LAPWAI, Idaho -- The Nez Perce Tribe recently received the remains of three
warriors killed during the Nez Perce War of 1877 that had been held at the
Smithsonian Institution for many years. One was buried at the Bears Paw
Battlefield in Montana in October during the annual memorial to that
battle. The other two were buried at Lapwai on Dec. 23 and 24.
Tribal Executive Committee Chairman Rebecca Miles said it had been about 10
years since the tribe was notified of the remains of the three men, one of
whom was killed at the Bear Paw Battlefield, another at the Battle of the
Big Hole and a third at Fort Lapwai.
Nez Perce members live on both the Colville and Umatilla Confederated
reservations in addition to the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho, and
disputes between the groups delayed the return of the remains to the tribe.
The Smithsonian wouldn't make a resolution on where the remains were to go
until tribal members themselves agreed.
Shortly after Miles' election last May, discussions again commenced. "The
push from the executive committee was to speak to the other leaders at the
highest level and resolve those disputes in the best interest of the
remains. For me personally, it was to build bridges with those descendants
at the other reservations -- to begin working together," she said.
Miles, Charley Moses of the Colville reservation and Armand Minthorn of the
Umatilla reservation eventually reached an agreement so the remains of one
warrior could be returned in time for the annual Bears Paw Memorial and,
later, to bury the other two at Lapwai. "In my mind and in my heart, that
was the right thing to do, to put ourselves aside and put those remains in
the ground. That's the goal when remains are discovered and what we fight
for all the time," Miles commented.
The skull of Pahkatos Owyeen, or "Five Wounds," was returned to Otis
Halfmoon, a descendant of Owyeen. The skull was buried next to Owyeen's
son, William Jackson. The Smithsonian had said there was a strong
possibility that the Halfmoon family was of lineal descent; the tribe
agreed, and authorized the Halfmoon family to rebury the remains.
Nez Perce descendants from the Colville band came down to lead the
ceremony, and a full service was conducted.
"It was a good experience to be a part of. The feeling was that there was
finally closure," Miles said.