Cottonwood in the 1870’s. The building in the right foreground was known as the Cottonwood House. It was operated by the Norton family in 1876. The small building below the road in the foreground was known as the Randall House, having been built by Capt. D.B. Randall who was killed by the Indians near Cottonwood. The hotel building above the highway was built by Alonzo P. Brown after the Nez Perce Indian War. This photo was scanned from the July 1, 1976 edition of the Cottonwood Chronicle.
About the time of 1862-63 many other things were going on around us.
News from “Graves Creek” (Keuterville) has to do with the townsite getting its name. It seems three miners working on a claim down on Salmon River had an accident in which one was badly injured. The weather was bad-snow and rain down below. Freezing temperatures and blowing, drifting snow as they tried to bring their injured friend out over the hill to the settlement. It took two days to get out. When they did the injured man had died and the other two were sent to Lewiston where one of them lost a leg and the other lost an arm.
This was before the town had a designated cemetery. The miner was buried on a little timbered hill above the local creek. (Thus what we now know as Keuterville was then called Graves Creek, Idaho and early letters were sent there with that address. As the story goes Mr. Kuther later ran the post office and store and applied for the post office to be named “Kutherville” and somehow it came out as “Keuterville.”)
Early settlers were very conscious of a wood supply, building materials and garden produce in choosing their homestead. Everyone, throughout the whole area was someone who either knew how to carpenter or who had a neighbor with those talents. Of course there were basic building tools, as well as the basic hand tools used in farming which were brought in the settlers’ wagons.
Money was a scarce commodity so barter was widely used. People who brought a hog or crate of chickens were sitting pretty as all of these much sought after items were very expensive along the “Miner’s Trail.” Often, as soon as a cabin was built, the man and older sons went off to work in the gold mines, either hauling freight or providing extra help in the acual mine itself. Fruit of any kind, potatoes and any other vegetables were better than money itself.
These early settlers were quick to plant gardens and found the market very good for any extra to either sell or trade. Almost all the local people started to raise hogs as well as cattle. All these markets were good in these early times.
As the farmers settled in, many trips had to be made to Lewiston for farm implements and sawmill supplies. A few of the people who came through encouragement of relatives who were already here brought some of these things with them.
With the coming of more and more people, the sawmill business flourished. Soon there were seven or eight mills within just a few miles of Westlake, Keuterville and Cottonwood. In this area there were three widely used trails down to the Salmon River. The Chief Joseph Trail or Indian Trail behind Keuterville, the Moughmer Point Trail and the Rocky Canyon Trail from Tolo Lake down. (It wasn’t until much later that what we now know as the Graves Creek Trail was graded and made into a road.)
During the years from 1861 to the 1880’s the people who died were usually buried on a designated plot next to the family home. The spot above Graves Creek is said to have about 18 or so buried there. There was a similar spot out where the “brave seventeen” battle was fought and another where Foster lost his life. Cottonwood Cemetery became active about 1880.
Mr. Allen lived here until 1874 when he sold out to Ben Norton. In several different writings this was known as the “Norton Ranch.” Mr. Norton also raised good solid riding horses and bartered in wagons and teams. After only a few years, in 1877, Mr. Norton was killed in one of the opening battles of the Nez Perce Indian War.
According to a 1903 history book
In 1863 Wheeler & Toothacher were in charge of Cottonwood Station. In 1874 or 75 they were succeeded by John Bynam and he was succeeded by Joe Moore and Pete Ready. After them Ben Norton took over.
Cottonwood and the Nez Perce Indian War of 1877
In the spring of 1877, General O.O. Howard, Commander of the Department of Columbia, was ordered to put the Wallowa Indians and other non-treaty Nez Perce on the reservation “by force if necessary.”
By June 2, the non-treaties and some friendly members for the Kamiah and Lapwai bands were gathered at present day Tolo Lake at the head of Rocky Canyon before moving on to the reservation.
The prairie settlers, especially those living close to this gathering, were alarmed because some of these Indians were acting unfriendly and practicing war maneuvers.
At this time, Cottonwood was a stage station on the road between Lewiston and Mt. Idaho. In addition to a stage station, it was a combination store, hotel and saloon. This was located at the site of the present Joe Forsmann and Associates office. Referred to as the Cottonwood House, it was built in 1862 by a man named Allen. In 1874 it became the property of Ben Norton, a former miner. He also raised livestock and had a special love for horses and bred some of the best in the country. Norton was married and their only child was a nine-year-old boy named Hill. Lynn Bowers, a nineteen-year-old sister of Mrs. Norton was living at the station and helping with various chores.
