Thunder Rolling in the Mountains

Thunder Rolling in the Mountains
Scott O'Dell and Elizabeth Hall


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
O'Dell, Scott, 1898–1989.

Thunder rolling in the mountains / by Scott O'Dell and Elizabeth

p. cm.

Summary: In the late nineteenth century, a young Nez Perce girl
relates how her people were driven off their land by the U.S. Army
and forced to retreat north until their eventual surrender.

ISBN 0-395-59966-0

1. Nez Perce Indians—Juvenile fiction. [1. Nez Perce Indians—
Fiction. 2. Indians of North America—Fiction.] I. Hall,
Elizabeth, 1929– II. Title.
PZ7.0236Th 1992 91-15961
[Fic]—dC20 CIP


Copyright © 1992 by Elizabeth Hall

All rights reserved. For information about permission
to reproduce selections from this book, write to
Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South,
New York, New York 10003.

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

To Susan


At the time of his death, Scott O'Dell was immersed in the story of Chief Joseph and his people. Their courage and determination in the face of cruelty, betrayal, and bureaucratic ignorance moved him deeply. So deeply that he continued to work on the manuscript in the hospital until two days before he died.

A few years earlier we had followed the trail taken in 1877 by Chief Joseph and his valiant band, from the beautiful Wallowa Valley in Oregon to the bleak battlefield at Bear Paws in Montana. From that trip, from the recollections of Nez Perce and U.S. Army personnel, from the writings of historians, and from Scott's instructions and musings about the story, I have completed the manuscript, as Scott had asked me to do.

Most of the characters are based on actual Nez Perce, and most of their words and deeds are drawn from recollections of survivors. Swan Necklace is
based on three warriors: Strong Eagle, Yellow Wolf, and the historical Swan Necklace. Essential to the book's existence are the two eyewitness accounts compiled by Lucullus V. McWhorter:
Yellow Wolf: His Own Story
(the recollections of Chief Joseph's nephew) and
Hear Me, My Chiefs!
(based on eyewitness accounts of both sides), as well as
Chief Joseph's Own Story,
which he told on his trip to Washington, D.C., in 1897. Other helpful books are Merrill Beal's "I
Will Fight No More Forever": Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War,
Helen Addison Howard's
Saga of Chief Joseph,
and Arthur Josephy Jr.'s
The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest.

Elizabeth Hall

Route of the Nez Perce

June - October, 1877


we dug roots in Deer Meadow. Now we were riding fast for home.

There were seven of us on good horses. I rode in the lead, pulling a travois filled with cous roots. We were on a trail of fallen trees and rock slides, but a storm was coming and it was the shorter way to our village.

I had not ridden the trail for many moons. It had changed a lot in that time. We came upon row after row of fallen trees, trees too jumbled for the travois, and I was forced to go around them.

We came to a treeless spur on the mountain. A north wind blew down from Hawk's Peak. It was spring but the peak was covered with snow and the wind whipped the snow down upon us in wet clouds. It was hard to see the trail.

"I am freezing," Little Lark, one of my cousins, said. "I think we should go back and take the long trail."

The other five riders, two of my cousins among them, agreed with her, but the girls sat on their horses and said nothing.

"There's no hurry I know about," Little Lark said. "We told our mothers before we left to dig roots that we would be gone three suns. The third sun is somewhere in the mist. It will be above us when we reach home."

I gave her my blanket and we rode on and left the mountain spur. The trail dipped down out of the wind into a place of tall grass and a winding stream. It was a beautiful meadow. I remembered riding through it at the beginning of winter when the aspen trees had turned to gold.

The aspen trees were gone. Their branches were lying around, but the trees were gone. They had been sawed off close to the ground.

I saw smoke rising at the far end of the meadow. It came from a cabin made from the aspen trees.

We pulled up our horses and sat staring. The horses were nervous. They raised their heads and sniffed the air. We were more nervous than the horses.

"What is it, Sound of Running Feet?" asked my friend White Feather.

"White people," I said. "Indians do not build cabins."

Many times when our chieftains talked I heard them speak of the white people. They had not set foot
upon our land, only on the land that belonged to a part of our tribe, those who called themselves Christians, those who had sold their land to the Big Father, who lived in a faraway place called Washington. The white people were called settlers and they came to plant seeds, but mostly to dig gold out of the streams and the rocks.

I cautioned my cousins and the other girls to ride at a trot and to keep their eyes to themselves. None of them had a weapon, but I carried a rifle. My grandfather Old Joseph had given it to me more than six snows ago, as he lay dying. Until my fourteenth birthday, three moons ago, it had hung in the lodge. Then I took it from its place, for I, Sound of Running Feet, was then a woman.

