Writer in Residence

My Neighbor Sold My Horses

Another Look at the Nez Perce Treaty of 1863

In his 1879 speech at Lincoln Hall in Washington D.C., before scores of curious civilians, cabinet members and congressmen, hinmato·wyalahtqit—Chief Joseph—explained how he lost the land he promised his father he would protect with his life. He told the story of his neighbor selling his horses as described in this exhibit.

After signing the treaty of 1855, tiwi·teqis, Chief Old Joseph, leader of the walwá·ma, or wele·mutkin band of the Nez Perce, considered themselves protected. They had signed an official document, they had acted in good faith, had followed the provisions of the treaty to the best of their abilities. Eight years later their neighbors signed away their land forever.

Hinmato·wyalahtqit’s surrender speech at Bear’s Paw has been read by nearly everyone, and it is quite elegant. His address in Lincoln Hall is much more revealing of his character, and should put to rest the discussion over whether somebody else wrote his surrender speech.

He said: “In this treaty Lawyer acted without authority from our band. He had no right to sell the Wallowa country. That had always belonged to my father’s own people, and the other bands had never disputed our right to it. No other Indians ever claimed Wallowa”.

As a descendant of wele·mutkin’s band I feel some duty to see that the concerns of the past are still valid today.

After the 1855 treaty was ratified, gold was discovered within the treaty boundary. It did not take long for squatters to occupy any lands they could. The Wallowa Valley had its own appeal: Abundant grasslands had farmers pushing their stock onto treaty protected land. Every year the band lost more land to squatters.

A letter from the U.S. Attorney, John J. McGilvra, said the 1855 treaty “is being flagrantly and openly violated in almost every particular. The lands of the Indians, in some instances their little farms are being taken from them, their stock is being stolen, intoxicating liquor is being sold and given to them without measure, and in one instance at least one of their number was shot down in cold-blood by one of those White robbers. Their condition is indeed wretched and they are in despair.” Military protection of the Natives is recommended.

In 1873 a commissioner of the Indian Bureau reported the move to be impracticable. That was the year the Wallowa Valley was withdrawn from settlement and set apart for their use and occupancy by Executive Order.


Annulment of the 1863 Treaty

It is my belief that the treaty of 1863 is illegitimate and should never have become law. Annulment would take an act of Congress, but it can be done. Recently, The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Indians had their 1865 treaty annulled via an act of Congress, S.832.

Regarding the 1863 Treaty with the Nez Perce Nation: 


The 1855 Stevens treaties are the law of the land and have been upheld in court for 166 years.


Enforcement of the 1863 treaty directly instigated the 1877 Nez Perce ‘War’ resulting in the near extinction of the Wallowa Valley Band.


The 1855 treaty clearly gives ownership and “exclusive use and benefit” to the Nez Perce Tribe to a clearly defined tract of land. The 1863 treaty violates this provision.


The treaty of 1863 includes what could be construed as a bribe. The head chief and two subordinate chiefs are promised $2,500 each. For comparison, $1200 was intended to be enough to erect a furnished hospital. Article 6 may also be considered a bribe since it gives Timothy another $600 to aid him in the erection of a house.


Chief Joseph said of the 1863 treaty: “In this treaty Lawyer acted without authority from our band. He had no right to sell the Wallowa country. That had always belonged to my father’s own people, and the other bands have never disputed our right to it.”


The 1863 Treaty with the Nez Perce misrepresented the organizational structure of the Nez Perce Nation by appointing a Head Chief that was not acceptable to all members.

Therefore, be it resolved: 

That the 1863 treaty with the Nez Perce be henceforth annulled and consideration be given for appropriate compensation.