Negotiating Colonization in Eastern Oregon: Nez Perce Speeches

*Note- these speeches were transcribed from reports in the M234 microfilms for the Washington Superintendency. They occur near the end of the Cayuse War when it appears that the Army assumed that The Nez Perce were hiding members of the Cayuses, relatives of the Nez Perces. What the transcriptions do not detail is that the Nez Perces and the Cayuses (and all other tribes) were being invaded by the Bird Peoples (American Pioneers who moved westward: like migrating birds), and the sovereignty and rights of the Tribes were not being honored. They knew this and yet were trying to live peacefully under the laws handed them by Governor Isaac Stevens (Washington Territorial Governor and Indian Superintendent). But the American pioneers, and later gold miners, did not care about the rights of the tribes and invaded lands set aside for the tribes anyway. The Americans were rarely held accountable for their actions of inciting violence from the younger Natives who were not willing to be patient with the rude and criminal invading Americans.

This conflict continues for another 3 decades, culminating with the Nez Perce War, in which the tribe is forced  to flee to Canada in a series of pitched battles. Most of the tribe is arrested and sent to Fort Leavenworth where many die by malaria. Others escape to Canada. The Nez Perce tribe are released years later to the Colville Reservation before acquiring their own reservation in Idaho.

The Joseph who speaks in the testimony below is likely Old Chief Joseph.

Speeches of Several Nez Perce chiefs at a council at rapids in presence of Capt. Robinson, July 1856

Speech of the Man with the Rope in his Mouth

I was over on the other side of the mountains. I was listening on both. I was looking to the East, then I looked in this direction, and the Chiefs of this country was looking towards me: there I heard of the chiefs in this country. I did not know what they were doing, it was like they were bitten by mosquitoes, and I did not know what was biting my Chiefs. The news passed by letter, and I heard that was hanging people in this country: and I said here the wives and children should come and hear him speak, for I expected that it was me that was the cause of them being hung. I knew Whitman. I speak from a paper. The people is not that put Whitman to death. I heard that they were bought for hanging them. I would like for the people that hung them to be here to hear what I say. I understand that the people that hung them- their blood would also be sold: that the children of these people- there blood would also be sold. These things will come to me on paper. The Great Spirit is all around us; the ground is the Great Spirit- the light is the Great Spirit. Children is not to be punished for the offenses of their parents. Those people that say children have to be punished – have to live without laws. Them people- the laws bear them down. It is though a heavy load lay on them; they cannot stand under it. I will show the reason at the close of my speech: he that will burn bye-and-bye. In the East there is severe stars. They talk to one another and collect together; and they sent one of them down on the earth. That star was sent to the east to take charge of the people. It takes care of the people, that their bodies will never return to dust again; and that star is the Chiefs that take care of the bodies of the people – that told them to be patient and wait for good council. That is the reason why I say: why do the Americans trouble the civil people about their country? Their laws are all as they have ever been in this country. In Heaven and far beyond, there is light, and my brothers can’t lead me about by their laws. The Americans cannot take a bird off my head. I’ll take hold of the bird and put it on my head. In that way I would loose my life. That is the reason why I have nothing to say about the people, and they have nothing to say to me. The Great Spirit will speak his own mind. That is all I have to say.

