Women of
             the
             Fur Trade
Watkuweis                   

                                                  

               The woman who saved Lewis and Clark!


        This woman's story has been handed down in the oral history of the Nez Perce tribe.  Lewis and Clark never even knew, so of course they recorded nothing of the event. Clark did meet her and recorded in his journal about the woman who had been captured by the Minitarries of the North and had seen white men. Watkuweis, whose name means "Returns from a Far Land," had been captured, taken to Canada, and then traded between tribes until she ended up far away in the Great Lakes region. She had been purchased by a white man and lived for a time among the whites.  According to the stories she was the first of their tribe to see white men and return to tell about it. After she had given birth to a child she determined to escape. With the help of the friendly whites who supplied her with food and a horse she began her long journey back to her tribe.

        Such an incredible distance for a lone woman and her baby to travel!   She had medicine, though- the fog!
Whenever she was in danger of being discovered by enemiew, the fog would close in thick and hede her!  Faced with starvation in the season of cold, she killed her horse for food. Under such hardships, her baby died. By a miracle she made her way to a band of Salish who helped her return to her tribe, but the privations of her journey had taken a toll on her health, which she never fully regained. Though still young, she was called "Old Watkuweis."

        She was on her deathbed when the strange party of white men arrived with their Shoshone guide. Their arrival immediatley aroused suspicion because the Nez Perce had recently sent a group of their men to try and establish peace with the Shoshones, but the Nez Perce delegation was killed. They felt vulnerable, since many Nez Perce warriors were absent from the village at this time, having gone to revenge their fallen tribesmen. Seeing the enemy with the party, their first thoughts were "What treachery is this?"  They were deciding to kill the white men while they slept, until Watkueis said "these are the people who helped me so much!  Do them no hurt!"
                                         

  


        
        

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