FEBRUARY 10, 1929
SURVIVER RECALLS BATTLE WITH INDIAN EAST OF COTTONWOOD
Stand All That Saved Randall Command From Annihilation by Superior Force
of Nez Perces - Better Diplomacy by Government Would Have Prevented War of
Henry C. Johnson, author of this article is one of the most
distinguished living pioneers of northern Idaho.
He crossed the plains two years before Ezra Meeker came and took
part in the gold rushes before homesteading near Grangeville.
He now live in Spokane with his daughter but makes frequent trips
to Camas prairie. This
article was written for the University of Idaho in nits effort to
collect a series of Idaho Historical documents.)
Henry C. Johnson
requested by friends and others to write a few items concerning the Nez
Perce Indian war of 1877 which occurred in Idaho county Idaho.
I will not attempt to outline the real cause of the war as that
has been done a long time ago by historians who are far more capable
than I. I will only mention
some incidents which came under my personal observation of which I am
familiar or was at the time of the outbreak – that being a little more
than 50 years ago. I will
not attempt to give a detailed account of all that happened as memory is
treacherous, after so long a period.
I was a resident of
Idaho County, engaged in farming and stock raising in a limited way.
The country was sparsely settled then and consequently the range
was good everywhere and it was the custom of the Indians to congregate
near my place annually for the purpose of grazing their horses, digging
camas and having a good time generally.
Their camping ground was a little over a mile from my home.
During the time they were encamped there, which consisted of six
or eight weeks, I was not molested by them in any manner.
I was a bachelor at that time and was from home quite often
during the day. But nothing
was ever disturbed in my absence.
While no hostile
demonstrations had been shown, there was a feeling of uneasiness among
the settlers that caused some of them to leave their homes at night and
secrete themselves as best they could.
The government had issued orders requiring all Indians to go on
the reservation, and those who wouldn’t go peaceably were to be
forcibly taken; and it was the opinion generally that the on treaty
Indians would fight or resist the order.
The old Indians did
not want to fight, but the young men precipitated the trouble by killing
several citizens on Salmon River a distance of 35 miles from where the
main body of Indians were in camp.
And when the report reached camp it created a great commotion.
Wickyups were torn down, stock driven in from all directions, and
as soon as possible there-after the women and children and also
non-combatants were hustled off north about eight miles where they had a
better place to fortify and give battle in case they were attacked,
which was not an impossibility as the few soldiers who were available
were stationed at Fort Lapwai distant 40 miles and no conveyance better
than heavy freight wagons and the roads were in bad condition from
recent rains, which made rapid travel out of the question.
The first squad of
soldiers to arrive numbered 85. They
were in command of Colonel Perry and were disastrously defeated in their
first engagement at the battle of White Bird which occurred on the
morning of the 19th of June, if memory serves me right.
The loss in that engagement consisted of 33 soldiers killed and
three volunteers wounded. Several
of the soldiers killed were shamefully mutilated.
That was the first
battle of any importance and it gave the Indians great encouragement as
their loss was practically nil. Other
engagements prior to that had occurred at various times between the
volunteers and Indians without any loss to either side except in one
instant where an Indian was killed by volunteers.
After the defeat at
Whitebird of Colonel Perry, General Howard appeared on the scene with
225 regulars fully equipped and prepared to do battle.
IN the meantime, Chief Joseph and his warriors together with
their women and children and all their stock, principally horses, had
crossed the Salmon river, presumably with the intention of going south
to unite forces with the various tribes of the southern part of the
state and also of the eastern part of Oregon.
That move later on proved to be a bit of strategy on the part of
Chief Joseph to draw General Howard away from Camas prairie so
Joseph’s forces could re-cross the river 15 miles farther down and
give them an opportunity to cross Camas prairie and select their ground
for a battle with Howard on a small stream near the Clearwater river.
The selection of that place gave the Indian forces a decided
advantage over the forces of General Howard.
The next move of the
volunteers after Howard had lost the Indians in the Salmon river canyon
was to scout the country west of the little town of Cottonwood as it was
believed the Indians would return to the north side of Camas prairie and
the south fork of the Clearwater river.
The prediction proved to be correct.
