A BOY'S VISIT TO CHIEF JOSEPH

BY ERSKINE WOOD

CHIEF JOSEPH

CHIEF JOSEPH

 

[Note: The author of the sketch "A Boy's Visit to Chief Joseph" was Erskine Wood, a boy thirteen years old. He was then an expert shot with the rifle, and had brought down not only small game, but bear, wolves, and deer. A true woodsman, he was also a skilled archer and angler, having camped alone in the woods, and lived upon the game secured by shooting and fishing.

When Chief Joseph, of the Nez Percé Indians, went to the national capital, he met Erskine, and invited the young hunter to visit his camp some summer. So in July, 1892, the boy started alone from Portland, Oregon, carrying his guns, bows, rods, and blanket, and made his own way to Chief Joseph's camp on the Nespilem River.

The Indians received him hospitably, and he took part in their annual fall hunt. He was even adopted into the tribe by the chief, and, according to their custom, received an Indian name, Ishem-tux-il-pilp,—"Red Moon."

Chief Joseph's band was the remnant of the tribe which, under his leadership, fought the United States army so gallantly in 1877; they carried on a running fight of about eleven hundred miles in one summer.

When Erskine visited him, the chief was in every way most kind and hospitable to his young guest.

C. E. S. Wood.]


I   LEFT Portland on the third of July, 1892, to visit Chief Joseph, who was chief of the Nez Percé Indians. They lived on the Colville Agency, two or three hundred miles north of the city of Spokane, in the State of Washington.

I arrived at Davenport, Washington, on the fourth of July. There was no stage, so I had to stay all night. I left for Fort Spokane next day, arriving at about seven in the evening. As we did not start for Nespilem until the seventh, I went and visited Colonel Cook, commanding officer at the fort. I stayed all night, and next morning I helped the soldiers load cartridges at the magazine. That afternoon I watched the soldiers shooting volleys at the target range. We started for Nespilem in a wagon at three o'clock in the morning.

The next day I went fishing in the morning, and in the afternoon I went up the creek again, fishing with Doctor Latham. He was doctor at the Indian agency. The next day I went down to Joseph's camp, where I stayed the rest of the time—about five months—alone with the Indians. The doctor and the teamster returned to the agency. During my first day in the camp, I wrote a letter to my mother, and bought a beaded leather belt from one of the squaws. I stayed about camp most of the first day; but in the afternoon I went fishing, and caught a nice string of trout.

The Indian camp is usually in two or more long rows of tepees. Sometimes two or three families occupy one lodge. When they are hunting and drying meat for their winter supply, several lodges are put together, making one big lodge about thirty feet long, in which are two or three fires instead of one. They say that it dries the meat better.

When game gets scarce, camp is broken and moved to a different place. The men and boys catch the horses, and then the squaws have to put on the pack-saddles (made of bone and covered with untanned deer-hide) and pack them. The men sit around smoking and talking. When all is ready, the different families set out, driving their spare horses and pack-horses in front of them. The men generally hunt in the early morning; they get up at about two o'clock, take a vapor bath, get breakfast, and start to hunt at about three. Sometimes they hunt on horseback, and sometimes on foot. They come back at about ten or eleven o'clock, and if they have been on foot and have been successful they take a horse and go and bring in the game. The meat is always divided. If Chief Joseph is there, he divides it; and if he is not there, somebody is chosen to fill his place. They believe that if the heads or horns of the slain deer are left on the ground, the other deer feel insulted and will go away, and that would spoil the hunting in that neighborhood. So the heads and horns are hung up in trees. They think, too, that when anybody dies, his spirit hovers around the spot for several days afterward, and so they always move the lodge. I was sitting with Joseph in the tepee once, when a lizard crawled in. I discovered it, and showed it to Joseph. He was very solemn, and I asked him what was the matter. "A medicine-man sent it here to do me harm. You have very good eyes to discover the tricks of the medicine-men." I was going to throw it into the fire, but he stopped me, saying: "If you burn it, it will make the medicine-men angry. You must kill it some other way."

The Indians' calendars are little square sticks of wood about eight inches long. Every day they file a little notch, and on Sunday a little hole is made. When any one dies, the notch is painted red or black. When they are home at Nespilem, they all meet out on the prairie on certain days, and have horse-racing. They run for about two miles. When they are on the home-stretch, about half a mile from the goal, a lot of men get behind them and fire pistols and whip the horses.

I was out grouse-hunting with Niky Mowitz, my Indian companion, and we started a deer. We were near the camp, and he proposed to run around in front of the deer and head it for camp. So we started, and the way he got over those rocks was a wonder! If we had not had the dogs, we might have succeeded; but as soon as they caught sight of the deer, they went after it like mad, and we did not see it again. Niky Mowitz is a nephew and adopted son of Chief Joseph; his father was killed in the Nez Percé war of 1877. In the fall hunt the boys are not allowed to go grouse- or pheasant-hunting without first getting permission of the chief in command. And it is never granted to them until the boys have driven the horses to water and counted them to see if any are missing.

