By Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. and Cull A. White, 1972
Lewis and Clark met members of many of these bands and called them Sinkiuses and other names. At a later period, they were well known to the Astorian fur traders, the Nor'Westers, and the Hudson's Bay men who canoed past their rush-mat villages on their way to and from the mouth of the Columbia River. These river dwellers took little part in the Indian wars of the Northwest after the miners and settlers arrived and began crowding in around them. But, they gave birth to and neutered one of the last desperate Indian prophet movements, that of the Smohalla, the Dreamer, of the 1860s and 1870s. Like Wovoka's Ghost Dance movement, it was a peaceful one but it withered and died under white pressure.
Ever since that time, under fine leaders like Chief Moses, well known regionally, though not nationally, the descendants of those bands have managed to a remarkable degree to maintain their cultural identity. White civilization enfolded and overran them, forced them from most of their river-village sites, and removed them to reservations, principally to the big Colville Reservation in Northeastern Washington. But there, with some of the Nez Perce descendants of the Chief Joseph band and with other native peoples from elsewhere in the Northwest, they have continued proudly and with dignity to maintain their traditions. In the high, wooded hills of their remote reservation country that lies north of Grand Coulee Dam they are fairly well out of sight and out of mind of most white people, including above all, the busy civilization of the state in which they dwell.
But close to them, fortunately, are a handful of "old-timers" pioneer settlers, cowhands, and others who, in their youth got to know the Indians, worked with them, sat around fires with them, swapped lore with them, and came to know that "their hearts were good", even though they were Indians. A visitor to this part of the United States, this "last outpost of pioneer life", Northwestern Washington, comes on those old-timers in the little towns of Nespelem, Omak, Tonasket, Republic, Chesaw, and Coulee Dam. They are in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, and at the age it doesn't seem to matter what a man's background was. These men have been warm and understanding friends of the neighboring Indians for so long that they forget when it began. They recall that they helped feed some of the Indians when the Indians were short of food, and now some of them, whose luck has run low in recent years, say that the Indians haven't forgotten them but drop by now and then with venison and other provisions.
This heartwarming relationship is perhaps not unique in American history, but it is not too common today. And when one of the old-timers, either white or Indian dies, it is somehow like a loss to a single group of people. One of the best known of the eastern Washington old-timers, my friend Cull White of Coulee Dam, recently sent me the letter that's printed below. Cull knows the Northwest, from his backyard, which it almost was. He bought and sold and ran sheep all over that big country, and herded wild horses by the thousands. Once, with Indian wranglers, he used to drive them across the Columbia River and up the Cariboo Trail.
Early this year, one of those Indians died, and Cull wrote the letter that follows. It's not so much the recollection of a friend, perhaps, as the revelation of a relationship and of a way of life that is still lived in that part of the United States. If the letter needs a title, call it, "The Funeral of Peter Dan Moses".
The funeral of Peter Dan Moses at Nespelem, Washington, April 26, 1962, marked the passing of another colorful, prominent Indian leader. Reverend Joseph Obersinner, S.J., of St. Mary's Mission, Omak, conducted the services. Old enough to heard horses in 1872, Peter thought his age might be from 100 to 102 years. Not only was he the most successful full-blood Indian rancher of his generation, but he was also known far and wide as a helpful neighbor, as was evidenced by three white neighbors who were proud to serve as pallbearers and to attend the Potlatch.
Over 700 friends filed past his grave, each dropping the traditional handful of earth on his casket and pausing to pay their last tribute. It is devoutly hoped these meaningful gestures and the following friendly Potlatch will never be discontinued. They lend dignity and reverence sadly lacking in modern city life. Indian funerals are not hasty formal affairs from which people rush back to business and social duties. One feels that right here is the most important duty. Here lies a good friend who deserves our best. Differences, political, religious and racial, are put aside.
Young hunters bring deer from the mountains. Two steers are butchered. Willing hands build a huge pavilion seating 200 for the feast. Nearly four groups were fed through the afternoon, by talented neighbors who for years have made these occasions models of efficiency and cooperation. Eager volunteers stand in line waiting only to be directed to some task. Before wagons and car, swift horses bore messengers to spread the word. Peter remembered travois used for hearses, smoke signals for TV and radio.
