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A Cayuse-Nez Percé Sketchbook

The Army Battle

Pages 15-16

[Image: 18.jpg] Pages 15 and 16 depict two engagements between U.S. Army troops and Plateau Indians; perhaps they are phases of the same encounter. Speculation among tribal members as to the war represented ranges from the Cayuse War of 1848--unlikely, since the opponents then were Oregon Volunteers--through the general conflict misnamed the Yakima War of 1855-56, to the Nez Percé War of 1877. If drawings on the following two pages are related to these, the last conflict seems the most probable.

Page 15 (left). The soldiers, kneeling in ranks, are firing upon two Indians in a valley below them. The terrain is graphically depicted. The troops fire from an edge clearly delineated; it does not seem to be a protective wall, for another, unoccupied, appears at the top of the page. Streams flow down the slopes, and evergreens below are shown in perspective from above. On the somewhat uneven valley floor, a horse lies at the right, killed by a bullet in the side. Two sets of footprints suggest that his rider and a second man had then advanced to the shelter of three pines. Here one of them, shot in the temple, lies on his back, a revolver thrust in his belt and his gun behind him. Since no blood issues from his mouth, perhaps his wound is not fatal. Sets of footprints lead up to a grove of shrubs in the background and down again, and out and back from the stream that runs through the trees below the troops. Clad in green shirt, with decorated trade cloth leggings, the remaining Indian waits with what may be gun in hand, taking cover beside his fallen comrade.

The troops wear light blue trousers and dark blue frock coat, together with the forage cap. If this is in fact the Nez Percé War, the cap is somewhat puzzling, for both the illustrations in Harper's Weekly, vol. 21, pages 641, 905, and the drawings of Peopeo Tholekt (McWhorter, 1952; Cheetham, 1963) show that the campaign hat was then commonly worn. Yet troops often wore the forage cap in other Indian campaigns of the 1870s, as witness the Kiowa tipi drawings shown by Petersen (1971: Color Plate 6) and the paintings of Frederick Remington. The Signal artist may indeed have drawn for inspiration here upon the caps of the uniformed Indian band at the reservation school of his day.

[Image: 19.jpg]In the cartridge belt of the nearest soldier is a brown instrument; others are shown more clearly in the belts of the soldiers on the next page. If the scene seems from the Nez Percé War, the instrument may be the experimental Rice entrenching bayonet with which the troops were equipped (McWhorter, 1952:258, 374, n. 14)--although it does not much resemble that item. Interestingly, the artist has found it necessary to emphasize the relative length of military guns by lengthening the barrels.

In the Nez Percé War, there are two engagements which this might well depict, the Battle of the Clearwater (McWhorter, 1952: 305) or that of the Big Hole (McWhorter, 1952: 380). However, the picture is not of a general engagement, but of the personal experience in battle of two men.

Page 16 (right). Again, troops are firing upon the Indians. Behind a fallen tree, three soldiers in advance of their fellows are receiving a charge from one of a party of four Indians. The footprints of the latter suggest that they have been alternately advancing and dropping to take cover. Note that three of the party have their hair tied up on top; the fourth wears pompadour and side braids.

To some Indian observers this scene is suggestive of the latter stage of the Battle of the Big Hole, when counter attacking warriors had pinned down the troops behind a defense of fallen trees.

Next: The Red Cones

Last revision: 10/31/06 by N. Helmer
Created by Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries
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