Children of Grace

The Nez Perce War of 1877 was one of the most dramatic, and tragic episodes in the history of the white man’s conquest of America. The Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph’s words of surrender, “I will fight no more forever,” have become legend. Bruce Hampton’s superb history of this conflict, CHILDREN OF GRACE: THE NEZ PERCE WAR OF 1877, brilliantly evokes the doomed grandeur of the attempt of the Nez Perce to preserve their traditional way of life. Hampton draws on both white and Indian accounts to create a narrative of intense immediacy and power. His book is a triumph of literary as well as historical craftsmanship.

There was no inevitability about the Nez Perce War. The Nez Perce had long been friends of the white Americans, as early as 1805 aiding the Lewis and Clark Expedition on its trek to the Pacific Ocean. But seventy years of frustration, as white settlers gradually encroached on Nez Perce lands in Idaho, soured this goodwill. In June of 1877, a small band of renegade warriors murdered eighteen settlers. Terrified at the prospect of white reprisals, 800 Nez Perce—men, women and children—began what would become a twelve-hundred-mile journey, hoping eventually to reach safety in Canada. Pursued by American cavalry and harassed by various columns of soldiers along the way, the Nez Perce nevertheless managed to elude capture for months. Their continuing freedom became a source of embarrassment for the United States Army. The Nez Perce were finally cornered in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana, only a few miles from Canada. They surrendered on October 5. The Nez Perce were quickly marched off to a grim life on a reservation, but they left behind them the memory of a gallant struggle for liberty—a memory Bruce Hampton pays eloquent tribute to in CHILDREN OF GRACE.