Famous Indian Chiefs I Have Known - O. O. Howard

Lot, a Spokane Chief

The Spokanes, when they were not off on a buffalo-hunt or camping here and there to store up the camass roots for winter as the squirrels store up beechnuts, used to live along the banks of the Spokane River in Washington State. This river, with many falls and rapids, flows through great forests west to the Columbia. It is a beautiful land of wooded hills and fertile valleys, and the Indians clung to it with great fondness. Here are found every sort of game. The deer run wild in the natural parks, and the speckled trout dart up-stream, shining in the creeks and rivulets.

There was an old bridge across the Spokane, and as I rode to Fort Colville, escorted by some cavalry, we saw an open field covered with Indian lodges just to our right as we came to the bridge. There were ten or twelve lodges and one hundred and twenty Indians. Many Indians came out to meet us on the road, and I called to one of them in English: "What Indians are these?" He replied: "A band of Spokanes." The leader of this band was Lot, and I must tell you about him.

Long ago, when Lot was a small boy, Mr. Eeles, a good teacher, came to live among the Spokanes, just as in 1840 the famous Dr. Marcus Whitman went to teach the savage Cayuses. The Indians called this teacher Father Eeles, and, although he died long ago, they still speak of him with affection, and white people name roads and hamlets for him. Father Eeles loved the little Indian boy who would be a chief some day, and he baptized him and called him Lot.

Now Lot had grown to be a fine, tall Indian chief, over six feet in his heelless moccasins, and but for his braided hair and the blanket over his shoulders you would have taken him for an old hunter. He spoke very little English, and was very modest, but Mr. Campbell, the Indian agent, brought Lot to me at once, saying as he did so: "Lot is a splendid Indian. He became a Christian and has always tried to live as Father Eeles taught him." I took a fancy to Lot immediately and asked him why his band were here, and what they were doing, and he told me that one of his Indian girls was to become the wife of a squaw-man who lived in a house just beyond the bridge, and that the band had come to see Mr. Campbell marry them.

Now a white man who marries an Indian woman is called by every one a squaw-man, and always belongs half to the Indians and half to the white people. Lot asked if I would stay for the wedding, and I was only too glad to accept his invitation. The bride was a pretty Indian girl, just fourteen years old, and she came out of one of the lodges with some Indian women and her parents, grandparents, and brothers and sisters.

The squaw-man, Mr. Walker, was about forty years old, and a rather rough-looking man in shabby clothes. He came across the bridge with some fine-looking Indian braves, and I could not help wondering why the little Indian girl had not chosen one of them for her husband. But perhaps she thought it was grander to live in a house and be Mrs. Walker. At any rate, Mr. Campbell, after a short prayer, had them hold hands while he married them, and then all the Indians sang one of our hymns, but in the Spokane language. After the wedding we went on to Fort Colville, and the next time I saw Lot he asked me to come with him to a religious service. Spokane Williams, one of his band, had taken land like a white man and built a house. To be sure, it was a small house with one door and no windows, but he was proud of it, and here the Christian Indians met. There was a platform at one end where we were to sit, and Mr. Campbell was there too. All the people sat on the hard earth floor, men, women, children, and papooses packed in like sardines. This service was a preparation for the commemoration of our Lord's Supper, and all the Indians stood up and told what they were sorry they had done. One big fellow said that he had stolen four horses; but afterward he was very sad and took them back to the white man they belonged to, and asked his forgiveness; so the white man said: "All right, John," and then he was happy again. A woman said she had told an untruth, but afterward she was so miserable she had to go and ask to be forgiven. After a while an old Indian woman got up and talked for a while, but Lot stopped her and told her to sit down. I asked Mr. Campbell what they were saying, and he told me she had been finding fault with her neighbors, but the chief said: "You may tell us the wrong things you have done yourself, but you mustn't tell us the bad things your neighbors have been doing. "Lot was very careful to make the people of his band do what was right.

Now Spokane Garry was the head chief of all Spokane Indians, and he asked me to meet him at an Indian Council. Garry was a small, pompous, querulous old man, not at all like Lot. He spoke English very loud and very fast, and was hard to understand. What he wanted me to know was that the Spokanes had helped the white settlers much more than the Nez PercÚs, and he thought the great Father at Washington ought to treat them as well and give them a reservation, as good a one as the Nez PercÚs had.

I told him I wished his Indians would all build houses and take up land like white men. Spokane Williams of Lot's band had done so, and was doing well. But Garry stopped me and said that white men's ways were not Indians' ways. Indians liked to go from place to place and take their lodges with them. If they lived in houses they must stop in one place. I sent his request to Washington, but he died before there was any reply, and Lot became a leader and guide to all these people. I often saw Lot, and we had long talks about the Indians. He moved his people to a prairie land where there was good water and plenty of trees, and here I visited him and felt as safe among these wild people as I do in my own home. But Lot always said, as Garry did, that Indians could not live like white men. He told me that if he could keep them together the old men and women would work while the young men could hunt partridges, wild turkey, and deer, but if they tried to live as white men no one would work. Every time I saw Lot he talked in this way till I came to believe it was so, and when President Hayes and General Sherman came to Oregon I told them what Lot had said to me, and asked the President to give these Indians some land for their own. General Sherman agreed with me that this would be the best thing for everybody, and the President signed a paper ordering enough land to be set aside for all the Spokane people. So Lot had his wish.

Some months afterward, when the President sent me orders to leave Washington Territory and go to West Point, New York, Lot in his far-off reservation heard that I was going. He mounted his pony and with some of his braves rode three hundred miles to beg me to stay. He arrived in Portland, Oregon, just as I was going on board the ocean steamer, anchored in the Willamette River, which was to take me to San Francisco. Lot was too excited to speak much English, but he found his way to my state-room and, big giant that he was, took me in his arms as if I were a small boy, saying, "No, no! you not go! You stay here and we have peace!"

Of course I could not stay, and after a while Lot understood that where the President sent me I must go, but we parted as if we were indeed brothers, and this noble Indian went back to his tribe to teach them what was best in life and to continue his good work for his people.