"Hear Me, My Chiefs"
September 29, 2021
It is not every year that Blaine County Museum organizes something special for the community in observation of the anniversary of the Battle of Bear Paw. This year, however, we are hosting an event that will honor the history of the Nez Perce Flight of 1877, Bear Paw, and the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce). We have invited Nimiipuu Tribal Elder LeRoy Seth and Pendleton blanket designer Terry Ball to give a talk on their collaborative work of art, “Hear Me, My Chiefs”. “Hear Me, My Chiefs” is the title of a limited-edition Pendleton blanket designed by Ball which pays homage to the Flight of 1877 and the Nimiipuu.
After working as a Pendleton salesman for 40 years, Ball began designing his own blanket in 2018. He consulted with Nimiipuu elders, who included LeRoy Seth and Silas Whitman, on many elements of his creation. Pendleton originally commissioned 250 blankets – the minimum for a limited-edition run – but due to the blanket’s popularity, particularly with members of the Nez Perce Tribe, Ball decided to do a second run of 194 blankets this year. The blanket was made available for sale on the Pendleton website the beginning of August and sold out in a matter of weeks.
Ball’s blanket is a visual timeline of the Flight: at the top, the Nimiipuu homeland is represented by the Wallowa Mountains, from which approximately 800 tribal members fled during the early summer of 1877; visible in silhouette at the center are the leaders of these 800 – Chief Looking Glass, Joseph, and White Bird; below are the teepee skeletons left after the devastating Battle of the Big Hole; and lining the bottom is a panorama of the Bear Paw Mountains, a view that would have been visible to the Nimiipuu camped on Snake Creek in the cold autumn of 1877.
Ball’s design is bordered with a geometric motif that was inspired by a historical Nez Perce blanket from his personal collection. The pattern from the historical blanket is believed to represent the camas flower, which is a traditional food source for the tribe. Many of the colors used were informed by other elements of nature traditionally valued by the Nimiipuu.
Ball intends to address his creative process during the talk, while LeRoy Seth will be providing a history of the Flight of 1877 and enhancing our understanding of Nimiipuu culture and spirituality.
LeRoy is a valuable guest for many reasons – not only is Seth a knowledgeable tribal elder, but he is a historian, artist, traditional dancer, and, as a young man, he was an accomplished college athlete and played semi-professional basketball in Washington. By all accounts he is a skilled storyteller with a breadth of knowledge about Nimiipuu culture. A member of the Nez Perce Tribe Circle of Elders, he helps preserve history, language, traditions, and rituals.
Seth also has important ancestral ties to Bear Paw and the Nez Perce Flight. His great-grand father is Peo Peo Tholekt, a Nimiipuu warrior and veteran of the Flight of 1877. A member of the Looking Glass Band, he escaped to Canada in the wake of the Battle of Bear Paw. In the late 1920s, he visited Bear Paw with historian and author L.V. McWhorter. The purpose of this trip was to place a monument – the battlefield's first – at Bear Paw. Peo Peo Tholekt chose the location: a point on the bluff overlooking Snake Creek where the Nimiipuu camped in early October of 1877, next to the rifle pit where Chief Looking Glass was shot and killed. The monument consisted of a sandstone pillar topped with the bust of a Nimiipuu chief. While the pillar is now headless, it still stands at its original location today.
While at Bear Paw, Peo Peo Tholekt also indicated many historically significant points, including where Chief Joseph surrendered to the U.S. Army and delivered the legendary words: "Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."
Much of what we know about Bear Paw today is due to Peo Peo Tholekt and the efforts of McWhorter, a tireless steward of Nimiipuu history. It is due to their combined efforts that, according to historian Jerome Greene, "Bear's Paw [is] one of the best preserved Indian wars battlefields in the country, commensurate with its importance in American history."
The event will take place Saturday, October 2nd at 2 PM in Blaine County Library’s conference room. Ball will be raffling one numbered, limited-edition “Hear Me, My Chiefs” Pendleton blanket at the end of the talk. He will be raising funds for the Nez Perce Tribe’s Boys and Girls Club. Raffle tickets can be purchased for $10 at Blaine County Museum or at the event. Ticket holders do not need to attend the event to win the limited-edition Pendleton.
Two Chief Joseph Pendleton blankets have also been generously donated by Pendleton to be raffled off. These blankets will be available only to people who attend “Hear Me, My Chiefs”. Cost of tickets is to be determined.
Unvaccinated attendees are strongly encouraged to wear masks, as the conference room may provide little room to distance.