A Project of the Idaho GenWeb

Nez Perce Indian Chiefs and Leaders

Mark Arthur

A full-blood Nez Perce, born in 1873. His mother being captured with Chief Joseph's band in 1877, Mark became a wanderer among strange tribes until about 1880, when he found his way back to the Nez Perce res., Idaho, where he entered the mission school of Miss McBeth and soon began to prepare for the ministry. When the Nez Perce captives sent to the Indian Territory were returned to their northern home, Mark found his mother among them and cared for her until her death . About 1900 he was ordained by the Walla Walla presbytery and became pastor, at Lapwai, Idaho, of the oldest Presbyterian church west of the Rocky Mountains, in which charge he has met with excellent success. In 1905 he was elected delegate to represent both whites and Indians at the general assembly of the Presbyterian church.

Chief Joseph

The chief of the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of Nez Perce during General Oliver O. Howard's attempt to forcibly remove his band and the other "non-treaty" Nez Perce to a reservation in Idaho. For his principled resistance to the removal, he became renowned as a humanitarian and peacemaker.

Born Hinmuuttu-yalatlat (alternatively Hinmaton-Yalaktit or Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, Nez Perce: "Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain") in the Wallowa Valley of northeastern Oregon, he was known as Young Joseph during his youth because his father had the same name.

Their refusal to sign caused a rift between the "non-treaty" and "treaty" bands of Nez Perce. The "treaty" Nez Perce moved within the new Idaho reservation's boundaries, while the
"non-treaty" Nez Perce remained on their lands. Joseph the Elder demarcated Wallowa land with a series of poles, proclaiming, "Inside this boundary all our people were born. It circles the graves of our fathers, and we will never give up these graves to any man."

The non-treaty Nez Perce suffered many injustices at the hands of settlers and prospectors, but out of fear of reprisal from the militarily superior Americans, Joseph never allowed any violence against them, instead making many concessions to them in hopes of securing peace.

Unable to find any suitable uninhabited land on the reservation, Howard informed Joseph that his people had thirty days to collect their livestock and move to the reservation. Joseph pleaded for more time, but Howard told him that he would consider their presence in the Wallowa Valley beyond the thirty-day mark an act of war.

Returning home, Joseph called a council among his people. At the council, he spoke on behalf of peace, preferring to abandon his father's grave over war. Too-hul-hul-sote, insulted by his incarceration, advocated war.

The Wallowa band began making preparations for the long journey, meeting first with other bands at Rocky Canyon. At this council too, many leaders urged war, while Joseph argued in favor of peace.

While the council was underway, a young man whose father had been killed rode up and announced that he and several other young men had already killed four white men, an act sure to initiate war.

Still hoping to avoid further bloodshed, Joseph and other Nez Perce chiefs began leading his people north toward Canada.

With 2,000 U.S. soldiers in pursuit, Joseph and other Nez Perce chiefs led 800 Nez Perce toward freedom at the Canadian border. For over three months, the Nez Perce outmaneuvered and battled their pursuers traveling 1,700 miles across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. General Howard, leading the opposing cavalry, was impressed with the skill with which the Nez Perce fought, using advance and rear guards, skirmish lines, and field fortifications. Finally, after a devastating five-day battle during freezing weather conditions with no food or blankets, Chief Joseph formally surrendered to General Nelson Appleton Miles on October 5, 1877 in the Bear Paw Mountains of the Montana Territory, less than 40 miles (60 km) south of Canada in a place close to the present-day Chinook in Blaine County. The battle is remembered in popular history by the words attributed to Chief Joseph at the formal surrender:

"Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Too-hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on 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 of them 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."

Looking Glass

Chief Looking Glass (Allalimya Takanin c.1832-1877) was a Nez Perce war leader who, with Chief Joseph, directed the 1877 retreat from eastern Oregon into Montana and onward toward the Canadian border during the Nez Perce War. He was killed in 1877 after the Battle of Bear Paw.

Although he bitterly resented white encroachments on his ancestral lands, he opposed going to war with the United States over its plans to force his people onto the small Indian reservation assigned to them at Lapwai, Idaho.