Speech of Eagle from the Fight

I am anxious to hear my people tell their hearts. We met last night but it was too late. We kept our friend there to day to hear us tell our hearts. When I was on the other side of the mountains, I heard of three of my people being killed and hung: that has been in my mind ever since. At one time, I heard of a relative of mine being killed and another hung. The man who was killed was a near relative of mine. The man who was hung at Red Wolf’s Ground was also a relative of mine. I [heard] that he was hung for burning a house:  I know not whether it is so. Property is not equal to a man’s life, therefore the man should not loose his life for burning a house. Another man for some reason was hung. I hear that Governor Stevens said at the Council that our bodies should all be on an equality. There was no Council held between the Indians and Whites about the hanging of these men- it was only among the whites. I do not know what these people were put to death for. I heard that four of the Americans disputed as to which of them killed the Nez Perce last fall. I don’t hear the Americans say- fetch on those men and have them hung; nor I don’t say they should be hung. Last year we all talked in friendship, but it is from that talk that this blood has run. The death of these three people I consider has broken the treaty, and for the Americans- move off. This is what I speak of. The death of these three people has broken the treaty with the United States, and the Americans had better move off. Our country is as though no Council had been held. The law is, the Council should be held to make law, but no Council was held to make law to kill three people. I am here, to attend such Councils; but there was no Council about it, and this will never be straight. There were thieves on the other side of the mountains, but they were not called to the Council. I have always thought a great deal of the Americans, and I have thought they would do everything justly and by Council; but I now know the hearts of the Whites, and now wish them to know my heart. That is the reason why I wish the Americans to stay away and not come to my country. The President sent his talk to us, and now; I wish this to go to the President. I don’t wish to do anything underhanded. That is all I have to say.

Speech of Richard

The Looking-Glass orders me to speak. These Councils that have been held, and the Governor and the people that held them – I have seen none of them. The Governor has spoke to us and called us his friends. He spoke about our bodies and our country. The council was held as though by only one-half of the people. I want the Governor Steven and the American people to think of us as a poor people. The American laws are that we meet always without guns, and in that way we can always have friendship. I said I want to see Governor Stevens himself and not his people. I am afraid, and that is the reason why I want to see him in person. I liked his talks when he said he liked my people. It is about that one thing that I should like to hear one word from him, and then we could meet and rejoice. I don’t just speak for myself, but for my people, that all might hear him talk. I am friendly to the Americans and I don’t like to hear of blood being shed in our country. We are a poor people. I would like the Americans to look upon us as a poor people and not shed blood in our country – we don’t want to see it. I am showing my heart, and if they will have pity on a poor people, I will be thankful. That is all I have to say.

Speech of Stickas

Last year, all these people was there at the council, and they were all tired; and from that, we have not went straight. Now the young men think the proceedings at the Council; from the time we have not a chance to see our Chief. That is the reason we don’t know how to act; since that time our bodies have been laid in the prairies. Now I can turn around and see the people, and it is time to help one another. I have spoken- I don’t know whether it is right or not; perhaps I have spoken too quick- without thought. I am just as though I was alone here- alone by myself. That is the reason why I speak to my children to have strong minds- they look at me. I am walking about without anything to eat. Although I am naked, I have no thought of going to war- my whole mind is to do what is right. I am just speaking as though I was speaking in the rain- it is dark all around; things are just as dark all around me as ever they were. That is all I have to say.

Speech of Speaking Eagle

All these people sitting here, know that I still live and listen to the laws. I am not an unbeliever. Although I am bad, I have the same fore-fathers that the rest have; I am from the same people place. When the laws came from the President they showed all that was bad, and when I heard what the Governor had said, I said yes, to it- although I was not there. Though things are not going straight. Where will they be made straight again? I call for my Chief Governor Stevens, to come here and make them straight. That is all I have to say. There is my Chief The Lawyer-  he talks for me.

Speech of Escota

Last year when we was talking; the lawyer was our head man. I was there to listen what was said. It was from afar that the Commissioners was sent to us. I told them you will talk straight. There our head man told them what Ellis had told them. He (Ellis) told them that they must listen when a big Chief come to speak to them; if it was a man that come- they must respect him, and then they would hear what he had to say. But I find a great many things that has not been respected, that was given to us. Our head Chief, before the laws came gave us laws about our bodies and our country. He told us to always bear in mind our friends and our bodies. That is the reason why I speak to Governor Stevens, and keep things straight; and these people can’t or don’t understand it, as they were not present. The time has about run out when I was to hear from Governor Stevens and he promised to come and see us this spring. It is different from the whites- they have the laws, and they know them. When these people come from over the other side of the mountains they asked me if the time was not out, when Governor Stevens should have been here. Perhaps Governor Stevens thinks these people all know, but they don’t believe us; but I never hear the Lawyer call his children together and tell them the laws. The news that we hear from the President, all come to Governor Stevens first, and then we hear them from him, by Mr. Craig. That is all I have to say.

