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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
The new promises had their effect. The Wallawalla, Cayuse, and Umatilla spokesmen were won over, and Peopeo Moxmox promised to go on the reservation as soon as his new house was built. Stevens was delighted, and ordered the treaties prepared for signature. Only Kamiakin and the Yakimas still held out. But suddenly, wrote Lieutenant Kip, “a new explosive element dropped into this little political caldron. Just before the Council adjourned, an Indian runner arrived with the news that Looking Glass, the war chief of the Nez Perces, was coming.” It is probable that both Lawyer and Stevens were thrown into confusion. Stevens recovered quickly. “I am glad Looking Glass … is coming,” he announced. “He is a friend of Kamiakin … he has come away from the Blackfeet … let his first glance be upon you sitting here. When he is close by two or three of us will go and take him by the hand and set him down by his chief in the presence of his friend Kamiakin. Let us now have Kamiakin’s heart.”
The Yakima’s reply, at last, was one of submission. But it indicated that he had received a dressing down from the other Yakima chiefs, Te-i-as and Owhi, who had told him that they intended signing the treaty. The significance of what he had to say was apparently not noticed by Stevens and Palmer. Let the Americans settle down by the Yakima Valley wagon route, Kamiakin said. Let them settle about the road so that the Indians may go and see them. “I do not speak this for myself; it is my people’s wish. Owhi and Te-i-as and the chiefs. I, Kamiakin, do not wish for goods for myself. The forest knows me. He knows my heart … I am tired. I am anxious to get back to my garden.”
So Kamiakin capitulated, and after him Joseph, Red Wolf, and Skloom spoke. Joseph appealed to the commissioners to think of the future generations of Nez Perces, and to be certain to include his Wallowa land in the Nez Perce reservation. Red Wolf asked that William Craig be allowed to stay with the Nez Perces “because he understands us … when there is any news that comes into the country we can go to him and hear it straight.” Skloom, Kamiakin’s brother, asked merely that the Americans pay what the Yakimas’ land was worth. Stevens agreed, and on a note of complete victory announced that the treaties would be signed next day. Then he adjourned the council.
A few minutes later the Indians hurried off to meet Looking Glass, who came riding onto the council grounds with three elderly Nez Perce buffalo-hunting chiefs and a retinue of about twenty warriors. Their arrival created a commotion. All were in buffalo robes and were painted for war. They had been in fights with the Blackfeet and had heard of the council when they got back from the plains to Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. Looking Glass had left most of his band behind to travel slowly, and with a small group had hastened across the Bitterroots by the Coeur d’Alene route. As Stevens and Palmer came up to meet them, they noticed that one of the warriors carried a staff from which dangled a Blackfoot scalp. Looking Glass received the commissioners coldly. He looked around at the Indians, and launched suddenly into a tirade: “My people, what have you done? While I was gone, you have sold my country. I have come home, and there is not left me a place on which to pitch my lodge. Go home to your lodges. I will talk to you.”
All of Stevens’ work fell suddenly apart. The seventy-year-old war chief—“old, irascible, and treacherous,” Stevens called him—heaped scorn that night on the headmen who had agreed to sign the treaty. The next day, June 9, Lawyer told Stevens that Looking Glass would probably calm down in a day or two, but Stevens’ determination had now risen, and he had no intention of letting Looking Glass defeat him at the last moment. Before the council started, the Governor met privately with Peopeo Moxmox and Kamiakin and won promises from them to abide by their word and sign the treaties. Then he asked Kamiakin for a list of the tribes over which he had authority as head chief. The Yakima, according to Stevens’ secretary, James Doty, named a number of tribes, but the only one other than the Yakimas that Doty recorded at the time was the Palouse.
When the council reconvened, Stevens presented the Indians with finished versions of the treaties for the three reservations, all ready to be signed. With studied indifference to Looking Glass, he reviewed what the treaties said, reminding the chiefs that they did not have to move their people onto the reservations “for two or three years.” Certain points were glossed over: Kamiakin, for instance, was to be considered the head chief of a long roster of Columbia River bands that were not present, but whose people Stevens wished to move onto the Yakima reservation, out of the way of the whites. Stevens was talking quickly, and probably did not even reveal the role he was assigning Kamiakin, for the Yakima would not willingly have accepted it, and it is not likely that he had included those bands in the “list” he had given Stevens and Doty earlier that morning. All of them had their own headmen, and Kamiakin had nothing to do with their affairs. But Stevens brushed past the point and kept talking. He offered to read the treaties, article by article, but told the Indians that they had heard everything in them, “not once but two or three times.” Then he asked if anvone still wanted to speak.