Lewis and Clark Were OK,
by Brad W. Gary
There wasn't even an idea of Lewiston, Idaho when the Nez Perce signed their first agreement with explorers Lewis and Clark in 1806.
But retired Lewis-Clark State College professor Steven Evans told a group at LCSC Thursday the town of Lewiston, like so many other towns in the United States, was founded on broken promises with the American Indians.
"There are actually hundreds and hundreds of individuals who had agreements over the years," Evans told about 75 people who gathered for "Agreements made, agreements broken," part of the sesquicentennial lecture series at LCSC.
The Nez Perce were a people who understood the agreements made, and were living by their laws when the explorers first traveled through. Evans said the agreement with Lewis and Clark was the first of many the Nez Perce would have in the coming 200 years, of which many were broken by subsequent explorers who came looking for gold or land.
The Lewis and Clark party spent 30 days with the Nez Perce, and had a series of meetings with leaders, upon their return journey from the Pacific. Throughout those meetings Evans said they formed a commercial and military alliance between the United States and the Nez Perce government that would last through the coming of fur traders and missionaries.
"The agreement stood for a long time, it stood for about 50 years," Evans said.
The later treaty of 1855 was a formalization of the processes that were in place with Lewis and Clark, Evans said.
But that treaty was sold by Isaac Stevens, who gave a grand story to what had been given to other tribes back east. He promised mechanics and doctors and carpenters among others, Evans said.
"Stevens told the Nez Perces, you better sign this treaty because the great white father will protect you like he protected the Cherokee," Evans said, noting Stevens left out any mention of the horrific Trail of Tears.
The treaty prohibited any white men on the reservation without written permission from the tribe, something that was almost continuously violated after the discovery of gold in Pierce.
"One of the biggest problems with the treaty of 1855 was the discovery of gold," Evans said.
Mines began to sprout up all over the reservation, and white entrepreneurs eventually numbered 2,000 people in Lewiston and 3,000 in Pierce by 1862.
The Nez Perce Chief Lawyer complained provisions of the 1855 treaty had not been met, and violations of that document continued to mount as an agreement was hammered out in 1861 that would have opened gold rush towns north of the Clearwater River to white settlers.
Ninety percent of the tribe's boundaries were eventually lost in the formal 1863 treaty, which Evans said included coercion by American troops. Very few leaders who signed the 1855 treaty went on to sign the 1863 treaty, he said.
"The treaty of 1863 was finally ratified in 1867," he said, and by that time "provisions of the 1855 treaty had not been respected or fulfilled."
Those agreements were never honored like agreements with Lewis and Clark, whom Evans said asked the Nez Perces every time they wanted to take down a tree or put a canoe in the water.
"By the time of the 1863 treaty, the Nez Perces are a minority in their own home," he said.
Chief Timothy would one day say it was too bad the people who came after them did not have the explorers' integrity, Evans said.
The next session in the sesquicentennial lecture series is scheduled for June 16, when Marion Shinn will discuss the Lewiston Normal School.
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