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Historical Review Part Five: Siege & Surrender - "I Will Fight No More Forever!"

Miles realized that were unable to overrun the camp. The Hotchkiss Gun firing two-pound explosive shells at a rate of 12 a minute was brought up and began to fire into the camp. However, bold Nez Perce sharpshooters soon crawled up and shot the mules and riders of the "Jackass Battery). A deadly sniping duel ensued with Joseph's warriors.

At mid afternoon Miles saw an opportunity at the southern end of the camp where isolated lodges belonging to Joseph and his followers stood. He ordered Lt. Romeyn and Co. G, 5th Infantry to move to the south end of the camp and take over command of Companies A & K of the Seventh Cavalry.

Lt. Carter would move into position for a charge down the cut bank at the southwest comer of the flat, then down into the creek bed and camp. Romeyn waved his hat as a signal to attack. The men cheered and charged at once, some gaining the Nez Perce rifle pits before falling dead. Romeyn was badly wounded, but Company I actually made it to the lodges. Joseph stated, "10 or 12 soldiers charged into our camp and gained possession of two lodges, killing three Nez Perce and loosing three of their men...I called my men to chase them back."

Miles was shocked at the heavy loss of his key officer's and non­ commissioned officers. He wrote in his autobiography "The Indians occupied a crescent-shaped ravine, and it was apparent that their position could only be forced by a charge or siege... the later in my judgement would be almost sure to result satisfactory."

As darkness fell, warriors continued to dig rifle pits and tunnels. At daybreak, Monday Oct. 1st, Miles sent a scout to the camp under a white flag to parley. Miles and Joseph finally met face to face. Miles asked, "Joseph to surrender." Joseph replied, "We are willing to return to Wallowa if the white man will arrange it, but we will not surrender under any other terms." Miles insisted on an unconditional surrender... .Joseph shook his head and rode back to camp.

Miles opened up with his 12-pound Napoleon, reining artillery fire over the village, with little effect. The fight continued back and forth with a stalemate at the end by nightfall. Miles sent another emissary to Joseph for another parley that evening and Joseph complied. After both shaked hands

Miles told Joseph, "The war is over.. .All your arms must be given up. We will send you back to your homes." Joseph replied, "I can give up only half the guns…I must have half for myself." "No" Miles replied I must have them all. When you go back to Idaho, there I will return the guns to you, and the horses we have captured. The government will help you live."

Joseph studied Miles to search his heart. He then agreed stating, "It is well". Miles however held Joseph hostage. He wrote his wife, "I had Chief Joseph in my camp one night. . . unfortunately Lt. Jerome got detained in their camp. . . and Joseph had to be exchanged for Jerome." After Joseph failed to return the warriors seized Jerome who Miles had sent to conduct a reconnaissance of the camp and the number of weapons held.

Tuesday October 2

Capt. Snyder's diary entry that day: "Negotiations are still going on today. Joseph & Lt. Jerome exchanged for each other but no new signs of surrender…Snow & rain and no covering. We all suffered."

Miles opened up again with his Cannon until ammunition ran low and then both sides exchanged occasional shots. At this point the Nez Perce were holding their own. Miles waited it out and hoped for reinforcements soon from Sturgis or Howard for a renewed all-out assault.

Friday October 5, Final Day

The final day was bitter cold (exactly 125 years today!) and brought renewed firing from both sides. At about 8 AM all firing ceased. General Howard had finally arrived with 15 soldiers after receiving a dispatch from Miles. His main force was still back on the trail. He brought with him two Nez Perce elders who had daughters in the camp: Capt. John and Old George.

At the urging of Howard they went in to the camp under a white flag of truce. In council they told Joseph and White Bird that Howard's army was near and there was no point in continuing the fight. The people would not be executed and they would receive food, clothing, medical treatment, and would be allowed to return to their homeland. Not all agreed to surrender. White Bird gave his word to Joseph that he would surrender, but later broke his promise to Joseph, fleeing that night with 50 followers to Canada.

At approximately 2:30 that afternoon, Joseph, riding his war horse and escorted by two followers rode to the crest of a hill to meet Miles and Howard. As he approached Howard is said to have whispered to Miles "It's over, General -- the most amazing campaign in my career as a soldier. This Indian is an absolute genius in the science of warfare." Miles nodded, "I have already learned that fact General!" What followed was one of the most powerful speeches. Joseph spoke from his heart:

"Tell Howard that I know his heart. What he told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Tu-hul-hil-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who now say yes or no. He who led the youngmen is dead (Joseph's younger brother, Alo-kut). It is cold and we have no blankets and no food. The little children are freezing to death.

My people some of them have run away to the hills and have no blankets and 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! My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I shall fight no more forever. "

He then handed Miles his Winchester, finally ending the long road to surrender that began 4 1/2 months earlier. Yellow Wolf remembered, "This place we called Wolf’s Paw Mountains but the white people call it Bear's Paw, so I am told."

A total of 23 officers and men were killed in action at Bear Paw, and 52 officers, enlisted men and Indian scouts were wounded. Of these 18 of the K.I.A were from the Seventh Cavalry.

Capt. Godfrey and Capt. Moylan both received the Medal of Honor for their gallantry at Bear Paw.

Godfrey: Awarded November 22, 1894 "For gallantry on September 30, 1877 in the Snake Creek Fight Where he did lead his command in action until severely wounded in the hip.”

Moylan: Awarded on November 27, 1894 with the citation: "Gallantly led his command in action against the Nez Perce until he was severely wounded in the right thigh in the Snake Creek Fight on September 30, 1877.”

Nez Perce casualties included over 25 killed and an estimated 40-60 wounded.

Originally buried on the battlefield in 1903, the army casualties were reburied in the post cemetery at Fort Assinniboine. In 1913 the post cemetery remains including the casualties at Bear Paw made their last journey to their final bivouac; Custer Battlefield National Cemetery. Today two large granite memorials (originally erected at Fort Keogh), stand watch over the bivouac of the dead in section B, and remind visitors today of their ultimate sacrifice during those six days of hard fighting at Bear Paw Mountain. (Several memorials were also erected at Bear Paw).

In conclusion, with only 300 warriors, and opposed by some 5,000 soldiers, Chief Joseph had met on the field of battle 2,000, in 13 battles and skirmishes, of which approximately 266 were either killed or wounded. Marching 1,700 miles through hostile country with non-combatants, the story of that faithful trek over 125 years ago by one of this countries most brilliant strategist, continues to be studied as an example of human endurance, great courage and fortitude.

It is fitting that I leave you with the reflections on the end of the campaign vividly recalled by 2nd Lt. Hugh L. Scott, 7th Cavalry:

"Joseph was then [1877] a tall, stalwart, active, fine-looking young man of great force and dignity. His life in Kansas and the Indian Territory, where many of his people died, did much to break his body and spirit; this was quite patent [sic] (apparent) at the times I saw him in Washington in after years. He and his people were among the finest Indians America produced, but they were treated most unjustly by the government, first to their lands, and secondly their deportation to Oklahoma where they could not live. These Nez Perce's received Lewis and Clark, Bonnevile and many other white men with great hospitality and kindness, but their treatment by the white man is a black page in our history."

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