In this short time I had learned to use it. At first it was too heavy to lift and I had to prop it up on a branch or on my horse's back before I could shoot. Now I could handle it and shoot straight. My father did not like the rifle. But Old Joseph had given it to me. It would be bad to speak against the gift now that Old Joseph was dead. He could come back and make trouble.

Three children sat in the cabin doorway. When we rode by, they were as quiet as mice when an owl is around.

Our trail crossed the stream a short way beyond the cabin. A man and a woman with her hair piled on top
of her head stood in the stream up to their knees. The woman was shaking a copper pan, letting the stream wash over it. The man kept filling the pan with dirt that a boy of our people brought him in a shovel.

The woman kept working when she caught sight of us, but the man stopped. He was tall and thin and had a scraggly beard and a small bald head. He said something I did not understand, which the boy changed into our words.

"He wants to know how you are," the boy said.

I paused with the others silent behind me and did not answer his question. I said, "Ask the white man why he has built a cabin on land that he does not own."

The boy I knew about. He showed Ne-mee-poo tattoos on the back of his hands. He had gone to the mission school near the Snake River, at Lapwai, the Place of the Butterflies. His name was Storm Cloud and he had been mixed up in a murder.

I asked him again. He looked at me with anger in his gaze before he spoke to the white man.

The white man said, and Storm Cloud changed his words, "You Nez Perce own too much land. You can't use all the land, not half of it, not even a tenth of the land. You are a greedy bunch."

The whites called us Nez Perce, although that was not our name. They said it meant "Hole through the Nose." None of our people ever put ornaments in
their noses, but when the whites decided something was so, nothing could change their minds.

All of us were angry. We glared at each other. Then the man warned us not to send our warriors to talk to him.

"If you do there'll be trouble," he said. "My name is Jason Upright and I have friends."

I pressed my lips tight to hold back the words. Then I dug my heels into my pony's sides and we all rode through the stream and across the meadow.

There was a tall hillock at the bottom of the meadow covered with trees. As we came to the top, I jumped off my horse and took careful aim with my rifle at the pan Jason Upright's wife held in her hands. The shot made a big hole in the pan and tossed it high in the air.

Our trail followed the winding stream and crossed it many times, so we had trouble with the travois piled high with kouse roots. We also came upon a bear, a grizzly bear, standing in the middle of the trail, eating berries from a juniper tree.

He stretched up taller than I did sitting on my horse. We waited at a distance until he had eaten all the berries he wanted. Yet we reached home before the wind storm swept down from the mountains.


the wind no longer blew from Hawk's Peak. It blew from all three of the towering peaks, down upon our village. No fires burned outside that morning because of the wind. I went through the great lodge and divided the kouse roots we had gathered.

I told my father about the white people who were living in a cabin on one of the creeks that fed Wallowa River, how they were digging gold. I said nothing about the hole I had shot in the woman's copper pan.

"They're the first, but more are on the way," he said. He often talked to me, for he had no sons. Unlike other girls in our village, I often talked back.

"We will stop them. Here we stand," I said. I felt angry when I thought of white people cutting the trees and planting wheat where our horses and cattle roamed.

"No, daughter. We're few and they are many. They're locusts and they'll devour us."

"Not if we stand and fight."

"If we fight, they will devour us all the quicker." My father turned his back, which meant that he would not listen to another word. His mind was made up. "I do not like this wind," he said. "It sounds like many horses running."

Joseph, my father, son of Old Joseph, was an honored chieftain of the Ne-mee-poo. He was their chieftain because he could see far away into the land of the suns and moons that had not yet risen. At the snowflakes before they fell. The small green worm deep in the ruddy apple. The thought before it is spoken. He was a kind, gentle man, for me too kind with the whites. He was not a warrior.

"On the backs of the running horses are soldiers," he said. "Their leader is Howard."

"The man who has only one arm?" I asked.

My father nodded.

We were standing among some trees on the shore of Wallowa Lake. Waves piled up on the shore. Stout trees thrashed and bent. The mats around the bottom of the lodge flapped like birds ready to fly away.

My father stood tall and broad-shouldered. He had black hair that he wore in two long braids tied with ribbons. He used to play games with me, but not
anymore. Not since the white men had come to root gold from our hills and streams and I had stood with those who would fight.

"Why does the white leader return?" I asked. "You answered him once. You spoke plain words to him."

"He returns because he does not believe what I told him."

"Now you'll tell him again?"

"This time he rides with soldiers."

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