Wednesday, November 7, 2012
A Grain of Truth or More? by Paty Jager
The event was a powerpoint production about a soldier who was General O.O. Howard’s aide during the Nez Perce conflict and who later went on to be one of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce’s greatest advocates. Author George Venn has published a book about C.E.S Wood, the soldier turned advocate. The power point production included highlights from his book.
Many of the points he told the audience about, I’d found in my research for Spirit of the Sky, my third book in the trilogy about the Nez Perce. This book followed their flight to freedom while being chased by General O.O. Howard. Listening to Venn talk about Lt. Charles Erskine Wood, I discovered, had I stumbled across more about him in my research, he could have been the catalyst for my hero, Lt. Watts.
Only Wood was married with five children and a philanderer, so he wouldn’t have made good hero material. But his advocacy for the Nez Perce parallels my hero’s passion to treat the Indians as people rather than a plague.
Wood didn’t want to be a soldier; he wanted to be a writer and artist. He drew many scenes from the battles and the chase. He sent these drawing to magazines and newspapers in the East and they were attributed to “an Officer in General Howard’s Staff.” He didn’t want the Army to know who was sending the scathing depictions to the news.
He also kept a journal and wrote of the atrocities he saw and the feelings of the men around him. While his sketches give a very clear view of the battles that were waged, his writings in some instances were a bit “colored”.
When the war was ending and afterward, Wood helped Howard protect his reputation after having been thwarted for months by the Nez Perce, but helping his superior didn’t stop him from admiring the Nez Perce. He used this admiration and his skill at drawing to give the public a look at the life of the Nez Perce. In his writings, he praised the Nez Perce. After the surrender, he interviewed Chief Joseph and made drawings of the chief and his infant daughter sending those drawings along with other Nez Perce individuals to New York.
Wood was the General’s aide who took down, or as some say, “wrote” the “Chief Joseph Surrender Speech”. It’s been suggested the first sentence was written as the soldier advocating for his General and the rest as a Nez Perce advocate. No one, including Joseph, ever clearly stated there was a “Chief Joseph Surrender Speech”. But on Oct. 5, 1877 Wood began to publish, recite and revise what today is known as the “Chief Joseph Surrender Speech”.
“Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. The old men area all killed. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are, perhaps freezing to death. I want time to look for my children and seek how m many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more.”
In 1884 Wood published a full-length pro-Nez Perce story about the 1877 conflict titled “Chief Joseph, The Nez Perce”. Wood became friends with Joseph, and later when Joseph and his family were at the Colville Reservation, Wood sent one of his boys to spend two summers with Joseph.
It is Lt. Wood seeing the Nez Perce as people and not savages or beasts that I gave my hero in Spirit of the Sky. My hero, Lt. Watts, begins the story with compassion and as he carries out his orders and comes to see the Nez Perce as contemporaries through the eyes and emotions of the heroine, he becomes their advocate inside the Army that is trying to make an example of the Non-treaty Nez Perce.
Soldier to Advocate:C.E.S. Wood’s 1877 Legacy by George Venn
Hear Me, My Cheifs! By L.V. McWhorter