1879 Reports of the Commissioner Affairs and Indian Agent Reports
"Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs," pp. 69-375. In U.S. House. 46th Congress, 2d Session. Report of the Secretary of the Interior, 1879 (H.Ex.Doc.1, Pt. 5, Vol. 1). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880. (Serial Set 1910).


1879 Indian Reservations Map

Report of Charles D. Warner, United States Indian Agent, Nez Percé Indians, pp.161-163.


August, 16, 1879.

SIR: In submitting this, my first annual report, I beg leave to say:

Owing to the lateness in the season of my assuming charge of this agency, it was impossible to increase the cultivated acreage for the present year to any great extent. Nature has been exceedingly kind to these, her children, in providing soil of the greatest fertility for the production of their subsistence in quantities so abundant and with such small exertions. They are gradually and surely learning to appreciate and improve such opportunities. . . . The Clear Water River, flowing, as it does, directly through the reserve, branching out in the North, Middle, and South Forks, greatly benefits their locations that they have taken in the valleys lying between such river and the bluffs of the higher land, forming, in one instance, at Kamiah, one of the most picturesque locations to be found in the whole northwest. Situated in a valley on either side of the South Fork, in length about six miles, varying in width from one half to two miles, in form like a vast amphitheater, surrounded on all sides by nearly perpendicular bluffs, rising 2,000 feet in height, it forms one of the prettiest valleys one can imagine. A view from the bluff reveals a living panorama, as one sees the vast fields of waving grain surrounding well built and tasty cottages adorned with porches and many of the conveniences found among industrious whites. The sight would lead a stranger, not knowing of its inhabitance by Indians, to inquire what prosperous white settlement was located here. It is by far the most advanced in the ways of civilization and progress of any in the Territory, if not on the coast.


The season, so far as crops are concerned, has been beyond all precedent in the country. With plenty of rain in the fore part, keeping the ground well moist, and intensely hot weather later, it ripened the grain quickly. With an acreage in 1878 of 3,022 acres, they produced 20,000 bushels of wheat. In 1879, with an acreage of 3,172, they had a yield of 34,380 bushes of A No. 1 wheat, an increase of 14,380 bushels. It is no uncommon event to raise 60 bushels to the acre on virgin soil. In vegetables they have 1,500 bushels this year against 2,100 raised last. Owing to the wet weather, corn fell back a little on last season. It can never be raised successfully here, as the climate is not adapted to it.. It has been my aim, as far as possible, to impress on they the idea of cultivating all the land that they could properly attend to, and in many instances they have done beyond the most sanguine expectations. Were the government to furnish a breaking-plow, harrow, and the like, suitable to breaking and turning in soil that is beyond the power of their "Cayuse" ponies and common plows, much land could be improved that now yields nothing but the rankest of rye grass that is much taller than the heads of horse and rider. Of their energy in agriculture I can say with pride that Indians who support themselves entirely without subsistence by the government, who procure of their own accord and their own expense wagons, harness and other farming implements beyond the amount furnished them by the government under treaty, who do so without the least complaint that the government is neglecting them, but procure them because they are absolutely necessary in their work, is self-evident proof that the present policy of the Indian Office has been and is correct at least so far as the Nez Percés are concerned.


Owing to the burning of the boarding and school building at Lapwai, the educational effort has been seriously deterred. Transferred to temporary quarters and under the energy and adaptability under trying circumstances displayed by Mr. and Mrs. P. B. Whitman, the teacher and matron, school has been maintained, the number of scholars being necessarily reduced to 12. The scholars have made excellent progress during the nine and an half months in which school was held. At the Kamiah school, under the direction of Mr. and Mrs. W. O. Campbell, the scholars have made wonderful progress, children not ten years of age, their first year of school, reciting or writing the multiplication table without a single error and as quickly as any white child could do the same. They all write good plain hands, and in all respects would compare with any white school; and when one realizes this is taught and recited in English, the progress seems greater.

Last year as many again as were taught were turned away for lack of room, and it is my earnest hope that the department will see the necessity of building the school according to the plans they had the enterprise to furnish. It is my intention to bring from Kamiah (at the completion of the building here) all the largest scholars, thereby accommodating between the two from 90 to 100. They also have five gardens at both schools, and will raise enough vegetables to materially assist them during the winter. A singing school is held during the long evenings, once a week, conducted by Mr. P. B. Whitman. Nearly all have fine voices and make good progress. A day-school is held at Lapwai, under the direction of Miss S. L. McBeth, an appointee of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. It is attended by eight young men who are studying for the ministry.


The membership of the two churches here—one located at Lapwai, having 100; one at Kamiah, 203—is a total of 303. The missionary work is under the direction of Rev. Mr. Deffenbaugh, an appointee of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, assisted by Rev. Robert Williams, a full-blood Nez Percé, who is an ordained minister by and belonging to the Presbytery of Idaho. Services at each of the churches are held three times (11, 1, and 5) each Sabbath, and prayer meetings regularly every Thursday and Saturday evenings at the houses of the different members, conducted by the elders and members. There can be a no more interesting sight than to see from 300 to 400 dusky forms, realizing them to once have been the most savage, assembled at church, rain or snow making no difference in their numbers, listening to the interpretation of that word whose gentle spirit has penetrated and tamed their savage way "as nothing else could do"; and the spirit with which they sing such old familiar pieces as "Bethany," "Dennis" or the like would wake to enthusiasm the most fastidious of an Eastern audience. They have raised for various purposes during the year $125. Their membership is constantly increasing, and the standard of morality is greatly improved thereby, seventy-four marriages having taken place since February 1, the majority being those who had lived for years in Indian custom. Cases of separation between husband and wife are extremely rare. The amount contributed for missionary work among this people for the year was $1,750, forwarded by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions.


