I had been reading a fascinating compilation of actual
Indian speeches in a book, I Have Spoken. One particular
speech, delivered by two Nez Perce Indians in 1831,
intrigued me, and I was drawn back to it again and again.
It involved one Flathead and three Nez Perce Indians who
had made a difficult journey from their homeland in the
northwest, across the Rocky Mountains and through hostile
territory to St. Louis to see the Governor of the land of
Missouri. Sadly, two of them died during their stay, leaving
only Hee-oh-ks-te-kin (Rabbit Skin Leggings) and
H’co-a-h’co-a’h-cotes-min (No Horns on His Head).
The object of such an arduous quest is couched in controversy.
Some said since they came from distant tribes,
interpreters were hard to come by, therefore understanding their
true meaning was difficult. However, aside from
the language spoken, a fairly universal sign language was
well-known by most Indians, and could have augmented
their speech. Others thought they wanted better ‘medicine’
to increase their prestige and power. Dispelling that argument
was the fact that they were not overly receptive to the ways
of the white men. This is what the Nez Perce said to Governor
I come over the trail of many moons from the setting sun.
You were the friend of my fathers who have all gone the long
way. I come with one eye partly open, for more light for my
people who sit in darkness. I go back with both eyes closed.
How can I go back blind to my blind people? I made my way
to you with strong arms through many enemies and strange
lands that I might carry back much to them. I go back with
both arms broken and empty. Two fathers came with us. They
were the braves of many winters and wars. We leave them to
sleep by your great water and wigwams. They were tired of
many moons and their moccasins wore out.
George Catlin, the famous artist and chronicler of Indigenous
Americans, traveled up the Missouri with Rabbit Skin Leggings
and No Horns on His Head as they began their return home on
the steamship Yellowstone. They had visited with the Sioux,
who treated them well and given them beautiful dresses.
Catlin sketched them in their newly acquired outfits. He stated:
When I first heard the report of the object of this extraordinary mission
across the mountains, I could scarcely
believe it, but on conversing with General Clarke on a
future occasion, I was fully convinced of the fact.
My people sent me to get the white man’s Book of Heaven.
You took me to where you allow your woman to dance, as
we do ours, and the Book was not there. You took me to
where they worship the Great Spirit with candles and the
Book was not there. You showed me the images of the good
spirits and the pictures of the good lands beyond (heaven),
but the Book was not among them to tell us the way. I am
going back to the long sad trail to my people in the dark land.
You make my
feet heavy with gifts and my moccasins will grow old carrying them,
yet the Book is not among them. When I tell my poor blind people,
after one more snow, in the Big Council,
that I did not bring the Book, no word will be spoken by our
old men or young braves. One by one they will rise up and go
out in silence. My people will die in darkness, and they will
go on the long path to the hunting grounds. No white man
will go with them and no white man’s Book will make the
recorded by Faye Shaw
Ed. Note: The Book of Heaven which they were looking for
was a new book. It was a book that told about The Creator’s
visit to them on the American continent. Many believe this book is the
Book of Mormon, published in 1830, just a year
before their quest.