Story of the Indian Uprising as Told By Mrs. Shissler

 

Contributed by: Deb Starr

Re-typed and entered by Penny Casey

Many years ago when I was a child I witnessed some of the horrors of the Nez Perce uprising. We lived at the time at the mouth of White Bird creek in Idaho County, Idaho. The district was sparsely settled, neighbors being few and scattered.

Our family consisted of my father, Samuel Benedict; my mother, Isabella; my brother Grant, now living in Grangeville; my sisters, Mary and Addie, and myself. Grant and Mary were, at the time of which I write, attending school at Mount Idaho. Addie, the baby, was little more than a year old.

It will not be necessary for me to give in detail the history of the Nez Perces, as that has been published many times in histories of the state. Every school child should be familiar with it.

Just prior to the opening of my story, Father had made his usual trip to Mount Idaho and on returning had called on the Indian encampment at the lake on Camas Prairie to make inquiry about the purchase of some ponies.

The Indians were holding a council of war, and Father was ordered to go home. They said they were angry and were going to fight.

When Father was within three miles of home he was joined by Mox Mox, one of the Blacktail Indians camped at the mouth of Chapman creek. (The Indians camped at different locations, just as they chose.) Mox Mox came home with Father, was given food, and after strolling around the yard, stood for several hours leaning against the gate facing the house, frequently glancing at the road on one side and the creek on the other.

Father kept a small store and as Indians were there nearly every day, nothing was thought of their actions. Mox Mox finally rode away. Afterward, Mother realized he had been planning the mode of attack. He was a fighting chief during the war and after it was over changed his name to Yellow Bull, saying Mox Mox bad Indian, Yellow Bull good Indian.

There was an old Indian whom we called "Old Fisherman" who lived with the tribe. Father thought he must be close to 100 years old. He came to our house every few days on his fishing jaunts up and down the creek. Mother always gave him food, and he sometimes passed the night there.

He was not a Nez Perce and spoke a jargon and a few words of English. On his last visit he came just after mid-day. We had eaten our dinner and Mother as usual gave him a plate of food. He was sitting Indian fashion on the floor but could not eat. He tried to tell Mother to go away.

"Take papoose and cla-ta-wa," he said, and made motions as of shooting by holding his arms like a gun, saying boom, boom as he pointed to each of us in turn.

Mother told him she couldnít understand. He remained that night at our house and we never saw him again as he, with two or three others too old to travel or to fight, were put out of the way before the journey. At least, so we were told.

A few days later, on a beautiful June morning, we arose as usual and my parents went about their work, little dreaming of the awful tragedy that would forever darken out lives before the close of the day.

We had a few cattle and as our chore boy, Edgar Hall, had left us the previous day, it fell to Father to look after the heard. Saddling a beautiful gray pony he was ready to depart when, glancing up the trail, he saw three Indians on horseback coming toward our house. He tied his horse at the gate and, entering the yard, took a chair off the porch and sat down. He picked up a newspaper and leaned back as though reading but in reality watching the Indians.

Soon they approached the gate and, after passing the usual greeting, asked Father if they could travel the lower road Ė a cutoff around our garden fence and under a bluff in low water. Being told it was impassable; they went on their way seemingly up the river.

After their departure, Father told Mother he was going up the creek to look after some cows with young calves and would be back soon. Mounting his horse he rode away. How well I remember every detail of Fatherís movements as I was in the yard with him all the time.

We had heard rumors of trouble all spring, and an Indian boy with whom we played, told us the Indians would fight if they were forced to go on the reservation.

As the day wore on Mother began to feel worried at Fatherís absence. Suddenly Mother came from the house and seemed excited. I ran to her and saw a horseman approaching. I recognized Father and knew at once something was wrong. He was riding a workhorse belonging to a neighbor, Mr. Baker who lived up the creek. He was riding without saddle or bridle, and had removed his riding boots.

Mother was crying, and said: "Oh, Sam, what is the matter?" We thought he had been bitten by a rattlesnake as the region was infested with them.

Father said, "Donít get excited, Belle. Those three Indians followed and shot me and the horse, leaving me for dead. After they left, I managed to mount the old horse which was near a rock, and he brought me home."

Mother assisted him into the house and to a cot in the dining room. I was sent at once to a store about a mile down the river to summon help. The store was owned by Mr. Brown. Some Frenchmen were there and one of them, John Doumecq, accompanied me home and remained some time.

Mother, at Fatherís request, packed our best clothing and keepsakes in two trunks, intending to have them buried.

Later in the day Mr. Brown called and said to Father, "The Indians must have a grudge against you."

Father answered, " You may think they have one against you before the day is over."

