A. A. G., and William Stickney, esq. and A. C. Barstow, esq., of the board of Indian Commissioners, was appointed in October 1876, by the Secretary of the Interior, Hon. Z. Chandler, to visit these Indians with a view to secure their permanent settlement upon the reservation, and their early entrance upon a civilized life, and to adjust the difficulties then existing between them and the settlers. The report of the commission, submitted December 1, 1876, . . . recommended, first, the return of the dreamers or medicine-men to the reserve, and, in case of refusal, their transportation to the Indian Territory; secondly, the speedy military occupation of the Wallowa Valley by a force adequate to suppress any outbreak, the agent in the mean time to continue his efforts in persuading them to settle upon the reserve; thirdly, failing to secure a quiet settlement upon the reserve, that forcible means be used to place them on it; and fourthly, should depredations upon the property or any overt act of hostility by the Indians be made, the employment of sufficient force to bring them into subjection and to place them on the reservation.

The department acted upon these recommendations, instructing the agent to hold interviews with these Indians, and also requesting the War Department to take military occupation of the valley in the interest of peace, and to co-operate with the agent in the effort to place Chief Joseph and his band in permanent homes upon the Lapwai reservation. General Howard, with agent Monteith, took charge of the proposed negotiations. Several interviews were held with Chief Joseph, but owing to the pernicious influence of the dreamers—Smohalla especially—no suggestion from the Indian agent seemed to Chief Joseph worthy of consideration; and it becoming evident to Agent Monteith that all negotiations for the peaceful removal of Joseph and his band, with other non-treaty Nez Percé Indians, to the Lapwai Indian reservation in Idaho must fail of a satisfactory adjustment, General Howard was placed in full control of all further attempts for their removal.

He held three councils with these Indians, on the 3d, 4th, and 7th of May last respectively, in which Joseph, Looking-Glass, and White Bird, the three chief leaders of all the non-treaty Indians, agreed to go upon the reservation with their several bands. In accordance with this agreement, arrangements were made to visit the several localities on the reserve suitable for the settlement of their bands. The first visit was made on the 8th of May, to the valley of the Lapwai, for a location for Joseph and his band. The next day Looking Glass and White Bird visited the valley of the Clearwater, at the mouth of Kamiah Creek. Here, among the Kamiah Indians, Looking-Glass proposed to settle upon the spare lands of this valley. On the 10th of May they proceeded some sixteen or eighteen miles up the Clearwater, where they found a country abounding in wood, water, and grass, with plenty of arable land. Encouraged by Looking-Glass, White Bird settled upon this as his location. Having accomplished this part of their plans, the Indians met on the 15th of May, at Fort Lapwai, to hold a final council in regard to the removal of their bands to these localities, and agreed to remove their stock and settle thereon in thirty days. So confident were General Howard, Inspector Watkins, and Agent Monteith of the honesty of purpose of the Indians as displayed in their councils, and their definite selection of homes, that they felt justified in telegraphing the successful termination of any danger of an outbreak, and the approaching peaceable removal of all non-treaty Indians to suitable homes within the limits of the reservation.

One day, however, prior to the expiration of the time fixed for their removal (namely, June 14, 1877,) open hostilities by these Indians began by the murder of twenty-one white men and women on White Bird Creek, near Mount Idaho, in revenge for the murder of one of their tribe. The few troops under the command of General Howard were ordered out at once, and on the 17th of June Captain Perry made the first attack in a cañon of Hangman’s Creek, near Spokane, 75 miles east of Lewiston, losing thirty-four men. On the 4th of July the attack was renewed by Colonels Berry and Whipple at Kamiah, near Cottonwood on Salmon River, with a loss of thirteen men. The next battle was under the immediate command of General Howard, which occurred on the 12th of July, on the South Fork of the Clearwater, near the mouth of Cottonwood Creek, the government sustaining a loss of eleven killed and twenty-six wounded. On the 19th of July the Indians were reported as having fled on the Lolo trail to the buffalo country east of the Bitter Root Mountains, having crossed the Clearwater 20 miles below Kamiah. At this juncture, Joseph showed a disposition to surrender, Red Heart and twenty-eight followers having voluntarily given themselves up; but the threatening attitude of White Bird compelled him to abandon this design and join the others in their flight to the Bitter Root Mountains. By this parley of Joseph, the Indians gained four days’ advance of the troops which were sent in their pursuit. By forced marches, however, General Gibbon, on the 9th of August, came upon the Nez Percé camp, at Big Hole Pass, Montana Territory, 135 miles from Missoula, making an immediate attack. Both sides lost heavily. General Gibbon himself was wounded and sustained a loss of seven officers and fifty-three men. From this battle-field the Indians fled down the Bannack trail to the vicinity of Bannack City, where they turned southwesterly to Horse Prairie, and proceeded on to Old Fort Lemhi, on the Mormon Fork of Salmon River, south of Salmon City. After passing into Idaho, the hostiles again turned eastward and crossed into Montana, evidently making their way up Henry’s Fork of Snake River, in the vicinity of Lake Henry, toward the Yellowstone Park, with General Howard in pursuit.

