When news of the killings on Camas Prairie and the Salmon River reached Fort Lapwai, the response to the settlers' request for protection was immediate. Ninety cavalry men set out to find the Nez Perce. Forty-one hours later, with no sleep, they arrived at White Bird Hill. The White Bird summit marks the divide between Camas Prairie to the north and the Salmon River canyon to the south.

Troops F and H, First Cavalry, therefore left Fort Lapwai for Mount Idaho at eight o'clock on the evening of June 15th ...

We halted at Cottonwood long enough to cook coffee and unsaddle our animals for a roll and an hour's grazing and then proceeded across Camas Prairie to Mount Idaho, which we reached in the afternoon. We found the citizens armed and very much excited. In the course of the evening a delegation from the small town waited on Colonel Perry, urging him to move down to the Salmon River where the Indians were camped, and attack and punish them for the murders committed by them. Perry called the officers of the command together and after the prolonged conversation with the citizens, who professed to know the situation and strength of the Indians, claiming an easy victory, it was decided to make the attempt. The citizens were deceived in the supposed knowledge of Indian affairs as events subsequently proved.

We fed our men and horses and started at ten o'clock P.M. for the Salmon River, distant about twenty miles. We were now two days and on our second night without rest or sleep.... Half a dozen citizens accompanied us to act as guides and assist in the prospective fight....

We plodded along in the dark until about one o'clock in the morning when we reached the head of White Bird Caiion, where we made a halt until dawn. Colonel Perry ordered perfect quiet and under the circumstances no light of any kind was to be made, yet one man of his own troop lighted a match to light his pipe; two hours later that man paid the penalty of his disobedience with his life. Almost immediately the cry of a coyote was heard in the hills above us, a long, howling cry, winding up, however, in a very peculiar way not characteristic of the coyote. Little heed was paid to it at the time, yet it was a fatal cry to the command. It was made by an Indian picket on the watch for the soldiers who they knew were already on the march.

Probably he had seen the light. The signal was carried by others to the camp, so that they were thoroughly prepared for our coming....

Lt. William R. Parnell

Captain Perry's troops advanced down White Bird Hill just a few hundred yards west of where the road runs today. Not until the advance guard topped the ridge south of here, where the lone hackberry tree stands, did they see the Nez Perce were ready and waiting for them. Ad Chapman, a volunteer, rode ahead to see the Nez Perce for himself and fired twice on the Nez Perce truce party. The battle commenced. The first casualty, Trumpeter Jones, was shot out of his saddle seconds later.

On the east side of the road, volunteers, led by George Shearer, advanced southward but were quickly driven back by the Nez Perce. Meanwhile, Companies F and H had dismounted just west of the road. With every fourth man acting as a horse holder, the horses were sent back half a mile to about where the last two switchbacks in the road are. Companies F and H advanced on foot from just west of here up the ridge where they were joined by the volunteers. While Captain Perry looked for a trumpeter, the line broke and retreated up the hill paralleling where the new highway runs today.

The remnants of Fort Lapwai are situated near U.S. Highway 95 in Lapwai, Idaho. Two sites are listed as part of Nez Perce National Historical Park: the duplex Officers' Quarters, built in 1883, and the Northern Idaho Indian Agency building. Troops were assigned to the Lapwai Valley in response to the gold rush. The fort was in use from 1862 to 1885. It was here that General Oliver 0. Howard met with the leaders of Nez Perce nontreaty bands on May 3, 1877, as they made one last attempt to remain on their land. The Northern Idaho Indian Agency, originally located at Spalding, was relocated to Fort Lapwai in 1904. Fort Lapwai was converted into a government Indian school and then into a tuberculosis sanitorium with a hospital, boys' and girls' dormitories, and a school. Fort Lapwai is held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for the Nez Perce Tribe.

The agency building is owned by the Lapwai School District. The officers' quarters building has been stabilized and is vacant. The parade ground is also intact, as are some of the stables. Because of the parade ground, the site has a campus-like atmosphere.



The Nez Perce Flight to Canada - An Introduction

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