WOTOLLEN TELLS OF RED BEAR
L. V. McWhorter "Wotollen Tells of Red Bear," in Hear Me, My Chief! Nez Perce History and Legend, 1952.
Among the tribal notables who canoed down the Clearwater to meet Lewis and Clark where Lewiston, Idaho, now stands, was Hohots Ilppilp [Red Grizzly Bear], in time abbreviated to Red Bear. Wottolen [Hair Combed Over Eyes], a grandson of this renowned warrior, chief, and prophet, contributed the following, his son, Many Wounds, interpreting.
Red Grizzly Bear was a chief famous among the tribes. His bravery as a warrior was attested by the eighty wounds he carried, received in battles. From these scars, in later years, he was known as Many Wounds. He knew and took part in all the wars of his day. Always a leader, when foraying he went ahead of his band; no one ever traveled in front of him.
Whether night or day, on foot or on horseback (I cannot explain the mystery) some kind of foresight was with him. Even if an enemy were at a distance and invisible, Many Wounds would drop into a trance of prophecy, and while thus sleeping he beheld all enemies passing before him. Everything pertaining to the enemies: the kind to be met, whether the meeting would be that same sun or the next, the number of scalps that would be taken and the kind of horses they would secure. This happened a number of times. Of most wonderful strength, he used principally his right hand and arm in battle. He was known everywhere west of the great mountains [Rockies] even to the big waters [Pacific].
Chief Red Bear first learned of white people through a girl of his band living on Tamonmo. When small she was stolen by the Blacklegs in the buffalo country, who sold her to some tribe farther toward the sunrise. In time she was bought by white people, probably in Canada, where she was well treated. It is a long story; how in time, carrying her little baby, she ran away and after several moons reached the friendly Selish, who cared for her and brought her in a dying condition to her own people at White Bird. Her baby had died on the way. She was called Wat-kuweis [Returned from a Faraway Country].
She told of the white people, how good they had been to her, and how well she liked them. When the first two white men, Lewis and Clark with their followers, came, Watkuweis said to her people, "These are the people who helped me! Do them no hurt!"
This was why the strange people had been received in friendship. There had been a prophecy about Red Bear and a new people, which was thus fulfilled in 1805. He met the strangers. They first have a smoke. If no smoke, then they must fight. Red Bear made presents of dressed buckskins, and they gave him beads and a few other articles. They afterwards found the white man's gifts to be cheap.
The canoes made by Lewis and Clark to descend the Snake and Columbia rivers were made from five yellow pine trees given them for the purpose by Chief Walammottinin [Hair or Forelock Bunched and Tied]. The explorers first met him when fishing in the Kooskooskie Smaller River, now the Clearwater. It was in this chieftain's care that they left their horses and cached goods, all of which they found in the best of condition upon their return the following year.
After visiting the explorers, Red Bear returned to his home near the mouth of White Bird Creek, Salmon River. When he died, he left good council, good instructions for his people. The whites owe honor to his memory.
My father, Chief Black Eagle, was the son of Chief Red Bear, Sr., who met Lewis and Clark. I am his grandson. I have seen one hundred and four snows .
Chief Red Bear, most famed of his generation and the youngest of six brothers, grew up under the rigorous, Spartanlike schooling universal among the tribes. From the time he was about ten years of age, he swam across the Salmon River and back (at a point a short distance above the mouth of the White Bird), every morning- for five consecutive winters. Wottolen continued:
It was during the days of youthful training and development that Red Bear went on foot to Slate Creek to look for flint arrowheads where there had been fighting. It was morning and he stayed until late evening. Starting for home he had gone a good distance when it grew dark. He lay down by the trail and slept. In a dream he beheld a great, bloodstained grizzly bear approaching. Awakening, he sprang to his feet, but no bear was to be seen. Silently he resumed his buffalo robe and dozed off, only to be aroused a second time by the same fearful vision, which vanished as he leaped erect. He again lay down and as he drowsed the monster bear appeared for the third time. This time the boy did not awaken entirely, and a voice spoke to him:
"Do not be afraid. You see my body. Blood is all over it. When you become a man, when you go to war and do fighting, you shall receive many wounds. Wounds shall cover your body. Blood like this from my body will course down your limbs. But you will not die. After these wars, and fights, because of your wounds and bloodstains people will call you Hohots Ilppilp [Red Grizzly Bear]."
When this boy had grown to young manhood, and had received arrow and spear wounds in battle, he told his father and the people about seeing the blood-reddened grizzly bear, and what it had said to him. From that time he was known as Red Bear, and was made a chief. He was a strong brave warrior.
After taking his name the new chief never used a gun in battle. There were only a few fire-rock [flintlock] guns, and ammunition was scarce. He had a club made from the hard heavy syringa found growing along the canyon streams. It was nearly arm's length, and entirely unlike the stub-handled, stone-headed war club of the foot warriors. With this tied to his wrist by a thong loop, he would rush into battle. The Bannocks all learned to know and fear him.
At one time when going up Little Salmon, at a place now called Biggins, he discovered a war band of Snake or Bannock Indians coming toward him on the trail. There was a small creek with large rocks intervening. He hid his gun and secreting himself, he waited the advance of the hated enemy. They were out for fighting or stealing horses. When they drew near, Red Bear sprang from hiding and downed the foremost warrior before his presence was fully known. In the confusion he killed others of the startled foe, who recognizing their unconquerable enemy, swam the Little Salmon to safety.
Other similar exploits are also ascribed to Red Bear. He bore eighty distinct scars received in conflict, from which, in later years, he was known as Many Wounds. In comparison, the great Chief Red Cloud of the Sioux had to his credit eighty coups for as many distinctive deeds of personal valor in battle.
Such was the "Bloody Chief," who spoke in council with Dr. Elijah White, first United States Indian agent to enter the Pacific Northwest, taking office in 1842. Of this Nez Perce chieftain Dr. White says:
Soon the Bloody Chief arose-not less than ninety years old-and said: "I speak today, perhaps tomorrow I die. I am the oldest chief of the tribe; was the chief chief when your great brothers, Lewis and Clark, visited this country. They visited me, and honored me with their friendship and counsel. I showed them my numerous wounds received in bloody battle with the Snakes; they told me it was not good, it was better to be at peace; gave me a flag of truce; I held it up high; we met and talked. We never fought again. Clark pointed to this day, to you and this occasion; we have long waited in expectation; I can say no more; I am quickly tired; my voice and limbs tremble. I am glad to live to see you and this day, but I shall soon be still and quiet in death."
Red Grizzly Bear, whose name appears twelfth in the list of the signers of the Treaty of Walla Walla, June 11, 1855, there spelled "Ha-ha Still-pilp," was a son of the senior Chief Red Bear, or Many Wounds, the "Bloody Chief" of Dr. White's council. The eldest son of Red Bear was Koolkooltom, Sr., Selish for "Red Arrow Point." He was a mighty warrior and a great prophet. He led in fights against the Cheyennes in particular. Another son, Koolkooltom, Jr., lived at White Bird and was wealthy in cattle. Not a warrior, but a prophet, he inherited his father's mantle. He died on the Salmon River before the 1855 Treaty. His son, who took his illustrious grandfather' name, was a scout for General Howard against his own tribe in the conquest of 1877, but he did not enlist under his ancestral name. Blacktail Eagle, who will figure in these pages, was the youngest son of Red Bear, Sr. . . .