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1400 Mile Retreat

Contributed by Jim Reavis

     On July 17, 1877, the famous retreat of Chief Joseph began, followed by the troops of General O. Howard.  The thrilling story of this retreat written by some gifted Indian, would sound mush like Xenophon’s story of  “Retreat of the One Thousand’.  General Howard and stampeded his pack train, which was partially recovered later by the cavalry.  “The fleeing Indians then traveled some of the worst trails for man or beast on this continent,” as described by General Sheridan.  On September 13, they gave battle to General Sturgis near the mouth of Clark’s Fork.  “The Indians proceeded north toward the British possessions with the view of joining the renegade Sioux with whom Sitting Bull was in hiding.”  The Indians, who had successfully retreated a thousand miles, crossed the Missouri river, and at the mouth of Eagle creek in the Bear Creek mountains, within fifty miles of the British possessions, were attacked by General Miles.

            As the fight was closing, (September 30) General Howard came up and the entire band of Indians surrendered to him and General Miles. “This”, said General Sheridan, “ended one of the most extraordinary Indian wars of which we have any record,” The Indians throughout displayed a courage and skill that elicited universal praise:  they abstained from scalping:  let captive women go free: did not commit indiscriminate murder of peaceful families, which is unusual: and fought with almost scientific skill.  After the war the Nez Percé were sent to Indian territory where they were peaceable and industrious; and May 1885, they returned to Idaho and Washington; but they were never again permitted to live in the Wallowa valley for which the Nez Perce war was fought.  September 21, 1904, Chief Joseph died at the age of 67, at his lonely place of exile at Nespelem on the Colville Indian reservation.  Washington, surrounded by  a small band of his intimate friends.  A splendid monument erected by the State of Washington now marks his grave.

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