He was proud of his grandson Harvey Moses, for carrying on the family tradition of leadership in good farming and as an effective President of the Federated Colville Tribes. It was the writer's privilege to live on adjoining ranches for 42 years. As he aged, Peter became deeply interested in telling of his boyhood and early ranching days. His devoted daughter Annie (Mrs. Arthur Circle) was the only one able to penetrate his later deafness.
Historians owe much to Mrs. Circle for the many hours she gave to interpreting and explaining. Although from distinguished lineage, Peter inherited no wealth. His success was due to hard work and concentration, doing his best with what he had at hand, as do most self-made men.
Peter's mother was a sister of Chief Moses. His father was a half-brother of the distinguished Tsechil-a-wax, the greatest owner of horses in western Indian history. The latter's winter headquarters were near the site of Ice Harbor Dam on Snake River. Fifty years later, his son Wolf sold 3,000 horses at a time to the first homesteader in the Columbia Basin.
One of his camps was near Ephrata on the road to Sagebrush Flats. While men gambled, raced and sold horses, the women gathered roots. Teams brought $20 per pair and $30 if matched colors. Thirty-four riders worked hard holding herds between Trinidad and Soap Lake Coulee and between Sagebrush Flats and Frenchman Hills. Riders were paid in colts, not cash.
Wolf's nephew, 71-year old Harry Jim, is the last chief of the lower Snake River Indians. He recently sold his 160-acre homestead at Ice Harbor Dam to the U.S. Army Engineers. Harry helped the Grant County Historical Society, along with the four Wanapum Indian families at Priest Rapids in moving the picturesque, 95-year old cabin and corrals from the ranch to permanent new locations.
A few boys from upper class families received intensive training, far superior to that of lesser families. In its thoroughness and results it was as efficient as our modern specialization. From his youth on, Peter Dan excelled at sports, horsemanship and resourcefulness. He told me that he bought his first cattle from Sanford Stevenson of Barry in the late 1880's for $15 per head and wintered them well.
Expanding his heard later, he saved only cash to stock up with winter supplies from the Wilbur (Washington) stores. One day while he and his wife were hauling firewood from the hills, with their baby snugly wrapped in quilts, fire destroyed all their possessions and home.
Due to Peter's reputation as an honest hard worker, he was able to obtain grocery credit and winter work to winter well. In May 1920, as my wife and I rode from San Poil to Nespelem to visit Billy Curlew. Also for her to see Billy's famous buckskin racer which won the twenty-mile race from Kettle Falls to Inchelium in 1919 against two powerful Canadian canoeists in a birch bark canoe, we stopped at Peter Dan's Ranch. My wife wanted a good mountain saddle horse, as her own tall thoroughbred was too delicate for rough camp life. She liked a buckskin pacer, which Peter was breaking. He said, "Maybe good for Indian woman, maybe no good for Boston woman, maybe too much buck". Later he helped us get a good horse.
Referring to the help he received at the time of his fire, he used to say, "That's when I learned white men are good friends". Constantly improving his breeding stock, his workhorses became noted for size and working quality. His cattle were larger and brought better prices than scrub stock. Before the homesteaders fenced range, Peter kept over 300 well-selected cows and ran steers to maturity for most weight. He was one of the first Indians to own and maintain a car, which could make a round trip to Spokane with few mishaps.
In 1930 I found Peter, with a yearling bear roped by his hind legs and resisting his efforts to put a log chain around his neck. Dismounting, I learned that on a steep hillside, he had three times thrown a lasso around the bear's neck, but the bear had pulled the rope off. Peter then roped his hind legs and dragged the bear to his home. Few of his neighbors or kinsmen could do that, then or now.
Within the past fifteen months, the three remaining contemporaries of Peter have passed on, each man a successful specialist in a different line, respected by all. Peter was the last survivor of his generation in his area. The present generation is faced with grave and disturbing problems, never known in the past. May they follow the precepts of integrity, courage and resourcefulness of these four great men.