John Werner is the winner of our 35th Week of Orofino History Trivia.
Wet-Khoo-weis is the answer. She was the Nez Perce Indian woman whose words, "Do Them No Harm", saved the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery. Those words became the title of Zoa Swayne's book based on 50 years of oral history with the Nez Perce.
Oral histories of the Nez Perce people are critical in the story of Wet-Khoo-weis (also spelled: Wat Ku ese,Wet-xuwiis or Wet-hoo-weece). We were able to find two accounts of Wet-Khoo-weis. One is from Diane Mallicken of the Nez Perce National Historical Park at Spalding and the other from a book, Do Them No Harm, by Zoa Swayne. Both accounts rely on oral histories.
According to Mallicken oral histories need two to three witnesses to verify their authenticity. The oral histories she has studied give the account this way:
Wet-Khoo-weis was captured by the Blackfeet Indians and made a slave. She was traded to fur traders who took her to the Mandan village. According to the oral histories, Wet-Khoo-weis was with a French Canadian family who treated her well. She was close to the children and one of them told her that their father was going to take her across the “Big Water” or Atlantic Ocean. It was at that point she escaped and headed back across the country toward her people. Mallicken said the story indicates that it took her a number of years to make her way across the country. Whenever she was near enemies she was hidden from them in a fog.
She met two Nez Perce men in the Flathead country of Montana and they promised to take her across the Bitterroots in the spring. Unfortunately, her son died and was buried in the Bitterroots. She received her name, Wet-Khoo-weis, after her return to the Nez Perce. It means "The Person Who Returned Home”. It is unknown what her name was prior to that return.
She encountered the Lewis and Clark Expedition when she was on her death bed. Wet-Khoo-weis was in a teepee and heard the people, Mallicken said. She asked that the side of the teepee be lifted so she could see. Lewis and Clark had arrived at a bad time because the Nez Perce had recently sent three emissaries to the Shoshone Indians and they had been killed. A party of warriors had left to go and exact retribution from the Shoshones and had not yet returned. When the Nez Perce saw Sacajawea, a Shoshone woman, with the Lewis and Clark party, they thought it was trick and wanted to kill them, especially the southern bands, Mallicken added. News had traveled quickly to other bands.
Due to her age, Wet-Khoo-weis commanded a lot of respect from the Nez Perce people. She had told them about her encounters with the white people and when she saw the Lewis and Clark party, she convinced her people not to kill them. Soon after that, Sacajawea came to Wet-Khoo-weis and "they wept on each other's shoulders". Wet-Khoo-weis died the next day.
Mallicken said that Wet-Khoo-weis has numerous descendants that still live in this area. The only mention of Wet-Khoo-weis in the Lewis and Clark journals is about a woman dying the day after they met the Nez Perce.
Swayne gave this account:
Wat Ku ese was kidnapped by Blackfeet Indians at the age of 12. She was never to hear of her family again as to whether they survived the attack. Wat Ku ese was required to do the chores that none of the Blackfeet woman were not willing to do. These duties included gathering the wood and scraping the hides.
Later on she was sold to a French fur trader. He treated her very well and later they were married. Wat Ku ese had a child through this marriage. She always dreamed of some day returning to her people the Nee Mee Poo. She found out that her husband had plans to travel the great waters and never return. Because of her dream to go home, she did not want to go with him. A white woman friend helped her to escape. She provided provisions as well as a hatchet for Wat Ku ese’s journey.
As Wat Ku ese traveled back to her home lands, she was always afraid of being captured by the Sioux, Blackfeet, or the Big Bellys tribes. Eventually, food ran out. This was a big concern for her as she had nothing to feed her baby. Many times she would get exhausted along the way and wanted to give up, but she expressed that the great white wolf continued to urge her on, give her strength and direction to continue.
Her travels brought her to a pond. She took her hatchet and cut branches, tied them together and formed a raft to cross the pond. As she almost got to the other side a bear tried to attack her. With one blow, the bear was dead and Wat Ku ese just continued on leaving her hatchet which is common for the Nee Mee Poo to do.
Treading on, she came to an old campsite that dried meat was still on the bone. Wat Ku ese warmed the meat and fed it to her baby. Either the meat was spoiled or it was just too late because her child passed away. The baby was buried in a shallow grave along the trail.
Eventually Wat Ku ese came to the high mountains. The trail was very steep. She felt that she had come to the end of her trail and that she would be joining her baby soon in the spirit world. However, tribal members found her as they were returning from a hunting trip and took care of her and took her home.
Years later, Wat Ku ese learned that the So yap pos (white men) were coming. She knew that if she did not get to the Oiyus (Weippe Prairie) first the white men would be killed. At that point, she was living in a fishing village down by the river. Really early in the morning she got her horse as the camp was still a sleep and everything was quiet, and rode out. The terrain was very difficult both on her horse and herself. Her horse started to sweat and then foam at its mouth as it was struggling. She continued to push the horse until they finally made it up on the prairie. It really took a toll on Wat Ku ese as well.
As she arrived, she was one day early before the So yap pos (white people) arrived. Due to the toll of the trip, she passed away the day after they arrived.
Monday: This person is little known, but key in history.
Tuesday: This person travelled across country.
Wednesday: This person learned about other cultures.
Thursday: This person's story is part of Nez Perce oral history.
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