20 October 2008

Expansion & Invasion: I Will Fight No More Forever

By Jacquie Rogers

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce:

I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohulhulsote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are--perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.
The Nez Perce was a peaceful tribe willing to co-exist with the white settlers in present day Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon. The Walla-Walla Treaty of 1855 ceded 6.4 million acres of Nez Perce land to the United States, leaving 7.5 million acres that was promised to be off limits to all non-Indians.

But then gold was discovered in 1860 and the white settlers moved in, so in 1863 the United States imposed the Lapwai Treaty, dubbed the "Thieves Treaty" by the Indians, that took 6 million acres of the remaining reservation land. Needless to say, many of the Nez Perce weren't thrilled about being kicked off their ancestral homes.

The Nez Perce were divided into two factions: the Christian group, which sided with the whites; and the Dreamer group, also called the non-treaty Indians, who refused to acknowledge the new reservation boundaries. Chief Joseph and Chief White Bird were Dreamers and members of the Wallowa Band of the Nez Perce. White Bird was the war chief and Joseph was the administrative chief.

Growing unease erupted into violence in 1877. The Battle of White Bird Canyon was a decisive victory for the Nez Perce, second only to the Sioux victory at the Battle of Little Big Horn. The army lost 34 men; the Nez Perce lost none. But the Battle of White Bird Canyon spelled the beginning of a four-month 1,500-mile escape by women, children, and grandparents, pursued by the US Army, and led by Chiefs White Bird and Joseph.

Finally, with the children and women both lost and dying, Joseph surrendered to General Nelson Miles. Chief White Bird refused, and took a small band to Canada, where they settled in Saskatchewan with Sitting Bull's people, never to return home again.

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