Chief Joseph: He Met the White Men Half Way
Incidents Cited in Life of Indian To Illustrate Acts of Friendship
Shown Invaders of Loved Wallowas

BY J. H. HORNER AND GRACE BUTTERFIELD

WHEN YOUNG Chief Joseph plunged his horse into the turbulent stream of Wallows river one cold June day in 1875, to save the crippled wife and the daughter of a traveling Baptist minister, who had just lost his own life while trying to cross the stream, he wasn't thinking of keeping the white out of his beloved Wallows country, or of war, He was merely acting as any brave man would have acted under like circumstances and in doing so was again the friend of the whites, as he had resolved always to be.
     He had called to William Webber and his family not to try and cross the river with their wagon as it was to high for fording.  But Webber was stubborn and drove on into the water.  He may of thought the Indians advise was not worth listening to.
     His wagon bed turned over as  the current caught it and floated down the stream. He swept under and immediately drowned, but his wile and daughter somehow struggled to a drift in the middle of the river, to which they clung and called for help.
     As soon as Joseph saw what had happened he jumped on his horse and rode at a gallop to the nearest settler's cabin, that of Logan and Henry Schaeffer. He called out in the Chinook jargon. "Boston lean memaloose (white man killed)."  
     Henry Schaeffer saddled a horse at once and rode with Joseph to the scene of the tragedy.

This early photograph shows Chief Joseph (right) with one of the several white men who called him friend. A. C. Smith. The two remained friends even after
Smith built a road.

Webber's crippled wife and his daughter, Belle, were still clinging to the drift in the center of the river. Schaeffer and Joseph took a long rope and tied one end to Joseph's horse to keep it from
 being swept away. Schaeffer, who was a very large man, held the other end from the bank.         
      Joseph was a shim, wiry man in those clays and he jumped quickly onto his horse and plunged It into the boiling stream, which was so deep that the water flowed over his horse's back.
     Belle called to him to save her mother first, so he carried Mrs. Webber to the bank and then went back for the daughter Just after Belle was taken safely on to his horse, the drift dislodged and went tossing down the stream.

BRAVERY:

     Of Chief Joseph
     Remembered Long

     This accident happened on a Friday and the river was so high that Webber's body was not found by the searching settlers until Sunday.
     Joseph's brave act was always appreciated by the valleys few settlers, although, on the whole, they had little use for the Indians.
     Whatever their attitude toward the Indians, it was fortunate for the early settlers in the Wallowa country that they had such a man as Joseph to deal with. For, combined with his natural honesty and his pride in the clean Nez Perc record in that tribe's dealings with the white man, there was his intense love of his native land.
     This love made him cautious, made him keep his young men in check so that there would be no excuse on the part of the whites to drive the Indians out. That is what kept the Wallowa Indians and the white settlers at peace with one another during the early years of white immigration into this valley.  Josephs attitude is clearly shown in a letter printed in 1873. "From a private letter received from Lapwal we learn that Chief Joseph has visited the post and is reported to have said that he heard with sorrow that the whites of Wallows valley expected him and his Indians to attack them. He said had not, nor did he intend to do any thing of the kind

SONG:

Settlers Chanted Clue to Feeling

     The attitude of the majority of the settlers is shown by another letter in the same paper The writer tells about meeting a few of the settlers at night on their way out of Wallowa in their wagons, after some sort of a scare. As they rode, some of them sang:
     "Run nigger, run nigger, and try to get away, before Old Joseph kicks up a row."
     Josephs desire for conciliation with the white settlers has been amply told about in his biographies. But as far as actual contacts go his biographers have dealt mostly with his relations with white men during the Nez Peace war and in his later years, when be became "history and "news."
     It is a different thing, a warmer thing, to come across these little stories of his actions before the war, when he was still a free and unbroken man, and to know that he was not only conciliatory (a matter of policy in those upset years) with the early settlers, but that he was brave and just and that he really made friends with several of them.
     In 1872 there were a series of councils between the Wallows Nez Percs and the earliest settlers in the valley. Joseph F. Johnson. who acted as the interpreter and chairman of the meetings between the whites and the Indians, told his son Ernest, in years, that this conversation took place between him and Joseph:
     "Chief Joseph wanted to know how much land the whites wanted. He said all the Wallowa valley belonged to tile Nez Perc Indians and so he (Johnson) explained that the great white father at Washington told the whites they could come to Wallowa and each man have 160 acres or one half a mile square. Which he illustrated to Chief Joseph by pointing out how large a piece of land it was. That would be all the land each white man would need."
     Joseph laughed and said: "If that is all, you and your klutchman (women) and papooses can stay and live in peace. It's all right."
     Joseph and Johnson became friends and later, in 1877, when matters were coming to a head between the whites, the Indians and the United States government, and both settlers and Indians were on edge, Joseph sent six of his trusted couriers to Johnson. These men told him from Joseph, that his young men were determined to go on the warpath, but that he was determined that they would never fight in Wallowa valley or spill blood there Johnson's son remembered that his father thanked the men and kept them at his cabin for dinner.
     Another of Joseph's white friends was A. C. Smith. Smith was very popular with all the Indians, one of the reasons for which, says T. T. Geer in his "Fifty Years in Oregon." was that he "habitually wore moccasins and white duck trousers!"
     In 1872 Smith started to build a wagon road into Wallowa valley from the Grande Ronde country. Joseph came to Smith's camp to see him about it.  He told him he didn't want any road built into the Wallowa valley, because it belonged to him and his tribe. If Smith built the road the whites would soon be coming in to settle.  He told him if he wanted, however, he could run it his horse in the valley.
     Smith said that if he did that the Indians would steal them. Joseph replied, trying to bargain, that if he wouldn't build his rood, any of his horses the Indians stole would be brought back to him.
     Smith went ahead and built his road, and later, a bridge across the Wallowa river. But he and Joseph remained friends. In fact they stayed friends for more than 25 years. It was Smith who arranged some of the meetings between Joseph and the Wallowa valley citizens in latter years, when Joseph visited the valley trying to get back part of it as a reservation for his people.
     R. M. Downey, Wallowa county's first assessor, has told about how he traded horses with Chief Joseph and had often beaten him shooting at marks (He didn't mention who beat at the horse trading!)
Downey said that one of the times he talked with Joseph, Joseph told him that Chief Moses, from a neighboring tribe, said for him to kill all immigrants as they clam into the Wallowa valley or else he would lose his country, Joseph said "no!"

Joseph

Thought Whites
Would Not Build

     Downey also said that Joseph didn't intend for the settlers to build houses or plow here, he thought they would only run their stock on his land he said it would be all right for them to come in.
     Another early settler, William McCormick, told of Joseph's visit to his cabin on Alder slope and that he "often gave him a quarter of beef to take back to camp with him when he left."
     Even the killing of the Indian Wil lot yah by A. B. Findley didn't prejudice Joseph against all the settlers, or even against Findley. The fault lay with the other white men In the affair McNall, he said, after being told about it by the Indians present he continued to visit the Findley home.  Mrs. Findley often told in later years of how he would take the Findley children on his lap and call them his papooses. He would join them in their game and, its turn, taught them Indian games.
     An ever present source of trouble, between the Indians and the whites in the west was gold. After seeing what had happened between the two peoples in other parts of  the county Joseph must have worried about the discovery of gold in his Wallowa country.
     There is a story told by Dan Otto, an old prospector, abut gold or what he felt sure was gold, and Joseph. He said that at one time when he and some other white men were at Chief Joseph's camp near Wallowa lake, some Indians rode up and handed Joseph something that looked like nuggets Joseph looked at them a moment and threw them into the lake.  He talked to the Indians who had brought the stones for a few minutes and then, said Otto, "they struck out as fart as they could ride " Otto and the other men there always supposed that Joseph must have told It Pro to go back and cover up the place where: they had found the stones.

ABILITY:

     To Draw Pictures.
     Mentioned by Many

     Joseph's artistic ability is not often mentioned, but that he must have had some such natural ability comes from several varied sources. The first person to speak of it was William Masterson, who was at the council between the early settlers and the Indians held in the forks of the Wallowa and Lostine rivers in 1876.  He said that Chief Joseph had made a crude drawing of the killing of the Indian Wil-lot-yah by Findley and McNall, from descriptions given him by Indians who were present. Masterson said that the drawing was so plain that he could recognize McNall, with his old hat pulled down on his head. and Findley with his bobbed hair hanging nearly to his shoulders and his beard. The drawing also included the gun.
     E. S. McComas speaks of Joseph "dropping to his knees and sketching a map of northwestern Oregon" when he interviewed him in 1577.
     Another time that his artistry was spoken of was in "The Oregonian for April 27, 1878 quoting from the Leavenworth Times. "In front of his neatly arranged tent stands a large tree, which he has blazed and on the white wood painted a number of hieroglyphics which detail the cause of his residence on the bank of the Missouri. The base of the blaze is filled with a long row of Indian lodges painted in red Above these are horses, birds, wolves, dogs and men, all represented in such manner as to convey the idea that they are all closely connected."
     Young Joseph, Hin-mah-too-lat-kahht (thunder rolling over the mountains) was a remarkable man, friend. artist, chief, warrior, strategist,  diplomat and orator, but the part of him that will always appeal to the imagination and touch the feelings of men most closely was his devoted love for his native country. Wallowa, "land of winding waters."

 

Contributed by Jim Reavis

Newspaper used by permission of The Chieftain

Return to Jim Reavis Contributions
 

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