On the afternoon of June 14, a messenger from Mt. Idaho arrived at the station. His name was Lew Day and he had a dispatch from L.P. Brown of Mt. Idaho for Captain Perry, the commanding officer at Fort Lapwai. The dispatch asked Perry to send a detachment of soldiers to the prairie because the actions of the Indians indicated trouble. Day got a fresh horse from Norton and left for Lapwai.
Norton decided to take his family to Mt. Idaho where other settlers were going for protection. During their preparations to leave, John Chamberlin, his wife and two daughters arrived. They were on their way to Lewiston and intended to spend the night at the Cottonwood House. They became alarmed at the news and decided to join the Nortons. Joe Moore, a hired man of Norton’s, agreed to go with them. Before they were ready to leave, Lew Day returned. Day had encountered three or four Indians who fired on him. One of the bullets hit Day in the back but he exchanged some shots with them and made his way back to Cottonwood.
Mrs. Norton dressed Day’s wound while Chamberlin’s wagon was readied for the trip across the prairie. They left Cottonwood House about 9 p.m. The night was bright and visibility was good. Norton, Day and Moore rode horseback and Chamberlin drove the wagon with the women and children.
They traveled about ten miles when the Indians came up at the rear and began firing at them. Day, Norton and Moore, the horse riders, were wounded and had to abandon their horses and get into the wagon. The harness horses were soon shot down and the wagon came to a halt. Lynn Bowers and little Hill Norton got out of the wagon and made an escape unharmed.
Chamberlin and his wife and children, made a run for it through the tall grass. He lost his sense of direction and moved his family toward the Indian camp.
The remainder of the party got behind the dead horses. Norton was hit in the thigh. The bullet severed an artery and he soon bled to death. Moore was shot through both hips, Day through the shoulder and leg and Mrs. Norton through both legs. Moore, using what guns he could secure, held the Indians off during the night. When daylight came, the warriors left.
The next morning, Frank Fenn discovered Hill Norton stumbling through the brush near the Grange Hall in Grangeville and learned of the attack. Fenn formed a relief party of five settlers and rode to the tragic scene. They placed the wounded into the wagon and brought the party to Mt. Idaho.
Another relief party found the bodies of Chamberlin and his oldest daughter. The youngest girl was still alive but wounded. She was hiding behind the corpse of her father. Mrs. Chamberlin was found in a highly hysterical state. She had been shot in the breast with an arrow. Lynn Bowers was found unharmed but nearly crazy with fear.
Ben Norton died during the night of the attack. Lew Day died the next afternoon. Moore lingered for about six weeks and then died. Mrs. Norton, Mrs. Chamberlin and her child recovered in time.
The day before the Norton tragedy, three Indians form the encampment at Rocky Canyon went down to the Salmon River and killed some settlers who were living between the mouth of White Bird Creek and Slate Creek. The next day about twenty Indians, including the three from the day before, murdered some settlers in the same area. A message from L.P. Brown telling of these raids reached Captain Perry and General Howard at Lapwai on the 15th of June. Captain Perry, with a force of ninety cavalry troopers, left for Mt. Idaho that evening. They rode all night and reached Cottonwood the next morning. They dismounted and turned their horses out to graze in a fenced field of Norton’s. After eating breakfast, about noon, they continued to march to Grangeville. The next day, June 17th, these soldiers were in a battle at White Bird and thirty-three of them died.
The next event at Cottonwood was the arrival of General O.O. Howard on the 23rd of June. This force consisted of over 200 cavalry and infantry soldiers. The next day was Sunday and they spent the day encamped here. On Monday, they left and Howard spent the next three months in pursuit of the non-treaty Nez Perce.
After the White Bird battle, the Indians crossed the Salon River a few miles up river from the mouth of White Bird Creek. Howard and his troops crossed the Salmon and began the ascent to the top of Joseph Plains. While Howard was crossing the river at White Bird, the Nez Perce re-crossed the Salmon at Craig’s Ferry and headed back towards the Camas Prairie. This crossing is located between Billy Creek and Cottonwood Creek.
After Howard realized the Indians were returning to the Prairie, he had a Captain Whipple, with two companies of cavalry, station themselves at Norton’s Ranch. Whipple arrived at Cottonwood on July 2nd. The next morning he sent two civilians, William Foster and Charles Blewett, in the direction of Craig’s Ferry on a scouting mission. The men encountered a group of Nez Perce warriors who preceded the main body of the non-treaty force. Blewett was shot but Foster made it back to Cottonwood. Whipple immediately sent Lieutenant Raines, Foster and ten men to determine the strength of the force and to aid Blewett if he was still alive. Raines detachment was ambushed in the area where Foster’s grave is now located. All twelve men were killed within a very short period of time.