Mr. Brown, true to Fatherís predictions, found out before night that he, too, was in trouble. When he heard the Indians approaching he and his wife and brother-in-law escaped by crossing the river in a rowboat, after both men were shot, one in the arm and one in the shoulder. His wife, lying in the bottom of the boat, was not injured. Hidden in the timber on the mountain they were found after several days and brought to the fort.

Mr. Doumecq went to his home across the river from our place, intending to return with more men to spend the night at our place. As the men assembled by Mr. Doumecq were about to return they heard the dreaded war cry and shooting and knew they were too late.

It was then about six oíclock in the evening. I was playing in the backyard, and our Chinese cook was washing some lettuce for supper when he heard the Indians and yelled: "Hi-yu! Indians!"

I ran into the house and said to Father and Mother: "There are lots of Indians coming!"

Mother ran to the bedroom and took baby sister from the bed where she had been asleep. (Baby sister is now Mrs. Addie Brown of Bonners Ferry, Idaho)

The Indians were dismounting at the gate and as they came toward the house were told to stay out by August Bacon who had grabbed a gun and shut the door. The Indians answered with a volley of shots and Mr. Bacon fell to the sitting room floor. He lay on his back, apparently dead. The Indians then entered the room and one of them cut Mr. Baconís throat where he lay. Another took off his cartridge belt, which was blood-soaked, and brought it into the kitchen where he made me clean it off in the washbasin.

In the meantime, Father arose and, standing by the bedroom window looking out, told Mother to take the children (myself and Addie) get out of the house. I do not know how he got out of the building, but later I saw him in the yard going toward the creek, followed by many Indians who were shooting at him and, when I last saw him, he had gained the center of the creek.

Mother, with sister and I, left, going to the Manuel home, passing the Baker place on the way. Mr. Bakerís body was lying near, face down, with many arrows sticking out of his back. Just before reaching the Manuel home we were joined by George Popham, Mrs. Manuelís father, who was coming from the pasture. He was greatly excited, and said Jack Manuel, had been shot while trying to catch the horses to take his family to safety. Mother implored Mr. Popham to try and reach Mount Idaho and bring help, but he said: "My good woman, we would all be murdered, and there is no use to go."

We proceeded to the house where we found Mrs. Manuel and the children sitting on the step of the back porch. Raising her dress, Mrs. Manuel said: "Look, Belle, what they did to me!" She exposed a deep cut on her knee. It was paining her dreadfully, but when her father suggested going with him to bid her husband goodbye she put her baby in Motherís arms and went, asking us to remain until she returned. Darkness of the summer night was falling as they returned to the house. More Indians were seen approaching and we immediately hid in the brush near the creek on a low flat where we all spent the night, expecting to be killed any minute.

Mother urged the men to build a litter and carry Mrs. Manuel to safely. Instead they returned to the house in the morning, urging Mother to come with them; but she refused and remained hidden all day, gradually working her way through the brush to the end of the meadow. We heard "Hello" with accompanying sounds as though some one were chopping wood and thought it was Indians. It was Indians, we learned later, trying to decoy us to the house.

When night came on we resumed our journey. As we were about to proceed, a horseman went by on a run and we heard shots, as we were at that time close to the road. The shots went wild we afterward learned. The man on the horse was William George who made good his escape from the bullets of the redskins.

Knowing there were Indians in that vicinity we were loathe to venture forth, but Mother knew she to battle alone and, undaunted, pushed on, avoiding the road as much as possible. When near the Theo. Swarts place we heard a bear near a spring. I took a firmer hold on Motherís skirt saying "a bear is in our way and we could not pass", but Mother did not hesitate. She said the bear would not hurt us, it was the Indians she was afraid of. Leaving the road we ascended a high point, keeping in the shadows whenever possible. When near the top of the mountain Mother told me to sit down and hold the baby and not move from there while she climbed to the top to locate the road and reconnoiter before going on. Coming back, she called softly, fearing she might miss us in the dark. After a short rest she retraced her steps up the mountain, carrying the baby. With my hand in hers we went over the top and gained the shelter of the brush beside the road. This was the old grade on the White Bird hill. Here we remained the balance of that night and as day began to break we moved farther up the road to a more sheltered position, knowing not what fate was in store for us.

Being very tired and hungry we tried to rest and I carried water in the one little shoe baby sister had on when Mother took her from her nap the day the Indians surrounded our home.

All day Saturday we remained hidden in the brush while the whole tribe of Indians was passing by. They were hurrying their families from their camping ground at the lake, now Tolo Lake, to the Salmon River, aiming to cross before the soldiers came up with them. Rocks and earth from passing horses rolled near and over us, but fortunately none hit us.