Two scouts, Foster and Blewett fell in with a large party of
Indians who were also doing some scout work.
The result was that Blewett, one of the scouts, was killed.
Foster got away and reported to Colonel Perry who had just
arrived at that place – Cottonwood.
Perry then ordered Lieutenant Raines to select ten men and go out
to locate the Indians, and also another officer to take a number of
soldiers and hollow up. The
Indians, after killing Scout Blewett went into ambush and waited for the
Raines party, with the result that every man in the Raines party was
killed, and the Indians retired before the other soldiers arrived to
give their comrades any help.
and party were killed on the third of July.
On the Fourth of July, the soldiers who were encamped at
Cottonwood were besieged by the Indians all day.
Early on the morning of the fifth, Captain Randall of the Idaho
volunteers called for volunteers to scout the country northwest of
Cottonwood where the soldiers had been besieged all the day previous.
Ten who had responded to the call were in the saddles ready to
start when a courier from Cottonwood arrived with a message from the
officer in command requesting Captain Randall to come to their
assistance with all the forces available. Randall then called for more recruits, when seven others
responded, making 17 in all, named as follows:
Captain D.B. Randall, First Lieutenant James Cearly, Second
Lieutenant L.P. Wilmot, Privates D.H. Houser, C.W. Case, Charles
Johnson, Peter Beemer, C.M. Day, Farnk A. Fenn, Frank D. Vansise, George
Riggins, Ben Evans, All Leland, Eph Bunker, A.D. Bartley, James
Buchanan, H.C. Johnson.
This brings us up to
the date of the battle of the 17 under Captain Randall, July 5, ’77.
Only two of that number have survived until the present date,
Cassius M. Day of Kooskia, and the writer.
The morning of the 5th of July about 6:30, word was
passed along to follow our captain, which we did in pairs.
Nothing occurred to mar the pleasure of that jaunt on that
memorable July morning until we had reached a point about eight miles
from Mount Idaho, that being the county seat of Idaho county and the
place where our families were huddled together in a very rude pen called
a fort, which would have proven a slaughter pen had the Indians attacked
When we reached the
above mentioned place, the first intimation we had that the Indians were
awake and moving, was the appearance of a signal fire from the of the
Cottonwood butte, the highest elevation in 20 miles of that point.
Soon after the first signal smoke, the second arose, and that was
followed in rapid succession by a third signal.
The air was very calm and the smoke ascended to a great height
and seemed to stand in a perpendicular column.
It would have been inspiring had it not been for the warning it
foretold. Our first
lieutenant who had some experience in Indian warfare said that the first
signal meant to get ready to move, second to move, third to fight.
The entire body of
Indians was camped on a high plateau about three miles in a westerly
direction from Cottonwood near the present town of Keuterville.
The first appearance we had of the Indians was on the elevated
ground just before they descended to the level of the prairie.
They were distant from our command about ten miles.
Captain Randall requested me to stop and take a look at the large
band of horses that were bearing down in our direction.
It so happened that I carried the only glasses in the party.
After a careful inspection I rode to the front, as the command
had been moving slowly, and reported the horses to be of all colors and
a number were carrying packs.
After traveling a
few miles, I was again requested to take a second look and report, and
that time I reported that the horses were being handled by men and I
believed they were Indians. A little later I was told to take another look and report.
I then reported a large number of Indians with their entire
equipment, including women and children.
I also told Captain Randall the warriors were divided in three
parties, that one party was moving directly toward us and that the
second party was moving to our left or south of us and I believed they
intended to intercept us in case we made an effort to retreat.
I also said that the third party was moving back and north of the
town of Cottonwood where the soldiers under Colonel Perry had fought
them the day before. And I
believed they intended to make another fight on the same place if the
soldiers were drawn out to our assistance.
The next halt we
made to take observation, there was no doubt about the identity of the
parties was no doubt about the identity of the parties we had been
watching for two hours or more. We didn’t need any field glasses to tell who they were or
what their intentions were. Captain
Randall ordered a halt and a lively discussion took place as to the best
thing to do in order to make a defense for our protection and to give
the Indians as good a reception as possible as they seemed to think they
were entitled to it.