About Tamootsin Timothy
Chief of the Nez Perce
Timothy, or Tamootsin as he was known to his people, was a mild-mannered, sensitive man who holds the distinction of being the first Christian convert among the Nez Perce.
Arrival of the Missionaries When Henry Spalding, missionary to the Nez Perce, arrived in the Lapwai Valley in 1836, he quickly decided that in order to bring Christianity to the territory, he would have to encourage the Nez Perce to leave their hunter-gatherer lifestyles behind. To this end he distributed seeds and tools for cultivating the land, and encouraged them to develop more agrarian lifestyles. Timothy was very receptive to this approach, and after moving from his traditional home on Alpowa Creek to Lapwai readily took up farming. He was taught to read and write in his native language by the missionaries.
Timothy was married to Tamer, a sister of Joseph the Elder, who was baptized on the same day as Timothy. Joseph, although baptized with Timothy, would later turn away from the white's religion, but Timothy remained a devout Christian for the rest of his life. He and a number of other warriors were responsible for the capture of the perpetrators of the Whitman Massacre of 1847.
The Walla Walla Treaty Council of 1855 In 1855, at the Walla Walla Treaty Council, Timothy and several other Nez Perce, meticulously recorded the words spoken. Gustav Sohon's picture of the Walla Walla Council clearly shows Timothy at work taking notes. A second drawing by Sohon depicts a group of Nez Perce engaged in recording the proceedings. The notes taken by the Indians never made it to the public record, however, and it is believed that Timothy's notes may have been ceremonially burned following his death.
Timothy and members of his band served as guides for Colonel Edward J. Steptoe and more than one hundred fifty troops that had been sent north for the protection of the settlers in the Colville area. Along the route, Steptoe's column was overtaken by twelve hundred Indians of various tribes, angry at the Army's intrusion into their territory. A tense and hasty retreat of the Army forces followed under cover of night. This incident is thought to have precipitated the Indian War of 1858.
The Lapwai Council At the Lapwai Council of 1863, when the Nez Perce chiefs came together once again to negotiate with the American government, Timothy was the only chief to sign the treaty whose lands lay outside the boundary set for the new reservation. Other chiefs whose lands were not in the new reservation, such as Joseph, refused to sign the agreement.
By Steamer to Washington, D.C. Years went by, and still the Nez Perce did not receive any of what was owed them by the treaty's terms. In 1868, government officials again wished to change the terms of the treaty to give some additional lands to military forces. This time, rather than sending a delegation west to the Nez Perce, four chiefs—Lawyer, Timothy, Jason, and Utsinmaliqan—were taken by steamer to Panama, across the isthmus, and by another steamer to New York City. Utsinmaliqan reportedly became ill, and died the day after they arrived in Washington, DC. The remaining three chiefs signed a supplementary agreement ceding reservation land to the military, in exchange for a promise from Congress to restore school funds that had purportedly been squandered by a series of Indian Agents.
Timothy, Lawyer, and Jason returned to Idaho on the overland route, boarding a train on August 26, 1868. The train in which they rode crossed the Continental Divide on September 6, and left its Nez Perce passengers at Bitter Creek, about 60 miles from the Green River. The remainder of the journey was made by stagecoach, and the chiefs arrived in Walla Walla on September 19.
In the latter part of his life, Timothy appeared to live the lifestyle of a white man on his homestead outside the reservation. He died in 1891, an old man of more than eighty years.
Postmortem Honors As a Nez Perce man who adopted Christianity and helped the U.S. Army, Timothy is more visible in mainstream history than many other Indian people. Colonel Steptoe's official report credited Timothy only with ferrying the Army's troops safely back across the Snake River. However, in 1904, the Esther Reed Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution of Spokane conducted a thorough investigation of the incident. Interviewing the last three survivors of the expedition, the D.A.R. received oral reports indicating that Timothy was personally responsible for the rescue of Steptoe's men after night had fallen. Survivors Thomas J. Beall, Sergeant Michael Kenny, and John H. Rohn all swore that without the aid of Chief Timothy they "would have been annihilated to the last man."
In 1914, Chief Timothy of the Alpowa Band of Nez Perce was honored for his service to Steptoe and his men by the construction of a tall granite monument above the town of Rosalia, in Whitman County. The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission also set aside 145 acres for a park named to honor the Nez Perce chief-Chief Timothy State Park-with a nearby Interpretive Center featuring an exhibit about Timothy's role in the Treaties of 1855 and 1863.
Chief Timothy was an early convert to Christianity and was baptized by Henry Spalding and remained a stalwart supporter.
He provided assistance to Spalding and remained a friend of the Euro-American settlers who were coming into the area.
In the aftermath of the killing of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman at their mission near Walla Walla, Timothy rescued Spalding's daughter.
During the unrest after the 1855 Treaty, Timothy assisted Colonel Edward Steptoe and helped lead his column to safety after being besieged by Cayuse and Palouse warriors.
Timothy's band lived on the Snake River, just above present day Lewiston and was one of the Nez Perce leaders to sign the 1863 treaty. Timothy did not participate in the 1877 war and died in 1891.