Friends of Fort Vancouver Blog
A STALLION FOR CHIEF JOSEPH IN 1893
A featured book in our on-line sales is Days with Chief Joseph by Erskine Wood. In the archives of General John Gibbon, preserved by the Pennsylvania Historical Society in Philadelphia, we found a handwritten letter by young Erskine Wood in 1893. Erskine was 14 years old and wrote this letter to his great-uncle General John Gibbon, then Commander of Department of the Columbia. Erskine was spending his second autumn with Chief Joseph and his family at Nespelem, WA. The boy was learning to hunt and fish with native ways and absorbing the language and culture of the exiled Nez Perce band.
Erskine was also close to "Uncle John" and visited the Gibbon household on Vancouver Barracks' Officers' Row many times. Erskine was born on Officers' Row in 1879 to parents Lt. C.E.S. and Nanny Wood. John Gibbon and his wife Frances were uncle and aunt to Nan Wood.
In Erskine Wood's journal/memoir (available on this website: Days with Chief Joseph, ISBN # 0-9631232-1-1, Rosewind Press, $11.95), the writer regrets that he never told his father of Chief Joseph's request for a breeding stallion when his father asked the boy about an appropriate gift. The elder Erskine undoubtedly did not recall writing his letter to Uncle John on behalf of Chief Joseph. (We've attached a copy of the letter to this story.)
The question remains unanswered if Joseph received a stallion from Gibbon in 1893. I believe it is possible. Gibbon commanded a vast resource-rich military department that stretched from Oregon to Alaska, Washington to Montana. Even though the two met in battle at the Big Hole in 1877, each held a respect for the other. This came to the forefront when General Gibbon met Chief Joseph at Nespelem, WA, in December 1885 as the native band returned from an enforced government exile of eight years in a barren campsite in Oklahoma. Personal papers from the Pennsylvania archive revealed the meeting between Gibbon and Joseph with Arthur "Ad" Chapman as interpreter. Chief Joseph explained that his people had been sent north to the Colville Reservation without payment, blankets or food. The Indian Agent had told them that the northern reservation agent would provide for them. Gibbon quickly realized that the Oklahoma agent had swindled the Joseph band of what little they owned, including several horses, and that the Colville tribe had little to spare. Sharing their reservation's meager allowance, particularly in winter, would endanger all native people living in Nespelem. The government's agent Mr. Dickson was ordered by Gibbon to contact Washington D.C. immediately to initiate remedies to the lack of goods. Joseph explained that his stallion was sold in Oklahoma (Indian Territory) for $150 but the Indian Agent there promised that he would receive the funds at Nespelem. No such arrangements had been made. Infuriated by this poor treatment and fraud, Gibbon ordered military stores to the reservation. The stores were to continue until the US Government eventually upheld their promise to provide for Joseph's band at Nespelem.
Chief Joseph was invited to the general's new home (now known as the Marshall House on Officers' Row) and dined with several families living on the Row. Joseph also visited the C.E.S. Wood home in Portland. It was there that he met the couple's children and invited young Erskine to live and hunt with him at Nespelem.
Living in Vancouver to age 104, Erskine became a successful attorney in the law firm founded by his father. He recalled his adventures with Chief Joseph and his family for the rest of his life. We hope that General Gibbon fulfilled the gift of a breed stallion to Chief Joseph.
Friends of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
The pages of the letter below reads:
Page 1 (right side)
Nespelem Dec 12th, 1893
Dear Uncle Gibbon I have just received your letter concerning Joseph and now we are going to answer it.
[Erskine writing for Joseph] My dear friend Gen. Gibbon I am well and so are all of my people.
I have a very small house and long ago Washington promised me a good house. I would like you to speak about it.
[Erskine inserts his remarks here.] This is very true about his house it is a little bit of a thing with two rooms each about 8 x 8. It is so small that he don't live in it and there are cracks between the boards.
Page 2 (left side)
[Joseph continues...] I want a buggy that will hold 4 people.
I don't like the idea of selling the land in Lapai [Lapwai].
[Erskine inserts ...] I don't know if Joseph means selling it or dividing it but maybe you do. I think he means dividing it now, and he says that all the Indians will have very sick hearts if it is all cut up.
[Joseph's words] I am friendly to all the white people and have a good heart for everyone.
[Erskine continues ...] Joseph is through now so I will have to say good-by as I am going to start for Wilbur [WA] now.
Page 3 (right side)
P.S. I would like to have an American stallion so as to make the breed of my people's horses better.
Days with Chief Joseph by Erskine Wood
The journal/memoir of a 14 year old youngster who lived with the Nez Perce Chief Joseph for two hunting seasons in the early 1890's.