Speech of Eutes-a-melican

I will speak to my chief from the East. He has given me talk. It is not from anything I know myself, its what I have been taught. I have heard that all that has been told to me, has come straight, and he said for us to appoint a head Chief among us, and he has given me laws and I am not going to throw them back to him like them, and keep them, and when I hear news from them. I believe- I don’t have my doubts about it. I am not a man that doubts things. Although it is Governor Stevens that has given us laws, it is ourselves that has not followed them straight; and he has given us an agent, and here he sits. That is the reason why I can’t give him back the laws- he has given them to us sending some things to this country. I said yes, I am glad of it. I am not a man that doubts these things. I told my children to speak straight, and tell their hearts. And, now, I have spoke my heart.

Howlish won pool

Now I hear my Cheaves (Chiefs) speak with one hart (heart). I came to listen to them and I am glad the (they) have one hart and my hart is with them for I hear them speak myself and the speak strait (straight). I now know there harts is strait we all send the same talk to Col. Shaw. I know him to be the friend of all good people. This is all I have to say. To our friend Col. Shaw, Howlish won pool, Cayuse Chief

Looking Glass

The Looking glass sais (says) that Gov. Stevens knows his hart (heart) it is the same as he told him it is not changed. He sais he spoke of his children he pitied them but he had done all he could to get them to go and give up and not act as the (they?) are doing it is all false if any person said he had any notion to ever take his gun in hand to fight the whites. A. Friend Looking glass

Talking Owl

Yes my chief you as me to tell my hart and I will do it strait. It is good to ask questions and answer them strait my friend I have never taken my gun to fight the whites nor never will. I do not differ from any Chiefs if I have said anything bad I am sorry for it I now speak from my hart. I say no more bad things. I (if?) Governor Stevens has any provisions for us I am thankful to receive it or any things else. I am glad to say that we take hold of others hands and hold them not to let them go and any thing that Col. Shaw tells me it is right. Although we are far apart our harts is together and we say yes to all our cheaves (Chiefs) and to Col. Shaw and Gov. Stevens. Your Friend, Talking Owl.

The Eagle from The Light

Yes my friend you have asked me some questions which I think is right. I answer them truly. We are a poor people tell us what to do and we will do it. The meaning I had on saying no more provisions to come and for the whites to stay where the ware (war) was because the (they) are at war between us and Gov. Stevens and I thought the (they) had better stay until that peace was made. If I said wrong I am sorry for it for I know Gov. Stevens and he is my friend. We are all the same flesh and look(?) and why should we have a different hart (heart) we have all one hart. Your Friend Tippe Lanna Cowpa


Rough notes of a talk held with the Nez Perce band under Command of Spotted Eagle. Mill Creek, July 11th 1856

After Col. Shaw had made some remarks and explained why the Governor had not come into their country at the time appointed, and had expressed the Governor’s satisfaction at their peaceable and friendly conduct and had also explained that the hostile tribes would be warred with until the murderers and investigators of the war were given up. The Chiefs were invited to speak whereupon several of them delivered themselves as follows:

Spotted Eagle

A year ago Gov. Stevens spoke to us on this council ground and asked us, the Chiefs to go to the Blackfoot council with him. Many did not go, but I wanted to go and see the people that always liked to fight with. Then I saw them, and both parties talked as if we had always been friends. There we heard that Kamiakin & the Americans were fighting , and started from there and came to our own country. Then are heard that the Cayuses were fighting with the Americans. The Cayuses were my friends & relations. We eat & drank & we marry together. I thought of them if it is your heart to go to war, it is not mine, I will not follow you. I will never raise my gun to an American. No one has ever seen my hands bloody with the blood of an American. My forefathers were always friendly with the Americans and French. So will I be. I thought I will look on and see you fight. The White Chiefs- told me to keep them out of my country- and therefore when they come I tell them to go away and that is the reason I have sat and watched my country. You and the Cayuses are fighting, but keep the disturbance out of my country. My own people tell me that the Cayuses are mad at me. It was not I who fixed my heart against them it was their own bad conduct. I hear that they say that they will kill us. I don’t want to see them do it.  My own people tell me that I not a Chief any more and I don’t call myself such any more. If they Kill William (Craig) there I will die too. My own people tell me that I am no longer a Chief.

