Nez Perce
A special article by Elmer M. Savilla, Fort Oakland, Oklahoma.

July, ’92- Henry Allen, worked quietly and unselfishly for years on his own private project to remember and honor the native people who were gathered here by the U.S. Cavalry in 1877, and then were forced to walk to new reservations in the northwest. Heinmont Tooyalaket, known to whites as Chief Joseph, legendary Nez Perce leader, and Yellow Wolf, were among the the chiefs who tried to keep the Nez Perce people together.

Henry Allen served the Tonkawa tribe as Chairman for 18 years until his own death in April of 1989. The Tonkawa’s are now located on the grounds of the old Fort Oakland, now known as Tonkawa, Oklahoma. In his spare time Allen did research on old records, piecing together the sad story of those who passed through this lush country which the white Americans wanted so badly. Working with Indian archivists of the Oklahoma Historical Society, he was able to erect a seven foot tall by four feet wide pink granite memorial stone nearby the Tonkawa tribal offices so that they would never be forgotten. Henry Allen, was so spiritually moved by the story of these people that he took it upon himself to build a monument to their memory.

Text carved into the granite memorial tell a small part of the suffering the Nez Perce families endured. Full records could not be located, but it was recorded that a daughter was born to Chief Joseph at Lolo Lake in June of 1877. She died here at Fort Oakland and was buried alongside at least 100 other Nez Perce children who were born here while the tribe was imprisoned and died of malaria and other diseases.

Also buried here is a man named Halahtookit, who was born to a Nez Perce woman and fathered by William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark expedition fame.

On June 30, 1884, the local Indian Agent wrote to the Indian Affairs Commissioner H. Price, that in view of the large numbers of Nez Perce buried here, it was thought that to preclude any possible removal by looters a barricade fence should be installed around the burial ground. They located trees of suitable size and hauled them to a local lumbermill where they were cut into fence lumber and a “good substantial fence round the enclosure sufficient to include all the graves” was built. Carl Schurs was Secretary of Interior at the time and known to be a friend of Indians, and this may be the reason that the protected burial ground was permitted.

An interested person would wonder, how did the Nez Perce who were from the northwest happen to be here in Oklahoma territory? That story is another of the shameful chapters of American history and of how the West was really won:

In 1805 the Lewis and Clark expedition came out of the Rocky Mountains western side. The Nez Perce found them starved, sick, and near death. They fed them and took care of them until they were well enough to continue. The Nez Perce and the whites remained good friends until the yellow fever of “gold” turned them into enemies. Treaties and promise after promise was broken by the whites, supported by the U.S. Army.

In 1863 a new treaty was offered, giving them a new small reservation. The first Chief Joseph, Tuekakas, known as old Joseph, refused to sign the treaty. He died in 1871 and U.S. officials immediately ordered the Nez Perce to leave Wallowa, in what is now Washington state, and go to Lapwai in what is now Idaho. The new chief, Young Joseph, also refused to go.

After much harassment and mistreatment, Nez Perce warriors fought with and killed some soldiers. Joseph, advised by sub-chiefs White Bird, Looking Glass, his brother Ollokot, and the tribal elder-prophet Toohoolhoolzote, decided to take the Nez Perce to Canada for safety. The army pursued them through snowstorm and blizzard, and after brutally killing more than 50 women and children 25 warriors in a pre-dawn attack, the army succeeded in turning the Nez Perce southward.

Traveling south through Yellowstone Park they were attacked by General “Bear Coat” Miles, so named by Indians because of his habit of wearing a large bearskin coat. Miles had 30 Sioux and Cheyenne scouts who had been recruited from the Indian force which had defeated Custer, and these scouts led 600 troops of the 7th Cavalry in a charge upon Nez Perce.

The charge was stopped by Nez Perce warriors, then under a flag of truce Chief Joseph was taken prisoner.

Bear Coat Miles received reinforcements and the Nez Perce were besieged. Their war chief, Looking Glass, was killed, as was Toohoolhoolzote, the prophet. It was then, as a prisoner, that Chief Joseph, in order to save the lives of the remaining women and children, surrendered and made his now famous speech which ended with “I will fight no more forever.”

Some warriors escaped to Canada, but the remaining Nez Perce were taken to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, instead of to the promised Lapwai reservation. One hundred Nez Perce died there before they were sent to Fort Oakland (Tonkawa) where more died of sickness and mistreatment. By 1885 only 285 Nez Perce remained alive, most of them the very young or the very old. In 1887 some were returned to Lapwai in Idaho, but Chief Joseph and a few other warriors were sent to the Colville reservation in northern Washington, where they lived in exile and separated from the other Nez Perce.

On September 21, 1904 Heinmont Tooyalaket, Chief Joseph, died at the age of 63. The attending physician reported that cause of death was “a broken heart.”

This then, is the story which touched Henry Allen, Sr., Chief of the Tonkawa’s so much that he had to honor them with his own memorial. Today the board fence has been replaced with a wire fence and the burial ground is surrounded with farm crops. The constant Oklahoma winds whistling through the trees and the tall corn seem to whisper to the listener, voicing their thanks to Henry who wanted no recognition for building this memorial and got none (until now), and to the occasional visitor who traveled a hot and dusty country road to briefly visit with them and to see their final resting place. The writing on the memorial stone reads, “NEZ PERCE INDIAN BURIAL GROUND 1879-1885”. It is a memorial to the good heart of Henry Allen, Sr., and the Tonkawa people as well. A-ho!

Michele Lord Alpha Institute

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time… But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Aboriginal Woman