Instructions were issued to General Terry that if the hostiles should reach the park and cross into the Big Horn country, on the passes of the Stinkingwater, Colonel Miles should be ordered to attack them. The Indians made an attack upon General Howard at Camp Meadow, near Lake Henry, capturing some one hundred horses, one-third of which were, however, retaken after the battle, in which General Howard lost one man killed and seven wounded. On the 27th of August, the Nez Percés crossed the Yellowstone above the falls, at the upper end of a cañon in the National Park, on their way to Wind River.

Colonel Sturgis was directed to leave the Crow agency for the Clark River Valley to capture the Nez Percés. On the 13th of September he had a battle with them on Cañon Creek, Clark’s Fork, near the Yellowstone, in which but few men were killed and wounded, but the Indians lost heavily in men and ponies. The Indians were evidently making for the Judith Mountain, with Sturgis and Sanford in pursuit, followed by General Howard. They crossed the Missouri River at Cow Island on the 23d September, and entered the pass between Bar’s Paw and the Little Rocky Mountains on the 28th, carrying many wounded. On the route from the Yellowstone to the Missouri River, the Nez Percés encountered the Crow scouts, who made a sudden charge upon them, capturing large numbers of their ponies and mules, as well as killing and wounding many of their men. General Miles, who had been ordered to intercept, did not strike their trail till they had crossed the Missouri. As the hostile Nez Percés were coming out of the Bear’s Paw Mountains, on the 3d of October, General Miles moved his command rapidly to Snake Creek, met, and surprised their camp at eight o’clock in the morning, capturing about six hundred horses, mules, and ponies. This engagement was the severest blow the Indians had yet received. Besides the loss of their horses, they lost seventeen killed, including Looking-Glass and Joseph’s brother and three other chiefs, and forty wounded. After this day’s battle Joseph resorted to diplomacy, and gave his solemn pledge that he would surrender, but did not do so, evidently waiting for aid from other Indians, This failing him, and General Miles renewing the attack the next day, he was compelled to end the long and severe struggle on the 5th of October by an unconditional surrender of all his forces.

Upon the capture of Joseph and his Indians, the first question that arises is, "What shall be done with them?" Humanity prompts us to send them back and place them on the Nez Percé reservation, as Joseph and his followers have shown themselves to be brave men and skilled soldiers, who, with one exception, have observed the rules of civilized warfare, and have not mutilated their dead enemies.

There is, however, and insuperable difficulty in the way, owing to the fact that at the beginning of the outbreak of the Nez Percé war, twenty-one whites in the immediate vicinity of Joseph’s home were murdered in cold blood by the Indians, and six white women were outraged. Because of these crimes, there would be no peace nor safety for Joseph and his Indians on their old reservation, or in its vicinity, as the friends and relatives of the victims would wage an unrelenting war upon the offenders. But for these foul crimes these Indians would be sent back to the reservation in Idaho. Now, however, they will have to be sent to the Indian Territory; and this will be no hardship to them, as the difference in the temperature between that latitude and their old home is inconsiderable.

The gallant achievement of General Miles in the capture of these Indians has had a decided and beneficial influence on other hostile tribes. It is mainly owing to this influence that the Sioux have quietly assented to the removal they before refused to make. (pp. 405-409)

From: Report of John B. Monteith, United States Indian Agent, Nez Percé Indians, pp. 476-477.


Lapwai, Idaho, August 15, 1877.

SIR. In compliance with the requirements of the Department, I respectfully submit the following as my annual report on matters pertaining to this reserve.

Since my last annual report was made, some of the wild, roving Indians have abandoned their former mode of living and taken farms on the reserve, planted their crops, and are now harvesting them, and, after retaining enough for their year’s supply, will have a surplus for sale.

The Indians who have been living on the reserve for some years have steadily advanced in civilized pursuits, as can be readily seen by any one who takes an interest in Indian advancement. There are many who ridicule the idea of civilizing and christianizing an Indian, and by word and deed oppose anything of the kind. Such are opposed to the Indians receiving any consideration whatever, but would like to see the whole Indian race exterminated, making no distinction between good and bad Indians.

The Indians living at Kamiah and vicinity have made the most progress in civilization of any of the Indians on this reserve. The secret of this is, that said Indians are located 25 miles from any settlement of whites and about 75 miles from Lewiston. The Indians in question seldom leave their homes, except when called away on business. The increase in cultivated acreage at Kamiah and vicinity during the past year amounts to about 800 acres. They have good crops of wheat, oats, corn, and all kinds of vegetables, and the surplus will be greater than any previous year. The surplus is packed in to the mines and disposed of to miners and settlers, the Indians receiving cash for the same. They generally do their trading semi-annually, in the spring and fall, at Lewiston, returning home as soon as they have got through with their business.

