- Historic Sites
A Most Satisfactory Council
That was what the white men called it, but the Indians could see how the wind was blowing. Would they abandon the hunting grounds of their forefathers without a fight?
October 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 6
That gave Looking Glass his chance. He did not tell white men where to go, he snapped at Stevens angrily, and if anybody was going to tell his people where to go, it would be he, not a white man. “I am going to talk straight,” he said. He looked around, pointing to the other headmen. “I am not like those people who hang their heads and say nothing.” He paused a moment, and Young Chief suddenly said, “That is the reason I told the Governor to let it be till another time. . . ." Stevens patiently cautioned Young Chief to let Looking Glass finish. The old war chief suddenly ran his finger along Stevens’ map, outlining the borders of the Nez Perce lands as they then stood. That was the reservation he wanted for the Nez Perces. It was a stratagem that Kamiakin, Peopeo Moxmox, and Looking Glass had originally devised. They would designate all their lands as reservations, and there would be no country to sell. Then he asked for a second council, later on. One of the Nez Perces, a follower of Lawyer named Billy, called out that that was just putting it off. He was answered by Metat Waptass: “Looking Glass is speaking. We look upon him as a chief.”
“I thought we had appointed Lawyer our head chief, and he was to do our talking,” Billy replied.
Stevens and Palmer both tried to argue with Looking Glass, but to no avail. The war chief argued for his line, not the one defined in the treaty. Stevens turned away from him to ask the tribes if they were ready to sign. “What the Looking Glass says, I say,” said Young Chief. “I ask you whether you are ready to sign?” Stevens repeated, “The papers are drawn. We ask are you now ready to sign those papers and let them go to the President.”
”. . . to the line I marked myself. Not to your line,” Looking Glass insisted.
Stevens faced the old war chief. “I will say to the Looking Glass, we cannot agree.”
“Why do you talk so much about it?” Palmer snapped angrily at the Nez Perce.
“It was my children that spoke yesterday, and now I come . . .” said Looking Glass.
Stevens sat back resignedly, as Palmer argued with the old man. It did him no good. “I am not going to say any more today,” Looking Glass said. Stevens finally adjourned the council, urging Looking Glass to think the matter over and talk to the other Nez Perces.
After the meeting, Peopeo Moxmox signed the treaty for the Wallawallas. Stevens maintained that Kamiakin also signed, having “yielded to the advice of the other [Yakima] chiefs.” But Kamiakin later insisted that he only made a pledge of friendship by touching a little stick as it made a mark. Later in the evening, Lawyer came to see Stevens, and told him that he should have reminded Looking Glass that he, Lawyer, was the head chief, that the whole Nez Perce tribe had said in council that he was the head chief, and that the tribe had agreed to the treaty and had pledged its word. Stevens, he said, should have insisted that the Nez Perces live up to their pledge.
“In reply,” Stevens wrote, “I told the Lawyer . . . your authority will be sustained, and your people will be called upon to keep their word. . . . The Looking Glass will not be allowed to speak as head chief. You, and you alone, will be recognized. Should Looking Glass persist, the appeal will be made to your people. They must sign the treaty agreed to by them through you as head chief. . . .” Lawyer then went to the Nez Perce camp, and in a stormy council that lasted through most of the next day managed to muster enough support to reaffirm his position as head chief. Looking Glass apparently accepted his position as second to Lawyer in the council, and the headmen drew up a paper that pledged the tribe to honor its word to Governor Stevens.
Early on the morning of June 11, Stevens told Lawyer that he was about to call the council. “I shall call upon your people to keep their word, and upon you as head chief to sign first. We want no speeches. This will be the last day of the council.” Lawyer assured him that that was the right course, and that was the way it finally happened. The council convened, Stevens reminded the Nez Perces that they had all originally agreed that Lawyer was their head chief and spokesman, and that Lawyer had given his word to the treaty. “I shall call upon Lawyer the head chief, and then I shall call on the other chiefs to sign. Will Lawyer now come forward.”
Lawyer signed. Then Stevens called on Looking Glass and Joseph, and both of them stepped up and made their marks without a word. The other Nez Perce headmen followed in a line, and after them, the Cayuses signed their treaty.
“Thus ended in the most satisfactory manner this great council,” Stevens wrote in his journal.