They have built during the year, by their own efforts, with a cost to the government of about $70, seven frame houses, furnishing all materials themselves except nails, window-sash and doors. Many more living at present in lodges would build houses were there a mill here to saw timber. They are very anxious that such should be rebuilt, and in the interest of civilization I hope the department will adopt such a course. They have no way to get wheat ground to flour short of the Kamiah mill, 65 miles away, They also have cut and rafted down the river 650 cords of wood, for which they have received on the average $4 per cord, making some $2,600 received this year. They also have fenced in many fields this year, one man inclosing 60 acres with a good six-rail fence. They have made during the year 2,096 rods of good rail fence.

I have induced many to cut their hair, and the effort has been taken up by the chief and head men and is resulting in great improvements to their looks.

During the week in which the 4th of July occurred, about 800 assembled in camp at Kamiah, and feasting and festivity was the order of the day. During all the time the most perfect order was kept. On the morning of the 4th, as the processions formed to march from the camp to the grove where the exercises were held, those wearing blankets and holding to Indian customs attempted to join in such party, but were at once ordered out by the chief and elders; as they expressed it, "No Indians were allowed." It shows they are most thoroughly impressed with the idea that they have to adopt the white man’s way.

I can do nothing, except in talk, to make them discard their blankets, as the government furnishes nothing for substitution, their annuities being nearly all in farming utensils. Many would willingly change had they the opportunity.

There has been but little drunkenness during my administration. Those who have been guilty were confined in the guard house, Fort Lapwai, for one month hard labor. I take one horse to pay for board while so confined, the sale of which is sufficient punishment for all they fail to receive while confined. The squaws who "err" are confined at the agency lock-up, making them work during the day at whatever is needed. My efforts in finding the source from which liquor is procured have been unavailing.


The freshet of the Lapwai in February last carried off the saw and flour mill, undermined the carpenter and blacksmith shops, and tore the grounds up badly. I have removed the shops to higher ground, out of danger, at a trifling expense to the government, picked up the rubbish on the grounds, and whitened all the agency buildings with lime. It has been of practical benefit to the Indians, as several after harvest will whiten their houses.


The sanitary condition of the Indians has been exceedingly good. Very little sickness and few deaths have occurred. Rheumatism and auge are the principal troubles. Inherited scrofula is prevalent to some extent.

In conclusion [I] will say, on the whole the condition of the Nez Percés is all one could ask. They have improved and are doing so still. Some uneasiness was manifest about stories set afloat by renegade whites, in relation to their treatment at the expiration of their treaty next July, but I have talked the matter over and they will wait patiently to see the action on the part of the government. They are well civilized, but one mistake on the part of the government at this time would destroy the effects of the past thirty years’ teachings; but to give them time and attention, they will astonish their most zealous friends in their progress toward civilization.

I remain, very truly, yours,


United States Indian Agent.


From: Report of William H. Whiteman, United States Indian Agent, Ponca Agency, Indian Territory, pp. 178-181.

Nez Perce Reservation in Indian Territory


On the 14th day of June, 1879, Special Agent J. M. Haworth arrived here with Chief Joseph’s band of Nez Percés, and turned them over to my charge.

The Nez Percé Reservation is northwest of the Poncas, and the greater portion of their land is west of the Shikaskia, and north of the Salt Fork River. It is a very good body of land, tolerably well supplied with timber and water, but in no respect is it equal to the Ponca Reservation.

The majority of the Indians are at present living on the west bank of the Shikaskia River, about two miles from where it empties into the Salt Fork. The location, I think, is a healthy one, and the Indians are as healthy as could be expected. There is this fact about the Nez Percés, which, perhaps, is hardly ever considered, viz, that most of the young able-bodied men and women were engaged in their late war with the government, and many of them were killed and wounded, and a large proportion of the Nez Percés brought to the Indian Territory were old people and children, which accounts in a great measure for the many deaths which have occurred among them. I have also observed both among the Nez Percés and Poncas, who came from northern climates, that lung diseases are very prevalent. I think that seven Indians out of every ten have their lungs diseased so badly that they could not live long in any climate, and while I do not desire to depreciate the fearful ravages made by malaria on northern Indians in the Indian Territory, yet I give it as my opinion, which I believe will be born out by statistics, that more Indians die from pulmonary diseases in the Northwest than die from the effects of malaria in the Indian Territory.

The Nez Percés are of rather small frame, sharp-featured people; they are intelligent, but the men are very indolent, they have never been put to work and I do not think they will take to it very kindly; hard work, at least, has nothing to fear from them, they will handle it very gently. The Nez Percé women are far superior to the men, and, indeed, are superior to any Indian women I have ever seen. They are intelligent, very cleanly in their habits, are exceedingly expert with the needle, and are very vivacious and friendly, contrary to all other Indian women I have seen, always responding to a white person’s salutation with a friendly nod and smile.

The Nez Percés number at this time 370; but little improvement has yet been made for them. I have nearly completed a commodious and substantial warehouse, and will proceed building other necessary agency buildings and dwellings for the Indians as rapidly as practicable.

The Nez Percés have cut and stacked about 75 tons of hay to feed their horses during the winter.

Twenty-five teams, mostly mares, were purchased for them last spring while they were at the Quapaw Agency. I think a mistake was made in buying for them American horses instead of the Indian pony. The American horse requires more attention than the Indian will give him. An Indian pony will live on cottonwood bark all winter and come out sleek in the spring. They literally take care of themselves, while the other must have a warm stable, be carefully curried and well fed, else they do not thrive. . . .