Col. Shaw answered that the white people recognized him as a great Chief and respected him as such. That Gov. Stevens had been bred up a soldier, and that all the white people there present had been private volunteers.

Joseph– I have heard what you have said, you have spoken on the right side, those who speak right don’t shed blood, those who talk left shed blood. I make my children talk right. I am glad to hear that you have not come to shed the blood of those who talk right- those you leave come to seek talk left and are bad men.

Timothy– From my own heart, I have nothing to say, but I talk for Lawyer. Lawyer says, “My children I am a cripple, and can’t go to meet my American friends. When you see own friends from Gov. Stevens you will greet them for me. I can’t travel now but when I can I will.” I heard what Lawyer said and hear what you say and my heart is glad. We saw last year the laws that the president sent us, and we then adopted them with all our hearts and have kept them since.

Billy– I have heard my Chiefs speak and that is our heart. We are a poor people and when we have no one to think for us we are poor. We are in hopes that you will go straight by what you say The President has sent us word to be friendly and we will do so. We have one man to tell us what to do and one will do it. We have our horses, cattle as we have always had and they are ours as they always have been. If we follow the bird people it is just the same as if we gave everything away. We are glad to hear you talk thus, we are a poor people and you have pity on us.

We-os-kus– Every little country has its Chiefs- the little country I come from has no Chief- Gov. Stevens made the Lawyer the Big Chief, we therefore listen to him- when I hear the Big Chief speak, I listen and say yes. I took my gun to guard the white people and that is the reason why the Cayuses killed my horses. I have listened to what the older men have said and agree with them.

Joseph again- I have no heart to say anything. I listen and say yes. One has spoken and on that account I speak, it is no one here however. It is not on account of the young men here that I speak. (Col. Cray here explained that he alluded to something which had been said by another member of the tribe who was about.) I mean talk when the white Chiefs talk. Why should I? If I should speak It would be about taking care of my children. (Col. Shaw hear explained that he alluded to the reservation to be formed.) I will speak of my children some other time.

Talking Tobacco– I can only say thank you- what you say comes as if from the President and I am glad to hear it. I heard what the Governor said before and I said yes to it. He showed us the laws and I have held to them ever since. I have heard what the white Chiefs say – they speak as if we had one body and soul with the Americans. We are poor, they give us the Laws and we are thankful.

Joseph– There are a great many of us people who are not here and who are waiting to hear what is said. We will tell them and report it straight. We don’t know how the Cayuses hearts are- perhaps they may give up, perhaps not- we cannot tell. There are other Chiefs above but their hearts are the same with ours. Billy says true, we have not different hearts, what our Chiefs tell us, we do.

Col. Shaw– If the Cayuses give up the instigators of the war, to be dealt with according to law- we would make a treaty with the rest. The best way would be for the tribe to deliver them up. However it makes no difference in the end. We will hunt them out whatever time it takes us. It may take a month, a year. Five years, but we will hunt them out, but it would be better to the tribe to give them up and then avoid the loss and destruction which a war always occasions.

Timothy– There were many who expected the Governor to come over and see them this season. There were many Nez Perces at the time of the Council over the mountains. These people expected to hear this season from the Governor himself all about the Council. The winter in very hard and no express would reach them- that it was only this summer that they heard the news. That it was only this time that they heard that those who had stopped to guard Cray and the Government property would be fed.

There being no one else disposed to speak the Council adjourned.

The above is a correct report as near as near as could be taken of what was said by the Nez Perces during the Council. De Lacy


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