Howard, Part 18: Land of the Free
KID WONGSRICHANALAI, STAFF WRITER
The continent stretched from one bright blue ocean
to another. Between its great valleys and magnificent rivers was an untapped
well of prosperity and opportunity. Its evergreen forests bristled with
life. Its unending prairies teemed with herds of buffalo that grazed without
fear of any other beast.
In its swamps and bayous, alligators and snapping turtles
crawled through the luscious mud and emerged in the grand rivers that
divulged their plentiful bounty into the grand gulf which would soon be
named Mexico. From its mountain tops, the majestic bald eagle flew with
wings unhampered by the rippling winds that blew from valley to mountain
and onwards to the sea.
Thousands of years ago, they emerged on this continent
via a bridge that was soon swallowed by the fury of the ocean and the
shifting of the continents. From the tip of that new land, they moved
southwards and eastwards until they were separated from each other and
became different tribes and cultures.
There were those who hunted and those who fished. There
were those who planted and grazed their animals. They camped in the fields,
hibernated in the forests, swam in the lakes, and became the children
of the new land. They had great respect for this continent that had taken
For generations they prospered, taking only that which
they needed to sustain themselves. There was peace, but there was also
war, for they had varying concepts of life and honor and death.
But despite the violence, there was a strange beauty
to their existence. Not one of pearls and diamonds and cloth, but one
of natural eminence. They were the pinnacle of natural creation, and they
were the guardians of a land they came to call home.
From the east, there came ships one day, and from these
ships came an unknown group of human beings. They recognized these strangers
as human beings, but they could not understand what they wore or why their
skin was so much whiter than their own.
With these sailors and explorers came more settlers,
and within years there were so many of these people from across the sea
that the natives began to feel uncomfortable. These people brought with
them long sticks they called muskets and powerful drinks that made a man
lose control. They came and they took what the wanted.
The natives fought them, but they were no match for
the armor of the men who wore red and blue. And thus the continent began
to change, and the natives began to worry.
The strangers called the land America and went about
their business for a long while. During this time, large villages and
grand enterprises were created and eventually blossomed. There was peace
with the new arrivals, but the natives could not help but feel that there
was a danger in them.
Wars began and ended in treaties, which were broken,
which led to more wars. Slowly the natives were pushed back, deeper and
deeper into the continent. Tribes met and discussed the fate of their
continent. No one quite knew what was happening to it.
But one day there was a spark in the cities of the intruders
and from the forests around the town called Concord, Massachusetts a flame
was ignited. For the first time the word "liberty" was proclaimed, and
thus the continent stirred with the painful spasms of birth.
There was waged a war of rebellion that lasted for many
summers. The natives took part in this as well, not knowing what was to
become of them should either side succeed. In time there rose a government
unlike any the world had ever seen. This government began in earnest to
conquer the continent. They called it "Manifest Destiny," and from the
ports and towns of the East, there came an invasion force of unknown proportion.
Settlers with families and children on horse drawn carriages
and wagons moved inland, in search of a place to call home. Others moved
more rapidly with pick axes and shovels in search of gold and fortune.
Far removed from the growth on the East Coast, a small
band of Native Americans continued to do what they had been doing for
centuries. They would soon be named the Nez Perce by some French Canadians.
Their first encounter with their new neighbors was cordial enough.
A Native American woman led two foreign men named Lewis
and Clark through their territory in what was to the foreigners the year
The Nez Perce homeland encompassed a great deal of land
on the north-western border. They would soon learn that the settlers had
named their territory. Washington Territory, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and
Wyoming were all within their range. It is in the eastern part of the
Washington Territory that our story really begins, and it begins with
the birth of a young Nez Perce by the name of Joseph.
Joseph's father had also been named Joseph, thanks to
a Christian missionary who had settled in the area. The younger Joseph
had a brother named Ollokut and a land that had been unspoiled by war
As he grew, however, young Joseph learned that his ancestral
territory was being shrunken by the new settlers. He paid little attention
to this and continued to do what young New Perce did. He indulged in the
fruits of the earth.
He learned to become an excellent horseman as almost
all the Nez Perce were. He swan in the lakes, hunted in the forests, spoke
with the land, and became a part of it, but sensing too that its days
In 1855, a treaty was made with the governor of the
Washington Territory. The treaty set aside vast lands for the many tribes
of the Nez Perce. This settlement would hopefully retain the peace between
the two cultures. The Old Joseph agreed to this, as did most of his fellow
chiefs from the other Nez Perce groups.
In 1860, however, gold was discovered in Nez Perce territory,
and settlers began to encroach upon their hunting lands. Violence exploded
as settlers and Nez Perce clashed. A new treaty was formed in 1863, this
time reducing the Nez Perce territory by an even greater amount. Old Joseph
did not sign this treaty, but a majority of the chiefs did.
Joseph returned to his home in the Wallowa Valley, and
on his deathbed in 1871, he made his son swear that he would never surrender
this land. To this, the young Joseph did swear, but he knew full well
that, despite the fact that there was no gold to be had in the Wallowa
Valley, there would soon be trouble with the settlers and with the military.
Still, young Joseph was diplomatic. He sought peace,
but again and again the white settlers intruded and broke the already
fragile relationship. Still, Joseph was reluctant to spill blood.
From Washington D.C. came an order for Joseph's Nez
Perce to move from the scarred Wallowa Valley to the Lapwai Reservation
where other Nez Perce had been living since 1863.
Torn between his responsibility to the land and by his
unyielding need to seek peaceful solution, Joseph appealed to the military
department commander for a conference. This was granted, and in 1877,
right before the start of the Nez Perce War, Joseph, along with many other
chiefs, came to the bargaining table one last time.
Representing the government of the United States at
this bargaining table was a Bowdoin graduate and a Civil War veteran by
the name of Oliver Howard.
To Be Continued.
Next Time: The Nez Perce and Bannock Wars
Beal, Merrill D. "I Will Fight No More Forever," Chief
Joseph and the Nez Perce War. University of Washington Press. 1972
Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver
Otis Howard. Fordham University Press, New York. 1999
Howard, Oliver Otis. Nez Perce Joseph: An account
of his ancestors, his lands, his confederates, his enemies, his murders,
his war, his pursuit and capture. Lee and Shepard Publishers, Boston.
Visit us online and read all the articles you've missed
(including the Chamberlain Series) at: http://www.bowdoin.edu/~kwongsri
Also, please send comments and ideas to: email@example.com
(Courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Bowdoin College Library)