- 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
But I had enough of dead people now, and of her crying and wailing. I tried to coax her out of going. I said, “There is no use in going back out of our way. Your father is all right. It is nearly two years since then; maybe you cannot find the place where the warriors hid his grave.” With tears in her eyes, she reminds me that I had promised her that I would help search for her father’s grave, and see that it was left in good condition. Still not wanting to go, I argued, “We have all those pack horses loaded with buffalo robes; they will be too much bother for us to pack up only to drive them there and back here again.” She said we could cache the bundles of robes and other stuff we did not need, and just take the horses with us loose.
I pointed out to her that there were plenty Indian signs around here. The Big Hole was Bannock country; some of the Bannocks might find the cache. But In-who-lise was too determined, to have me discourage her this way. She still pleads with me, saying, “Oh, my man, surely it is not with you as the old Pend d’Oreille women in the buffalo camp said—that white men are liars, evil and bad, and that I was going to be sorry for believing An-ta-lee [Garcia], with his sweet crooked tongue, that can only say sweet lies to the foolish young women in camp. A-o [yes] and that I had better watch you or I would be soon sorry that I married you. I told them they were liars; it was not so. I did not want to believe them.” With this none-too-flattering send-off from my better half, what could I do but say, “All right, since you will have it so, we will go. But we cannot start tomorrow, for we must pack all those robes and other things two or three miles away from here and find a good safe place to cache them.”
The next day, after we cached our store in the timber, we came back to camp. Having plenty of time, I asked In-who-lise some questions about the battle—where, for instance, the soldiers and white men from the Bitterroot had made their holes in the ground that prevented the Nez Perce warriors from killing them all. She pointed to the first gulch up and across the creek, not far from our tepee, saying with bitterness, “It is over there, where the white dogs stayed and made their holes in that gulch.” I wanted her to come with me and see what was there, but In-who-lise, shivering and in terror at this request, said I must not go there; that there was now only graves and evil spirits. She said I must not go over there and leave her alone when she is afraid and her heart sad.
We started on our quest early the following morning and came to the first Nez Perce camp about twelve miles beyond the battlefield. It was a harder job to find the way than In-who-lise had anticipated, because she had been wounded and in terror when she travelled here before.
At that camp and the next one we found that the pursuing troops had bivouacked. There were no signs of the graves of those who were badly wounded in the battle and had died here. Although some Nez Perce had been buried near those two camps, all signs of their graves had disappeared. The country and trail seemed changed to her since she passed over it nearly two years ago.
But in a day and a half of travel, we came to where the third Nez Perce camp had been pitched, the one we were looking for. Then a new difficulty confronted us. I learned for the first time, after coming this far, that In-who-lise had not witnessed the burial at all. She had had to ride on with the camp when the warriors were burying Gray Eagle, her father. She had only the directions given her by the burial party, after its return to the fleeing Nez Perce band. Riding all day long with the rest of the wounded and others in the outfit, with a rifle shot through her shoulder, her face and lips swollen, she had had all she could endure without the additional ordeal of attending her father’s funeral.
At first when I heard this I could not help being mad at her lying and bringing me back in those hills on a wild-goose chase. But she insisted that she knew how to find the place. She said her father’s friends had told her the place where they buried him was in the first side gulch across the creek and up the trail from where the camp lay. Her father’s grave would be back of the second thicket of pines on the left side of the gulch. Pine saplings had been cut and planted on and around the grave, as if they were a part of the thicket. At the third thicket farther up and across the gulch would be another warrior’s grave, that of Quiel-spo (Red Heart). We decided to keep on going till we came to the mouth of that gulch and then camp, and hunt for the grave from there. We went across the creek and up the main trail. Soon coming to a side gulch that opened up to the right, we pitched our camp at its mouth. After arranging camp and having something to eat, we started up this gulch afoot, as In-who-lise said it would not be far.
That afternoon we hunted that gulch, which was about one and a half miles long. We went up and down both sides, but found nothing. There were no thickets as had been described, nothing resembling the landmarks as pictured. It could not be the place.
It was then when In-who-lise, better known to me as Susie, my Nez Perce wife, with her sad, patient face and dark, pleading eyes, realized that we had come all this distance for nothing. She just sat down in her grief, speechless.