The big event on my schedule this week is my presentation, “The Nez Perce in Yellowstone,” at The Pioneer Museum of Bozeman on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. The talk, which is part of the Gallatin Historical Society’s Fall Lecture Series, will focus the dramatic stories told by tourists who survived run-ins with the Indians in the Summer of 1877.
I’ll begin with an overview of the flight of the Nez Perce who generally had lived peacefully with whites for most of the 1800’s. After gold was discovered on Nez Perce land in 1853, settlers began moving onto their land. In 1877 the Indians were ordered onto a tiny reservation, but they decided instead to flee to the buffalo country on the plains. Most accounts of the flight of the Nez Perce emphasize things that happened outside of Yellowstone Park like broken treaties and battles, but I’ll reverse that pattern and focus in the human drama of the Indians’ encounters with tourists.
I’ll read from my collection of first-person accounts of travel through Yellowstone Park in the 1800s. I like to present stories in the words of people who lived the adventures because that lets emotions and personalities shine through.
The first tourist the Nez Perce found in the park was John Shively, a prospector who was familiar with the area. The Indians forced Shively to guide them all the way through the park. He was with them for thirteen days, so his story provides a good overview.
The next tourists the Nez Perce found were the “Radersburg Party,” which included Emma Cowan and her thirteen-year-old sister, Ida. Emma and Ida were the only women to tangle with the Nez Perce inside the park. I’ll read Emma’s chilling description of the Indians shooting her husband in the head and taking her and her sister captive.
To slow things down, I’ll talk about “Skedaddlers,” tourists who visited the park in the summer of 1877, but left before the Indians arrived. These include: the famous Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman; Bozeman Businessman Nelson Story; English nobleman and park popularizer, The Earl of Dunraven and his companions, Buffalo Bill’s sometime partner, Texas Jack Omohundro, and Dunraven’s friend, George Henry Kingsley, a physician who patched up the Nez Perce’ victims at Mammoth Hot Springs.
Next, I’ll talk about the Helena Party’s trip and contrast that all-male group that entered the park from the north with the co-ed Radersburg Party that entered from the west. Then I’ll read Andrew Weikert’s description of his blazing gun battle with the Nez Perce.
I’ll describe how survivors of encounters with the Nez Perce were either rescued by soldiers looking for the Indians or made their way to Mammoth Hot Springs. I’ll explain that after Emma Cowan, her sister, and several wounded men left Mammoth for civilization, three men stayed there to see if their missing companions would appear. Then I’ll read Ben Stone’s description of the Indian attack at Mammoth that left another man dead.
I’ll end with my synthesis of accounts of Emma Cowan’s overnight ride from Helena to Bottler’s Ranch in the Paradise Valley to join her husband who had survived three gunshot wounds and was rescued by the army. That will give me an opportunity to talk about Encounters in Yellowstone, a book I’m writing now.
— The presentation will be at Pioneer Museum of Bozeman, 315 E. Main. It is free and open to the public. Please tell your friends.
— The photo of Chief Joseph is in the public domain.