Pierre Pichette's Story
Our people were camped in a kind of prairie along the Bitterroot River, a few miles upstream from the Medicine Tree. The place is called Ross's Hole now; the Indians then called it Cutl-kkh-pooh. They kept close watch over their camps in those days and always had scouts out because they feared an attack by an enemy tribe. One day two scouts came back to report that they had seen some human beings that were very different from any they had known. Most of the strangers had pale skins, and their clothing was altogether different from anything the Indians wore.
"There were seven of them," the scouts told Chief Three Eagles (Tchliska-e-mee). "They have little packs on their backs, maybe provisions or clothing."
The chief immediately sent his warriors to meet the strange men and to bring them to camp safely.
"Do no harm to them," he warned his men. "Do no harm to them at all. Bring them to me safely."
So the strangers were brought into the camp. All the tipis were arranged in a circle in our camps, with an open space in the center. The people gathered there in the middle of the camping place, and so, when the warriors brought the strange men in, they were seen by the whole tribe. The Indians could not understand who the seven men were, but they knew they were human beings.
Chief Three Eagles ordered buffalo robes to be brought and to be spread in the gathering place. By signs, he told the strangers to sit on the robes. The men were a puzzling sight to all the Indians surrounding them.
After the white men had sat down, they took their little packs off their backs. The chief looked through their packs and then began to explain to the people.
"I think they have had a narrow escape from their enemies. All their belongings were taken away by the enemy. That's why there is so little in their packs. Maybe the rest of the tribe were killed. Maybe that is why there are only seven of them. These men must be very hungry, perhaps starving. And see how poor and torn their clothes are."
The chief ordered food to be brought to them — dried buffalo meat and dried roots. He ordered clothing also to be brought to them — buckskins and light buffalo robes that were used for clothing.
One of the strange men was black. He had painted himself in charcoal, my people thought. In those days it was the custom for warriors, when returning home from battle, to prepare themselves before reaching camp. Those who had been brave and fearless, the victorious ones in battle, painted themselves in charcoal. When the warriors returned to their camp, people knew at once which ones had been brave on the warpath. So the black man, they thought, had been the bravest of this party.
All the men had short hair. So our people thought that the seven were in mourning for the rest of the party who had been slaughtered. It was the custom for mourners to cut their hair.
By signs, Chief Three Eagles and his counselors came to a little understanding with the white men. Then the chief said to his people, "This party is the first of this kind of people we have ever seen. They have been brought in safely. I want them taken out safely. I want you warriors to go with them part of the way to make sure that they leave our country without harm."
So by the chief's orders, a group of young warriors accompanied the white men to the edge of the Salish country. They went with the strangers down the river from Ross's Hole and up to Lolo Pass. The white men went on from there.
They did not take with them the robes and clothing Chief Three Eagles had given them. Perhaps the white men did not understand that they were gifts.