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Nez Perce War & the Oliver Otis Howard Papers HIST 2160: History of the American West | SPring 2021

Introduction to Special Collections & Archives

Special Collections & Archives is a department of the Bowdoin College Library that houses rare books, manuscripts, and the College Archives.

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Exploring Perspectives of the Nez Perce War in the Oliver Otis Howard Papers

“I Will Fight No More Forever” speech, October 5, 1877. Published in Harper’s Weekly (November 17, 1877). Words spoken by Chief Joseph, interpreted by Arthur Chapman, and transcribed by C.E.S. Wood.

Tell General Howard that I know his heart. What he told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead, Tu-hul-hil-sote is dead. the old men are all dead. It is the young men who now say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people -- some of them have run away to the hills and have no blankets and no food. No one knows where they are -- perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs, my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more against the white man.​

Oliver Otis Howard (1830-1909, Bowdoin 1850), a career officer in the United States Army, rose to the rank of bvt. maj. general in the volunteers and, later, in the regular army. During the Civil War, he fought at Bull Run, Fair Oaks, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, and in Sherman's march through Georgia. After the Civil War, Howard was appointed commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (1865-1873). Subsequent appointments included: commander of the Department of the Columbia (1874-1880) during the Nez Perce War; superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point (1880-1882); commander of the Department of the Platte (1882-1886) and the Divisions of the Pacific (1886-1888) and the East (1888-1894). His papers are held in SC&A.

Hinmatonyalatkit, or Chief Joseph, was born in Wallowa Valley, Oregon, the ancestral territory of the Nez Percé, he was the son of a chief who had converted to Christianity. In the early 1860s gold was discovered on Nez Percé lands, and the US government attempted to renegotiate earlier treaties to deprive Joseph's people of their homeland. In 1871, on the death of his father, Joseph became one of the leaders of a Nez Percé band that refused to accept the new treaty. He counselled peace, but when his braves killed several white settlers, US troops were sent to capture the band (1877). After a series of battles and skirmishes the Nez Percé were forced to retreat. Joseph led about 750 of his people on a 2,400-km (1,500-mile) journey across four states, fighting off pursuing US troops who greatly outnumbered them and twice crossing the Rockies. He nearly completed his plan of leading them into safety in Canada, but when they stopped to rest about 50km (30 miles) from the border, they were surrounded by fresh troops under General Nelson A Miles. He and his people were sent to Indian Territory (Oklahoma), and he died in the Colville Indian Reservation, Washington.

<<< O. O. Howard with Chief Joseph at the Carlisle Indian School, 1904.

In your breakout room, read your primary source and consider the following:

  • What are the basics? Identify the date, location, and author/recipient.
  • What do you learn from this document?
  • What do you need to know more about to better understand this document?

Prepare to summarize your findings to the class.

What narrative can we construct about the Nez Perce War from these eight documents? Whose voices are represented? Whose are missing? What do we want to know more about? How do these documents connect to what you've been reading, learning, and discussing in class?

In the video below, actor, singer, and activist Q'Orianka Kilcher reads Chief Joseph's account of his 1879 trip to Washington, DC. This video documents part of Voices of a People's History of the United States events at All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA on February 1, 2007.

A Recognition

SC&A, like all archives and special collections libraries, is the creation of human beings who have collected, organized, and described things in ways that reflect personal, cultural, societal, and institutional biases. Although we strive to preserve and present collections in a manner that is respectful to the individuals and communities who create, use, and are represented in the collections, we acknowledge that our systems are neither neutral nor perfect. We encourage you to let us know if you encounter materials, descriptive language, or practices that are offensive or harmful, particularly those for which inadequate context or warning is offered. We are committed to modifying and updating our descriptive practices to use respectful and inclusive terminology and appreciate your help in this work. We look forward to supporting you in your research and learning together.