The Nez Perces in the Indian Territory: Nimiipuu Survival
by J. Diane Pearson, University of Oklahoma Press, 2008, $34.95.
When Chief Joseph finally surrendered to Colonel Nelson A. Miles’ forces in the Bear Paw Mountains of northern Montana Territory on October 5, 1877, the Nez Perce War was over. Most accounts of that tragic flight for freedom end with Joseph’s speech and a quick overview of the conflict. There’s much more to the story of the Nez Perce, Cayuse and Palus bands, however, and much of it is compelling, especially as related by Pearson, who teaches American Indian studies at the University of California–Berkeley.
U.S. officials promised Chief Joseph that his people would be returned to their homelands in the Pacific Northwest. Instead, the Nez Perce would spend the next eight years in exile. After the surrender, they were forced across Montana to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, then on to the Quapaw Reservation and eventually the Ponca Agency in Indian Territory—a land the Nez Perce called “the Hot Place.”
Pearson focuses on the plight of the Nez Perce during their eight-year captivity, detailing the degradation and disease the tribe suffered. Yet Pearson’s book also offers glimpses of hope and courage. In 1885 the Nez Perce negotiated their release, allowing most to return to Idaho and the Wallowa Valley. Chief Joseph himself would never return to his home country, dying in 1904 on the Colville Reservation in Washington. More than a postscript to the Nez Perce War, Pearson’s book offers an important record of an overlooked account in American Indian history.
Originally published in the February 2009 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.