When the Nez Percé and the U.S. Army first clashed at Whitebird Canyon on June 17, 1877, Looking Glass was already living on the Lapwai reservation, as he had agreed to do. Nevertheless, General Oliver Howard believed that Looking Glass would soon join

the fighting, and he sent a detachment of troops to arrest him. Howard's plans backfired, however, for Looking Glass eluded arrest and fled the reservation to join Joseph and his fugitive band just as Howard had feared.

For both better and worse, the Nez Percé flight bore the mark of Looking Glass's leadership. A respected battlefield commander, he convinced the band to flee to Montana, despite Joseph's opposition, and then persuaded them to stop at Big Hole, where he incorrectly believed they would be free from attack. After soldiers under the command of Colonel John Gibbon surprised the Nez Percé there on August 9, inflicting heavy casualties, Looking Glass lost much of his prestige as a military leader.

Nearly two months later, when the Nez Percé were finally surrounded by Colonel Nelson A. Miles's troops in Northern Montana's Bearpaw mountains, Looking Glass remained stubbornly opposed to surrender. By this time, however, Chief Joseph had concluded that surrender was the only viable option, and on October 5, he rode out to hand over his rifle. That same day, Looking Glass set out to join Sitting Bull's band in Canada, but before he could make it to the border, he was killed by a Cheyenne scout.


An Indian prophet and teacher, the originator of a religion current among the tribes of the upper Columbia River and adjacent region in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, whence the name "Smohallah Indians" sometimes applied. The name, properly Shmoqula, signifies "The Preacher," and was given to him after he became prominent as a religious reformer. He belonged to the Sokulk, a small tribe cognate to the Nez Percé and centering about Priest rapids on the Columbia in eastern Washington. He was born about 1815 or 1820, and in his boyhood frequented a neighboring Catholic mission, from which he evidently derived some of his ceremonial ideas. He distinguished himself as a warrior, and began to preach about the year 1850. Somewhat later, in consequence of a quarrel with a rival chief, he left home secretly and absented himself for a long time, wandering as far south as Mexico and returning overland through Nevada to the Columbia. On being questioned he declared that he had been to the spirit world and had been sent back to deliver a message to the Indian race. This message, like that of other aboriginal prophets, was, briefly, that the Indians must return to their primitive mode of life, refuse the teachings or the things of the white man, and in all their actions be guided by the will of the Indian God as revealed in dreams to Smohalla and his priests. The doctrine found many adherents, Chief Joseph and his Nez Percé being among the most devoted believers. Smohalla has recently died, but, in spite of occasional friction with agency officials, the "Dreamers," as they are popularly called, maintain their religious organization, with periodical gatherings and an elaborate ceremony. See Mooney, Ghost Dance Religion, 14th Rep. B. A. E., 1896.


Throughout the entire history of settlement, Lawyer was a friend of the Whites. He was especially prominent in the negotiations with Governor Stevens after the great war of 1855. He threw the weight of his great influence in favor of the treaty, which established the existing reservations and confirmed the Indians in the property which they now hold. Though opposed in his peace policy by Owhi, Kamiakin, Peu-peu-mox-mox and Joseph, the persistence of Lawyer and the numerical strength of his people turned the scale in favor of the treaty. The benefit to the settlers by this event can scarcely be overstated. As was just, the astute chief was ever afterwards held in great favor.

In person Lawyer was a typical Indian. Though not of large stature, he was exceedingly straight and well-built with the eye of an eagle and the nose of a hawk. He has had few equals in general intelligence among his people.

"Lawyer" was a nickname given to Hallalhotsoot by the mountain men of the early 1830s. He was known as "the talker," and his speaking abilities and wisdom enabled him to influence both native and non-native peoples.

Lawyer devoted his life to making peace with the white population and following the terms of the treaties he signed. Nevertheless, in 1870—after holding his post for twenty-five years—he voluntarily stepped down from the leadership of the Nez Perce.

His descendants tell the tale of his death on January 3, 1876, in this manner: It was Lawyer's custom to fly his American flag from a pole in front of his lodge or house. On the day that he died, knowing that his end was near, he instructed some member to gradually pull down the flag. The flag would be lowered a bit and then Lawyer, after a time would say: "Pull it down a little more." So the flag was lowered a little more. This was repeated several times and when the flag touched the ground, Lawyer died.



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