At dawn, July 4, Whipple’s command from Cottonwood set out to meet Captain Perry who was bringing a pack train from Lapwai with ammunition and supplies for Howard. Perry was unaware that the Indians had crossed the river at Craig’s Ferry and were returning to the prairie. Whipple met Perry after traveling about eight miles and they all returned to Cottonwood safely. After returning to Cottonwood, Perry assumed command of the troops. During the afternoon, the Indians surrounded the encampment. The cavalry had dug rifle pits a little distance from the Cottonwood House. The afternoon was spent firing back and forth until sundown when the hostiles withdrew for the night.
The following afternoon, seventeen volunteers from Mt. Idaho, led by D.B. Randall, attempted to reach Cottonwood House, but the Nez Perce pinned them down about 1½ miles west of their destination. After about twenty-five minutes of hesitation, Perry dispatched Whipple with about 42 men to bring the volunteers in. By not going to the relief of the volunteers immediately, Perry earned the lasting animosity of the volunteers. Two of the volunteers were killed and three wounded.
After this episode, the Indians had the prairie to themselves and leisurely crossed the road between Cottonwood forces and Grangeville and continued on eastward to the Clearwater River.
Below is a quote of General O.O. Howard on Sunday, June 24, 1877. He, and troops used during the Nez Perce Indian War, were camped at Cottonwood for the day and night before moving on in pursuit of Chief Joseph and the non-treaty Indians.
“Mark well this place. Norton’s Ranch is to be historic, a central point. The broad and beautiful Camas Prairie opens out before you as you set your back to Craig’s Mountain and look towards the southeast. The straight road in your front leads you to Grangeville and Mt. Idaho. What a beautiful stretch of rolling prairie ground! Where is there richer soil or finer prospects? Towards the right is the Snake country. The Salmon, which flows northwesterly empties into the Snake not more than 20 miles to the southwest. The Cottonwood, heading nearby runs easterly into the Clearwater, twenty miles off, and the Rocky Canyon Creek, close by, shoots out southwest to join the Salmon. This country is as well watered as Eden and as fertile as any garden which has been much longer under cultivation.”
150-year committee meets
The September 27th meeting of the 150-year history committee was held in the library at Cottonwood.
Present were Sister Carm, Hilda Nuttman, Gary Forsmann, Mark Tacke, Lee and Barbara Rehder, Jim Gehring, Don and Jane Hoene, Marg Duman, Stacy Jackson, Donna Wassmuth and Debra Clark. (Mailyn Forsmann, Shorty and Marge Arnzen and Ralph Sprute were unable to attend).
Minutes of the previous meeting were read and approved.
Old Busines: We talked about sponsorship of this committee. Both Sr. Carm and Deb stated that we’re operating under the Chamber. It was brought up that possibly the Chamber of Commerce could join hands with the Lions Club and City of Cottonwood to use some resources including web pages to get the message out and stories in as well as the photos from the Lions Club and maybe some grant money and insurance.
Next topic of discussion was the formation of a committee to gather the history and stories. All present agreed to be on the committee. We also need other people who will gather history and stories. Some names were brought up as good sources of area history. If you would be able to work on this committee please contact Done Hoene at home or Deb Clark at US Bank. If you would like to submit your story, contact any of the above named committee members or email your story to 150yearstory@gmail,com The book will be your story as you remember it.
Hilda Nuttman presented multiple pages of family and business names that should be included if possible. Don Hoene also has a list. Goal for the next meeting is to combine the lists.
Don Hoene has started contacting people/families for “their stories and memories.” He has over 130 names of people organization or businesses who have volunteered to write their story or have been contacted and agreed to write their story.
Due to the response of the community we have decided to change the original goal from 200 histories to 250 histories. This book is a celebration of who we are today and of those who have been here before us. Please add your story or memories to preserve them for the future generations.
Several of the committee members are using the Blue Nezperce book as an example. Nezperce did a book in 1995 for their centennial. It is available for purchase from Mike Wasko’s office. As in the Nezperce book, some stories will include photos and some will not. Story size will be approx. 500-1000 words.
Deb has contacted the publisher used by Nezperce in 1995 for quotes on the book. We will look for other quotes also.
Two members had stories written to share with the group.
An estimate was made on the possibility of printing one or two follow-up books. Further work and discussion is needed before a definite commitment will be made. (When we started it was discussed as a possibility to print only one book but as we progress, it looks like Vol. I and Vol. II will be needed.
Cottonwood Mayor Denis Duman has agreed to as needed we can use the bigger lodge room next door to the library.
Time was also spent on remember when, or remember this. We also will be in need of proof readers and typists to put these into computer form. All interested please contact us or come to the meeting.
The next meeting will be Thursday, Oct. 6 at 2 p.m. in the Cottonwood Library.