- Historic Sites
Graves And Grizzlies
A search for a desecrated corpse, an encounter with a 900-pound bear, and a night of terror in Montana, 1879.
June 1967 | Volume 18, Issue 4
When in 1879 Andrew Garcia, a young Spanish-American trader, proposed to the eighteen-year-old Nez Perce girl ln-who-lise, he made her two promises: that they would be married properly, by a priest, and that he would lake her to find the graves of her father and sister. These relatives had been killed two years earlier in the Battle of the Big Hole, near present-day Wisdom, Montana, during the last rout of the Nez Perce Indians (see “The Last Stand of Chief Joseph” in the February, 1958, AMERICAN HERITAGE). In-who-lise’s sister had been shot to death as she ran out of their tepee, and her father had died two days later of a stomach wound, ln-who-lise was obsessed with finding their graves, for according to Nez Perce belief, the spirit of a dead person not properly buried would wander in eternal misery.
In-who-lise herself had been shot through the shoulder and clubbed in the face by a soldier’s gun as she attempted to escape. The wound healed, but one of her front teeth had been broken off by the butt of the rifle; the Pend d’Oreille Indians who took her in named her ln-who-lise, or “Broken Tooth.”
That Garcia, who was then about twenty-four, genuinely loved his Indian bride is demonstrated in this picaresque, tender, utterly ingenuous account written almost forty years later, ln-who-lise died before she was twenty, and Garcia later married three more times; but when as an old man he wrote his memoirs, what he chose to record was his early years among the Indians, and his courtship and brief marriage to the appealing Nez Perce maiden. Bennett H. Stein found the manuscript, stored in old dynamite boxes, in 1948, five years after Garcia's death in Missoula, Montana. Mr. Stein has reorganized and punctuated it, but the words themselves are Garcia’s. The following article is an excerpt from the memoir, which will be published in August by Houghton Mifflin Company under the title Tough Trip Through Paradise. Our story starts when Garcia and his bride, driving a bunch of pack horses, reach the Big Hole battlefield. —The Editors
I had wanted to see the Big Hole battlefield, and now that I had my wish, I hope to God never to see another sight like it again!
We tried to find the grave of In-who-lise’s sister, Lucy, but our search was in vain. The sight was awful to see. Human bones were scattered through the long grass and among the willows across the creek, and on this side of the creek human bones and leering skulls were scattered around as though they had never been buried. Only the soldiers’ graves were in fair condition.
This ghastly display of Indian dead made me doubtful for the first time in my life if there is a Jesus or a God. And to make matters worse, my wife, since the time when we came to this cursed place, has been crying and calling to her dead sister’s spirit in Nez Perce Indian. There is nothing so weird or mournful in heaven, earth, or hell as a wild squaw wailing for her dead. You can hear it a long way, and it haunts you for days. As her piercing wails came and went, far and near through this beautiful still valley of death, they would come echoing back in a way that made me shiver, as though in answer to her sad appeals.
This was what In-who-lise had been telling me on our way here—that if the bad Indians and white scouts with the one-armed chief [General O.O. Howard] had found her father’s grave, they would have dug him up and scalped him and left him lying there, like they done to those at the Big Hole battlefield, and to the dead Nez Perce whenever they could find them. Nez Perce scouts, waiting behind to see what the white men were going to do, saw this happen. They saw them dig up the dead Nez Perce warriors and scalp them and leave them to rot in the sun. It was the worst thing that could happen to an Indian, because it affected his future spiritual life, making him an evil spirit in the dark forever. In-who-lise told me it was after this that some Nez Perce warriors had said they were going to kill every white man they could find and burn his tepee.
As I stood there in horror, listening to my woman’s cries of grief, I thought, no matter what she said, we would leave this hellhole of sorrow at sunrise tomorrow morning. I had enough of this place. In time In-who-lise quiets down and her wails were at an end. We went on our way back to our camp, a little way up the creek from where the Nez Perce camp had been and the Big Hole battle had been fought.
In-who-lise said, “In the morning we will follow my people’s trail from here to where my father is buried. After what I see here, I am afraid that some of the bad Injuns and white men with the one-armed chief have dug him up and scalped him. E-clew-shay [yes, surely], your woman knows it now, and can tell that this is so. Or why does her father’s spirit call and whisper in sorrow to his child from the land of the dead?”