Saturday, May 9, 2009
Ollokot, Killed in Action October 4, 1877
Ollokott, brother of Chief Joseph whom I wrote about a while back, was a war chief of the Nez Perce band of the Wallowa Valley in Oregon. Although his birth date is unrecorded, he was surely born in the 1840’s, to Old Joseph (Tuekakas) and Arenoth. As a child, he was known as Tewetakis.
With Joseph destined as the peacemaker, Ollokot learned the traits and duties of a hunter and warrior and attended treaty signings with his father and brother. However, one treaty, the Lapwai, his father and brother did not sign.
Like his father and brother, he adhered to the “Dreamer ritual” teachings of the shaman and prophet, Smohalla, who advocated passive resistance to the American path of tribal destruction. However, as Ollokot grew up, his reputation grew as a strong warrior and political leader, and he became a war chief upon his father’s death in 1871. At this time, Joseph became the administrative chief.
In 1876, General Oliver Otis Howard, commander of the Military Department of the Columbia, authorized a meeting with the Nez Perce at Fort Lapwai along with the Secretary of the Interior who was authorized to buy Joseph’s land. The brothers, however, remembered that their late father had not signed the previous Lapwai treaty, hearing again his cautionary words: Never sign a treaty selling your home. Your father and your mother are buried here….never sell their bones.
As such, the brothers insisted that their claim to the Wallow valley was valid and called for the removal of whites who had settled there.
Although Ollokot played an important peace role with General Howard in April 1877, Howard insisted the Nez Perce move to the Lapwai reservation in Idaho despite their protests about leaving their native lands.
The Nez Perce was an association of independent bands, not a united nation, so each summer the bends met in tribal council at Tolo Lake. Here the leaders discussed policies for treaties, trade, safety and the common good. They also took opportunity to perform their “Dreamer” rituals. The yearly gathering also served as a general social gathering. While Joseph and Ollokot were away from the Nez Percé assembly at Tolo Lake that spring of 1877, young warriors from war chief White Bird's band, left the group and attacked four white men at a settlement at the Salmon River. The four were the first white men killed by any Nez Percé since the tribe assisted the weakened Lewis and Clark expedition in 1806.
This unfortunate raid started up reprisals and skirmishes, culminating in Joseph’s legendary journey to freedom. At one point, Ollokot boldly led a group of warriors into General Howard's camp and captured 100 of their pack mules. From the beginning of the Nez Percé War to the end, the number of warriors led by the war chief Ollokot never exceeded 250 men. Despite the small number, the Nez Perce fought 20 skirmishes and five major battles against forces that totaled about 2,000 soldiers, many civilian volunteers, and several treaty Nez Percé scouts.
Ollokot was killed while fighting at the final battle on Snake Creek, near the Bear Paw Mountains on October 4, 1877. He had married Tamalwinonmi, whose name means Heavy Rain Breaking Branches, or Cloudburst. Their only child, a girl named for her mother, was known as Sarah, and later on, Sarah Connor.
Of course there are tons of details I do not have space or expertise to mention in the fascinating saga of the Nez Perce, but the facts of their culture and tragic history have inspired me to start creating a story for the Earth Songs line.
And I hope you’ll do me the honor of reading Marrying Minda, soon to be released, the tale of a mail-order bride who comes to Nebraska and finds herself married to the wrong man. His kisses melt her toes, and vice versa. But the handsome cowboy can’t wait to hightail it back to Texas.
Happy Mother’s Day.