Story and photo by MICHAEL RICHESON/The Daily Inter Lake
Swan Massacre events 'can only be seen as murder.' - Gov. Brian Schweitzer
Elders describe the event as a defining story in tribal history: A story of government betrayal and senseless murder.
On Sunday, Oct. 18, 1908, a state game warden and his deputy ambushed a small Pend d'Oreille hunting camp. The two men killed four members of the party before one of the women shot and killed the warden.
Exactly 100 years later, on the shores of Holland Lake in the Seeley Valley, state and tribal officials joined together to memorialize the event and unveil a large sign along Montana 83 that tells the story.
"We will never forget what took place," said Tony Incashola, the Salish-Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee director. "We never forget their sacrifice for their beliefs, their customs, and that we need to learn them and pass them on to the future generations."
Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribal Chairman James Steele Jr. said words such as family, nation, promise, faith, hope, fear and tragedy sum up the events of that fateful morning.
A letter from Gov. Brian Schweitzer, read by Anna Whiting Sorrell, said the "events can only be seen as murder."
The eight-member hunting group had been moving through ancient tribal hunting grounds in the Swan Valley. The tribes had been forced to cede the land to the United States, but tribal leaders had negotiated for access to their hunting grounds in 1855 during the Hellgate Treaty.
In spite of the promises, Indians who hunted in their traditional spots often were harassed and threatened.
When Montana became a state in 1889, the Legislature created new hunting and fishing regulations, and appointed game wardens to enforce the laws.
New laws, an attitude of violence and a clashing of very different cultures set the stage for what would become the Swan Valley Massacre.
Atwen Scwi, 49, led the hunting group. With him were his wife, Mary Tah-pal, 44, their son, 13-year-old Peh-lah-so-weh, and 6-year-old daughter, Little Mary. They were joined by their friends Little Camille Paul, 46, and his wife, Clarice, 36. Clarice was six months pregnant. Camille's aunt, Mary Sahp-shin-mah, and her husband, Martin Yellow Mountain, were also part of the group.
Atwen Scwi, Little Camille Paul and Peh-lah-so-weh bought hunting permits - which they didn't have to do because of the treaty - before traveling for weeks through the Swan Valley and along the South Fork of the Flathead River.
On Friday and Saturday, Oct. 16-17, the game warden, 34-year old Charles Peyton, visited the hunting camp while the men were hunting. Peyton demanded to see hunting licenses and barged his way into the tepees and overturned packs. He laughed at Yellow Mountain and called his hunting permit "no good."
Peyton was one of the first eight game wardens for Montana. The Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency was called Fish and Game back then, and the organization had been created just five years earlier.
On Saturday evening, Peyton and his deputy, a 32-year-old German immigrant named Herman Rudolph, stormed into a tepee where the hunting group was gathered.
Peyton grabbed a rifle, but Little Camille Paul overpowered the warden and took the weapon away from him. The enraged Peyton drew his pistol but did not fire. He told the group that they had better be gone when he returned in the morning and then left.
The next morning, while the group was trying to leave camp, Peyton and Rudolph ran through the camp. Peyton shot Little Camille Paul, whose rifle was still in its sheath before killing the unarmed Atwen Scwi.
Yellow Mountain tried to defend the family, but Peyton quickly shot him dead. The women fled into the brush while Peyton shot at them.
The boy Peh-lah-so-weh fired from under the belly of a horse and shot Peyton in the abdomen, knocking him down. Rudolph quickly shot the boy.
Peyton, however, was not dead. He began to stand up and reload his rifle. Clarice, a devout Catholic, didn't want to kill because she thought it was against the Ten Commandments.
Mary Tah-Pal said if she didn't do something, the warden would kill them all. Clarice grabbed her slain husband's rifle, ran at Peyton and shot him point blank in the chest.
The women began to attend to their husband's bodies, and Peyton started to rise yet again. Clarice shot him a second time, killing him instantly. She then rode for help, narrowly escaping Rudolph who was waiting in the forest.
Clarice returned the next morning with men from another hunting party and packed up the bodies. Fearing pursuit, they buried the bodies a few miles away from the massacre site. A year or two later, a tribal party retrieved the bodies and buried them in the St. Ignatius Catholic cemetery where a monument still stands in remembrance.
Rudolph vanished and never was brought to justice.
Three months after the killings, Clarice gave birth to a son, John Peter Paul, who lived to the age of 92. He became a respected elder, and he took the Salish-Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee to the site for the first time in 1997.
In his final years, he decided to tell the story and gave his blessing for the committee to write a book about what happened. The book, "The Swan Massacre: A Story of the Pend d'Oreille People," soon will be published.
In spite of the tragedy, tribal leaders say a story of betrayal and murder is also a story of strength and survival. Persistent efforts by the Indian people in to the 1950s finally won affirmation by the courts of treaty-based hunting rights on public lands.
In a six-page brochure about the massacre, the story ends with a message of hope.
"The old problems of racism and injustice continue, but it is also true that relations of mutual respect and honor have developed between many non-Indian and tribal people. It is our hope that we have at last begun to build a society in which cultural coexistence is not only possible, but often celebrated."
Each speaker, one of whom was Josephine Quequesah - the granddaughter of Clarice and Little Camille Paul - stressed the importance of cross-cultural cooperation to create a better future.
Quequesah pleaded for better understanding and closure so that after a century "we can have good memories of my family."
"Even out of tragedy, we can figure out ways to work together," Steele said.
Incashola spoke to close the ceremony. Holland Lake stretched out behind him, and the tamaracks had turned the hills into gold. Although three flags were posted behind the podium - the United States flag, the Flathead Nation flag and the Montana state flag - only the red tribal flag waved in the breeze.
"If you look around this beautiful country we live in, we have much to be proud of," he said. "Let us not make the sacrifice of our ancestors go to waste. It is up to us to make sure our children learn. One-hundred years from now, they can stand here and be proud."
Reporter Michael Richeson may be reached at 758-4459 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org