The moon rises and the sun sets above trees, rain pours down upon them, soaking thirsty roots that drink mightily; only to stand patiently all winter long awaiting the thaw of the gathered snow. And finally, the glowing sun which they stretch skywards to embrace, spreading in all directions of leafy growth.
The black ash tree lives beyond our house. The year the tree was born proved a mild Spring with warm temperatures and plenty of showers. The seed that laid dormant extended a taproot deep into the moist earth, and the first true leaves appeared from above. The black ash tree has a wide girth, 106" to be precise, alot there to hug, or to conceal one's self while playing "hide and go seek."
Shortly after the tree sprouted, many miles away, a flight was taking place. The People, (Nimiipu), wanted to be free, they wanted to live in their homeland. the land was fertile, the land was rich, and others wanted it also. Rather than being relocated and forced to leave, they undertook a long journey through three mountain ranges, down sheer canyon walls, crossing rugged, stark plains, as well as many rivers along the way. A man in his thirties cared for the many children, women and elderly who were trying to escape to safety. His 12 year old daughter traveled with him. They felt sure that everything would be alright if only they could reach their destination.
The others, who also wanted the land, could not take the chance that the people would return someday to reclaim the homeland they loved, the others had to pursue them relentlessly; to impose bondage.
So, many, many people gathered their belongings and many, many of their horses, and the flight began. The horses carried the people through hot and freezing weather, foraging for whatever feed was at hand along the way.
As they fled, the people engaged in battles with the others. Throughout all of this, the dead and wounded needed attending, food was required, and the peace of sleep was wanted. Some of the people stole away to insure their survival. The 12 year old girl was one of them.
The next day there was a snowstorm, there was also a battle. The people held out as best they could, though cold, and now without food. The others had canons, howitzers, and gatling guns. To end the suffering, the young man came forth, then he and the people conceded. They were only 40 miles away from freedom.
Nimiipu, the People, the Nez Perce, journeyed from June to October; beginning in Oregon, then into Idaho and Wyoming, ending in Montana. They traversed the Absaroka, Bitterroot, and Bear Paw mountain ranges. They crossed the Bitterroot, Yellowstone, Musselshell, and Missouri rivers.
There were close to 800 people, a quarter of them were braves, the rest were women, children, elderly, and the infirm. They had 2,000 horses, (the Appaloosa's that they bred, and the Nez Perce horse, a cross between the Appaloosa and the Asian bred Akhal-Teke). They covered between 13 to 1700 miles.
The flight was relinquished at Snake Creek on October 5th in the Bear Paw Mountains. The young man's name was Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, Thunder Rolling Down The Mountain, or Chief Joseph. His daughter's name was Kapkap Ponmi, or Noise Of Running Feet. He never saw his daughter again.
Some Nez Perce women gave birth during the flight. 201 Nez Perce crossed the Canadian border to freedom. in the end 87 men, 184 women, and 147 children were surrendered. They spent eight months in Leavenworth, Kansas and were eventually sent to Oklahoma, where half of them died on the trip.
Many of the horses that survived were destroyed. The people's pursuer's were the United States Army. The year was 1877. Joseph never stopped fighting for the return of the people to their homeland. He never saw his beloved Wallowa Valley again.
P.S. On August 10th of the same year, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Montreal Expos played a doubleheader that ended at 3:23 am.
P.P.S. Chief Joseph's 1870's war shirt was sold to a private collection for $877,500.00 in July 2012.
The black ash tree grew 15 inches, became stark in the Autumn, and withstood the howling winds of Winter, as joys, sorrows, injustices, and indifferences gathered together to mingle in the ether, only to rain down upon us all. And except for the day in September when the huge black bear plodded past and brushed against the little tree in his path; the new sprout flourished, unaware that he would be growing there for the next 136 years and beyond.
To be continued......