At daybreak Sunday, Mother thought she recognized white menís voices and thought it might be that soldiers were following the Indians. Going to the road she halted some of the men and asked for food and aid. We had not eaten since Thursday noon; they gave us some biscuits, but said they could not spare any men to pilot us to the settlement. They said a couple of friendly Indians who were with them might take us, but Mother declined, saying she would wait until their return.

Little they, or we, knew of the deadly trap set for them. Those brave boys were mostly Easterners, some of whom probably had never seen an Indian, rode down into the narrow canyon of the White Bird thinking of daring deeds on the battlefield. They knew nothing of the cunning of the redskins. Entrenched behind rocks on either side, and at the foot of the canyon, the Indians were well prepared to meet the oncoming soldiers, and when the troops reached a given point mowed them down like grass before a scythe.

The soldiers who were not killed retreated up the canyon and when they arrived where we were they forgot all about us in their mad rush to safety. They galloped by, followed by riderless horses.

Had it not been for Charles Crooks, a friend who had joined the local volunteers, we would have been left to the mercy of the Indians. As he reached our hiding place he halted and said: "My God, men, you are not going to leave this woman and her children here to be killed, are you?"

Then some of the men halted and took us with them. Mother was assisted to the saddle by a Mr. Schour, who years later wrote the Lewiston Tribune for news of our whereabouts.

Motherís mount was a cavalry horse from which a soldier had been shot and she had difficulty in managing him. I was put up behind a soldier, and baby sister was also given to one who later dropped her in the road where she was found and picked up by a volunteer, William Coram. I was later given to John Barber.

We were carried to safety only to find, on reaching Mount Idaho that Mother had not arrived. But sister and I were well cared for by some of the ladies there, especially by Mrs. Aram, grandmother of Orrin Fitzgerald, of the University of Idaho. Some insisted on feeding us abundantly, but wiser heads said no, as we had had no food for three days except a few dry biscuits and some wild gooseberries we found en route.

Edward W. Robie, a friend of the family who had spent the previous winter at our home, after questioning me, immediately set out to find Mother. Guns were scarce and he was advised to go to the Charles Horton ranch to borrow a gun as Mr. Horton had not come into town and he was known to own a couple of good rifles. When Mr. Robie reached the ranch house the dog would not let him enter and he proceeded to the Hughes place. Later Mr. Horton was found murdered in his home where the faithful dog was still keeping guard.

At the Hughes place Mr. Robie saw a woman in the field and knew at once it must be Mother. She saw him, but thought he was an Indian and his behind a haystack. When he called "Mrs. Benedictí several times she came out to find a friend. Helping her mount his horse, Mr. Robie walked and led the animal to Mount Idaho where she was reunited with her children who she never expected to see again. She was cared for and given clothing by Mrs. Aram who dressed Mother in clothes belonging to her daughters.

Regarding her part of the trip, Mother said she rode with the crowd until near the Jarrett ranch when her saddle turned and she was left afoot and alone on the prairie. She tried to find shelter in a clump of brush over a spring. When three volunteers came by she begged them to take her, but they said they couldnít as their horses were jaded and tow of the men were wounded. The promised to send help. Knowing it useless to tarry there alone, she started across the prairie on foot and was making good progress when she heard voices and suddenly found herself surround by Indians. They had seen her and, to cut off her flight, had separated into two long lines. They were led by Chief Joseph.

Thinking her time had come, she stood as one petrified until the Indians rode up. She was asked if she wanted to go back to White Bird. Her answer was "No"; she wanted to go to her children. Her watch and other jewelry were taken but when an Indian attempted to remove a ring from her finger Joseph said, "No". One ring opened into several rings with a closing of clasped hands.

Orders were given by Chief Joseph and Mother was picked up and put on a horse behind an Indian and the journey to White Bird was resumed. Enroute they met some squaws who were following their warriors and doing their part by scalping the poor wounded soldiers left on the battlefield.

Mother told the squaws she did not wish to return to White Bird but wanted to go to Mount Idaho. After a heated argument they put her down and told her to go, pointing out the road and telling her more Indians were in the vicinity and would kill her if she were caught. Mother quickly sought shelter in the timber and was about four miles from mount Idaho when Mr. Robie found her.

Mother attributed her release from the Indians to the many acts of kindness she had shown the squaws when she was living among them. She had often assisted with a sick child, or given food when needed.

After some month at Mount Idaho, when peace was again restored we moved to the little village of Grangeville, 20 miles from our White Bird home.

Through the kindness of Mr. Crooks, we were allowed to occupy the house near the Grange Mill, built for the miller and his family, sharing it with the Mitchell family Ė Mr. Mitchell being in charge at that time.

Later Mother purchased property from William Pearson where she built our home, and where she was afterward married to Edward Robie, the friend who rescued her.

During the remainder of her life, Mother was always nervous in the presence of Indians, and often sought the security of her bedroom when they were nears.

 

 

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