History of White Bird Idaho and the Battle of 1877.

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White Bird Idaho gets its name from a Nez Perce Indian Chief White Bird who roamed the region between the Snake River and Salmon River and its tributaries in the mid to late 1800’s. Cited in an historical reference book about Idaho County, it was stated that: 

 “White Bird was named after that grim Indian chief who, at the battle of White Bird Canyon, is said to have led the war whoops and to have taunted the escaping soldiers while he waved a bunch of scalps tied to a pole.” 

Chief Joseph :: from Wikipedia

An 1889 photograph of Chief Joseph speaking to ethnologist Alice Cunningham Fletcher and her interpreter James Stuart

Non-treaty Chief White Bird often disputed with Chief Joseph regarding the command of the united forces of the Nez Perce Indian tribes. Neither had signed the treaty of 1863 that would require the tribe to relocate to the Nez Perce Indian Reservation in Lapwai. 

In 1873 President Grant had given these non-treaty Nez Perce Indians exclusive use of the fertile Wallowa Valley.   In 1875 that executive order was revoked due to the attractiveness of the region and desires of white settlers to homestead in that beautiful area.   The Nez Perce Indians remained under a policy of passive resistance until a scuffle  in 1876 when a member of the tribe was killed by a white man in a quarrel over stock.  General Howard was then commissioned to review the situation and it was determined the Nez Perce tribe would have to be moved to the reservation, peacefully or forcefully if necessary.    30 days were given to Chief Joseph and his people to decide whether they would move to the reservation. 

On the night of June 13, Joseph and the other chiefs of the Wallowa branch of the Nez Perces sat on the shores of Lake Tolo, southeast of Cottonwood.  It was known that Chief White Bird and Josephs brother Alokut, with most of the young men were for war, but Joseph was reluctant to give the word. ” 

It was Chief White Bird who is thought to have originally taunted and produced  hysteria among white settlers, that ultimately lead to the hostile and violent battle in White Bird.

But Joseph could not restrain the war party.  Even White Bird could no longer be held back.  He rode about the camp, shouting, “All must join now! The white men will never belive you if you ask for peace.  There is blood.  You’ll be punished if you wait.  Everybody get ready to fight.” 

At the historic White Bird Battleground of the Nezperce Indian War, a deep and rugged canyon, thirty-four US Calvary men gave up their lives in service for their country, June 17, 1877.

Although Chief Joseph will forever be tied to the horrible battle of 1877 that took place on the rugged backbones of White Bird Canyon, and ultimately forced him and his tribe to flee the White Bird area toward the Canadian border in Montana, his famous words at the battle at Bear Paw in Montana will echo throughout history;

“From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever” 

These words mark the tragic end of an era for the Nez Perce Indian Tribe, an end to a peaceful way of life for Chief Joseph and his people who made their home in the Wallowa Valley and central Idaho along the Snake and Salmon Rivers.

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