Colville Reservation

Grave of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce

The story behind this photograph is a long one. It involves ownership and secrets, legacies and histories. Who has the right to tell this story? Who has the right to publish this photograph? Is Chief Joseph‘s legacy only safeguarded by his people, or a larger circle who care about his people’s story of leadership, exile, pain, loss, and conquest? I do not have the answer.

Chief Joseph was born in what today is the Wallowa Valley of Oregon. He and other Nez Perce warriors led his band of just 700 men, women, and children on a 1,400-mile march that even received taciturn praise from their military pursuers seeking to place them in reservations. The group held off more than  2,000 U.S. soldiers and Indian auxiliaries in four battles and numerous skirmishes, before surrendering in 1877. His speech at his band’s surrender is among the most famous of all made by Native American leaders in response to their subjugation by the young United States and its people:

I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, “Yes” or “No.” He who led the young men [Olikut] is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.

The Nez Perce were relocated and broken. Half, including Joseph, were taken to a non-Nez Perce reservation in central Washington, becoming one of the bands of the Confederated Colville Tribes. Today the area is known as the Colville Reservation, where I shot this photograph in August 2014 when passing through. I found his final resting grounds to be a serene place.

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Grave of a Nez Perce warrior, Yellow Wolf

I passed through the Colville Reservation this summer, which encompasses a huge swath of land in the north central part of Washington State. On the way, I stopped at the Nez Perce Cemetery. The Nez Perce are among the 12 confederated tribes who make up the reservation. This is one of the graves in the cemetery. The gravestone reads: “Yellow Wolf / Patriot Warrior of the Nez Perce ‘lost cause’ 1877 / Marker placed by white friends”

The persecution of the Nez Perce led to one of the more sorrowful chapters of the conquest of the American West. In 1877, multiple U.S. Cavalry commanders chased more than 750 Nez Perce men, women, and families for more than 1,000 miles starting in Oregon all the way to the current border with Canada, though not in the lands managed by the Colville Reservation. This event and trail is now recognized as the Nez Perce Trail, commemorated by the U.S. Congress in 1968. In the words of one Nez Perce descendant, Frank B. Andrews: “We the surviving Nez Perces, want to leave our hearts, memories, hallowed presence as a never-ending revelation to the story of the event of 1877.”

(Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Colville Confederated Tribes’ pride

 

The Omak Stampede, in Omak, Wash., is both an official rodeo and a gathering of members of the Colville Confederated Tribes, in central Washington. The event takes place the second weekend of August every year. This year I didn’t stay for the event, and instead shot a few pictures of the tepees set up every year new the pow wow performance area. I then took my first drive through the reservation ever, stopping in Nespelem and eventually at the Coulee Dam on the reservation’s border. It was great to finally see this place, as it covers 2,100 square miles and has a key role in the state’s and region’s history.