War has a way of making heroes and heroines of ordinary mortals. To some, Tolo, a Nez Perce Indian woman, was never ordinary. Her given name was Alab-lemot but because she loved to gamble, she was called Tolo which means "win" in the Chinook tongue. She was strong, determined, motherly and sometimes feisty.
In 1877, Tolo lived with her sisters and two daughters in the settlement at Slate Creek where she was loved and respected by everyone. When word came of a possible Nez Perce uprising, Tolo traveled 28 miles to Florence to warn her friends. Riding all night over a rugged trail, and returned to Slate Creek the next day with help for the settlers.
The Slate Creek settlers believed that Tolo's efforts discouraged an attack on the stockade. In appreciation, Tolo was allotted land off the reservation. Later, a small lake on the Camas Prairie, where the Nez Perce camped and held powwows, was named Tolo Lake in her honor.
The War of 1877
The summer of 1877 was the last time Chief Joseph would lead his band across the Camas Prairie. He and several hundred men, women and children had been driven from their homeland in the Wallowa Valley of Oregon. The U.S. Army ordered them to settle on a newly created reservation in Lapwai. Joseph and his people however, resisted the move, hoping for a peaceful
The Battle at White Bird
Wahlitits, a young Nez Perce man taunted into avenging the death of his father, enlisted two other young men to fire the first shots on several Salmon River settlers on June 13, 1877. The battle at White Bird ensued, and 34 U.S. Army soldiers and two volunteers were killed. There were no casualties among the Nez Perce.
Other skirmishes in this area - in Cottonwood, Clearwater, and Kamiah - resulted in many deaths on both sides. The battles and the great loss of life continued for several months over many miles. At the Bear Paw battlefield of Montana, 40 miles from freedom in Canada, Chief Joseph spoke his words of surrender on October 4, 1877:
"The old men are all dead. The little children are freezing to death... Hear me, my chiefs - my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."