Indians in the United States and Canada: A Comparative History

By Roger L. Nichols | Go to book overview

8 Societies under Siege, 1860s-1890

tall and thick-necked, Toohoolhoolzote argued forcefully with the one-armed General Oliver Otis Howard. The soldier, accused of being soft on Indians, strove to disprove that by demanding that the Nez Percé vacate their traditional Wallowa Valley homeland in Oregon. Responding, the older dreamer prophet reminded Howard that this band of Nez Percé had never signed any agreement to move. Rather, he said, the land had come down to them from their fathers and they intended to keep it. Howard interrupted angrily that he had orders from the president and that he wanted to hear no more talk about beliefs, only removal. At that point Toohoolhoolzote answered, "I am telling you I am a chief! Who can tell me what to do in my own country?" 1 Both his tone and words angered the general, who shouted, "I am the man. I stand here for the president. . . . My orders are plain and will be executed." 2 Then he grabbed the Indian by one arm and with an aide walked him across the parade ground to the guardhouse. Following that he issued an ultimatum. The Nez Percé had thirty days to move their property and livestock or the army would drive them to the reservation.

This order set into motion events leading to the tragic 1877 Nez Percé flight toward Canada. It also demonstrated vividly the drastic changes many Indian groups in both nations experienced in their dealings with the rest of society during the last four decades of the nineteenth century. On both sides of the border, railroads stretched across the landscape bringing farmers, miners, and merchants while helping to destroy the plains buffalo herds. Bureaucrats and

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