My next book, Encounters in Yellowstone 1877, will tell the stories of the several groups of tourists who tangled with the Nez Perce while they fled through Yellowstone Park after the Big Hole Battle.
The Army’s pre-dawn attack on the sleeping Indian camp left dozens of women and children dead, which enraged many young Indians. Despite chiefs’ efforts to avoid whites, several groups were attacked in or near Yellowstone Park.
The most famous encounter is Emma’s Cowan’s ordeal of being captured, but there are other chilling events. Andrew Weikert was touring with a group of young men when they spotted the Indians a few miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs. The group beat a hasty retreat to thick grove of trees and spent the night hiding. The next morning, Weikert and a companion named Wilkie decided to leave the others in camp and go see if the Nez Perce had moved on. Here’s how Weikert described what happened.
We could see where the Indians and their horses had made a trail, so we thought the coast was clear. We started back for camp, but, we ran against an obstacle that made our hair raise and the blood rush to our faces.
We had gotten into the timber not more than a quarter of a mile when we ran onto a lot of the redskins lying in wait for us. They were under the hill, behind a log, so we did not see them until we got within about seventy-five feet.
I was riding ahead when I saw them raise up their heads from behind the log. I told Wilkie there were Indians ahead and wheeled my horse. At the same time I was getting my gun up ready to fire. Looking back I saw half a dozen guns leveled at me so I made myself small as I could, with my gun across my knees.
Bang! bang! bang! then zip! zip! zip! went the balls, but none struck me that time. I was perfectly cool and self-possessed, but will own up that my hair was standing on end when I first saw them. My horse had made a few more jumps, when bang! they went again.
This time they were a little more successful, for they cut a crease in my shoulder blade about four inches long; did not break a bone, but splintered my shoulder bone a little. And another ball took a piece out of my gunstock. I then began hugging my horse still closer, if such a thing was possible, when they gave us another volley.
By this time, we were out of range, but the balls flew past thick and fast and we could hear them strike the trees. Now for a race!
I supposed that they had their horses close at hand, but they did not mount them just then. Just at this time, my horse tripped his foot and fell and came near turning a somersault. I went sprawling on the ground directly in front of him.
My shoulder was paining considerably, but I did not have long to remain there, for the ‘reds’ were running up again to get another shot at me. I up and let them have one from my repeater. You ought to have seen them dodge. I did this all in a few seconds, and my horse was on his feet again ready to start. I just put my hand on the horn of the saddle, made a bound into it, and was off.
Wilkie had gotten considerably ahead of me by this time, but I soon made up for lost time. We got back on the prairie again on Alum Creek in the valley, then back in the timber again. The Indians did not follow us. We rode as far as we could, then took it afoot, for the under-brush was so thick that we could hardly get our horses through.
After we got into the timber quite a ways, we halted to take breath and to see what damage was done. Wilkie asked me if I was hurt; I told him judging from the hole in my shirt on the right shoulder, and the way the blood was running in my boot, I thought that there must be a scratch at least.
We examined it and bound it up the best we could. Wilkie, being a safe distance from the Indians, did not get hurt. We looked our horses over, and found them all sound, thank fortune. So we mounted and took our direction for camp, rode as lively as we could in hopes that the reds had not been there so we could warn the boys.
—Adapted from Weikert’s Journal published in Contributions to the Montana Historical Society, 1900.
— Frank J. Haynes postcard, Coppermine Photo Gallery.
— You might also enjoy:
5 thoughts on “A Tale: A Battle With Fleeing Nez Perce — 1877”
These first-hand accounts make the glamorizations of Hollywood seem pale and lifeless. Great stuff.
Thanks, Chris — Sometimes I think I should skip writing a book and go directly to working on a screenplay.
Methinks Mr. Weikert may have been a bit prone to exaggeration judging by the litheness expressed about being able to bound into the saddle. I also doubt the Nez Perce were such poor shots. Other, more sober and historical, reports indicate they were highly accurate. Imagine the state of mind of a people on the run and fearing oblivion. The decency they exhibited in most instances stands in contrast to the treatment they received.
Thanks, Danny. I started to reply, but my response got too long and your comment deserves a careful and thoughtful response. I’ll gather my thoughts and post a response on my blog in a few days.
Great, absorbing tale. A trip to Yellowstone in that period wasn’t a vacation but a life-changing event!