The game that the boys play most has to be played out in open country, where there are no sticks or underbrush. They get a little hoop, or some of them have a little iron ring, about two inches across. Then they range themselves in rows, and one rolls the ring on the ground, and the others try to throw spears through it. The spears are straight sticks about three feet and a half long, with two or three little branches cut short at the end, to keep the spear from going clear through the ring.

The Indians take "Turkish," or vapor, baths. They have a little house in the shape of a half globe, made of willow sticks, covered with sods and dirt until it is about a foot thick and perfectly tight. A hole is dug in the house and filled with hot rocks. The Indians (usually about four) crowd in, and then one pours hot water on the hot rocks, making a lot of steam. They keep this up until one's back commences to burn, and then he gives a little yell, and somebody outside tilts up the door (a blanket), and they all come out and jump at once into the cold mountain-stream. This bath is taken just before going hunting, as they think that the deer cannot scent them after it.

Only the boys indulge in wrestling. They fold their hands behind each other's backs, and try to throw each other by force, or by bending the back backward. Tripping is unfair, in their opinion.

The country is full of game, and we killed many deer and a cinnamon bear. In the evening, when they come home, they talk about the day's hunt, and what they saw and did. The one that killed the bear said that when he first saw the bear it was about fifteen yards off, and coming for him with open jaws, and growling and roaring like everything. He fired and wounded it. It stopped and stood on its hind legs, roaring worse than ever. While this was going on, the Indian slipped around and shot it through the heart. I cut off the claws and made a necklace out of them. The next day they dug a hole nine feet in diameter and built a big fire in it, and piled rocks all over the fire to heat them. In the meantime the squaws had cut a lot of fir-boughs and brought the bear-meat. When the fire had burned down, and the rocks were red hot, all the coals and things that would smoke were raked out, and sticks laid across the hole (it was about three feet deep). Then the fir-boughs were dipped in water and laid over the sticks. And then meat was laid on, and then more fir-boughs, and then the fat (the fat between the hide and flesh of a bear is taken off whole) is laid on, and then more fir-boughs dipped and sprinkled with water. Then come two or three blankets, and, last of all, the whole thing is covered with earth until it is perfectly tight. After about two hours everything is removed, and the water that has been put on the boughs has steamed the meat thoroughly. Then Chief Joseph comes and cuts it up, and every family gets a portion. I helped the squaws cook some wild carrots once (they cook them just as they do the bear, except that they let them cook all night), and Joseph said that I must not do squaws' work: that a brave must hunt, fish, fight, and take care of the horses; but a squaw must put up the tepees, cook, sew, make moccasins and clothes, tan the hides, and take care of the household goods.

The boys take care of the horses. They catch them and drive them to and from their watering-places; and the rest of the time they hunt with bows and arrows (the boys don't have guns), and fish and play games. The Indian dogs are fine grouse- and pheasant-hunters, scenting the game from a long distance, and going and treeing them; and they will stay there and bark until the men come. The dogs are exactly like coyotes, except that they are smaller.

ERSKINE WOOD—NAMED BY CHIEF JOSEPH "ISHEM-TUX-IL-PILP" OR "RED MOON" ERSKINE WOOD—NAMED BY CHIEF JOSEPH "ISHEM-TUX-IL-PILP" OR "RED MOON"

Many people have said that the Indian is lazy. In the summer he takes care of his horses, hunts enough to keep fresh meat, fishes, and plays games. But in the fall, when they are getting their winter meat, they get up regularly every morning at two o'clock and start to hunt. And if the Indian has been successful, as he usually is, he seldom gets home before five o'clock. And the next morning it is the same thing, while hoar-frost is all over the ground. In the Fall Hunt, I was out in the mountains with them seventy-five miles from Nespilem (where Joseph's camp was, and about one hundred and fifty miles from the agency), and it was about the 15th of November; and if I had not gone home then, I would not have been able to go until spring. So Niky Mowitz brought me in to Nespilem, and we made the trip (seventy-six miles) in one day. We started at about eight o'clock in the morning, on our ponies. We had not been gone more than an hour when the dogs started a deer; we rode very fast, and tried to get a sight of it, but we couldn't.

Chief Joseph did not go to the mountains with us on this hunt, and we reached his tent in Nespilem at about ten o'clock. When we got to the tent, one of Joseph's squaws cooked us some supper; and on the third day after that, I went to Wilbur, a little town on the railroad, and from there to Portland, where papa met me at the train.