It has been remarked by several Army officers, who have visited Kamiah since the outbreak among the non-treaty Indians, that it is the most prosperous Indian settlement they have ever seen. Some say it compares favorably with the best Indian farming in the Indian Territory. I have always avoided exaggeration in my reports, thus giving no person or persons a reason to expect to see more than can actually be seen when coming here as inspectors or otherwise. Col. E. C. Watkins, inspector Indian affairs, will probably make a full report concerning affairs on this reserve. I venture the assertion that no tribe of Indians can be found who have made the progress that these Indians have made during the past six years. . . .

As regards educational matters, I have to say that, up to the time of the breaking out of hostilities, the schools were in a good condition, the scholars having made encouraging progress; but when the first reports of hostilities came in all was excitement. It was like a thunder-bolt out of a clear sky, so unexpected. The Kamiah school was closed about the last of June, and employés brought to Lapwai, as Kamiah was in great danger, being only about 20 miles from where the Indians (hostiles) were most of the time.

The scholars belonging to the Lapwai school were kept here, but, owing to the excitement, their minds could not be kept on their studies; hence they were instructed only in industry, such as gardening, by the boys, and sewing and general house-work by the girls; and all employés (male) were formed as a guard, and employed in doing guard-duty and attending to the general work at the agency. Those not employed during the day stood guard during the night.

It had been my intention to keep both schools open throughout the whole season, in order to keep the children away from their parents and the influence of those who do not live as the more civilized do. My idea was, by keeping them under the care and influence of the matrons and teachers continually, they might be advanced the more rapidly in speaking English, which is a very difficult thing to do. They will read and write the English language very readily, but it is a hard matter to get them to speak it.

Most of the girls can and do make their own dresses and underclothing, and render considerable assistance in general house-work. The large boys can plow and do general farm-work very creditably.

Four of the young men who have been receiving instruction under Miss S. L. McBeth, teacher in the day-school at Kamiah up to July 1, 1877, visited Portland, Oreg., and Puget Sound country during the month of June last. It was the first time that any of them ever saw a town of more than 1,000 or 1,500 inhabitants. They were much pleased with what they saw while traveling from point to point. During their stay in Portland the four men were examined by a committee appointed by the "Presbytery of Oregon," and licensed to preach to and teach their people. They were well received by all with whom they met, and received some quite flattering notices in the daily papers published in Portland. They made short addresses before large audiences in the Presbyterian church in Portland, also at Olympia, Wash. Their visit has been of great benefit to themselves and their people, as they have brought back to their people information concerning the number and enterprise of the whites, of which to a great extent they were ignorant, and what is told them by these four men is received with more credence than if coming from others than their own people. They can converse in English, translate Nez Percé into English, English into Nez Percé, write in both languages, &c.

There are two full-bloods working in the shops; one at Kamiah, filling the position of carpenter at that place, receives $300 per annum salary; the other is in the blacksmith-shop at Lapwai, and receives his living and clothing. The carpenter—i. e., the one at Kamiah mentioned above—can build a common box-house, make sash, doors, window and door frames, chairs, tables, &c. . . .

At the councils held last spring by General Howard and myself with Joseph’s and White Bird’s bands of Indians and other small bands, all appeared to be satisfied with the settlement agreed upon. They agreed to move on the reserve by a certain time, had selected the lands upon which to locate, but on the very day that they were to go upon the lands selected—all having left their old or former homes and moved their stock and families to the borders of the reserve—a party of six from "White Bird’s" band commenced the murdering of citizens on Salmon River, thus bringing on another Indian war. As soon as the war broke out the Indians living on the reserve, with but very few exceptions, and those living outside, immediately took sides with the whites, and rendered valuable assistance to the Army as scouts, carriers of dispatches, keeping the different commands informed as to the movements of the hostiles, and in furnishing horses. The exceptions referred to above were non-treaties. I do not know of a single Christian Indian having left his home and joined the hostiles.

The Indians at Kamiah, under James Lawyer, head chief of the tribe, guarded the Government property at that place, and when the hostiles were fighting within 25 or 30 miles of Kamiah, he formed a company of his Indians and brought the employés of that place to Lapwai, although the hostiles were liable to hear of their move and fall upon them at any time. The Indians removed many articles from the buildings at Kamiah and hid them in their grain-fields fearing that the hostiles might burn the buildings or sack them. Said articles have since been returned.

The religious interests of the tribe have not decreased. Last May Rev. John R. Thompson, of Olympia, Wash., made us a missionary visit, spending some three weeks with this people, and preaching at Kamiah and Lapwai. During his stay he received into the Presbyterian church 12 men and 18 women, and baptized quite a number of children.

In conclusion, I would say, taking into consideration the unsettled state of affairs, I have no reason to feel disheartened at the progress made by these Indians during the past year, nor at the present condition of the reserve and its Indians. They have done well, and are deserving of great credit. . . .