Nakia Williamson-Cloud interprets hímiin maqsmáqs’ (Yellow Wolf) xotxó’as (whistle) in the McWhorter Collection

Cultural Narrative: 

[Greeting in Nez Perce] My name is Nakia Williamson. I’m the director for the Nez Perce Tribe Cultural Resource Program. And I’m here to talk about some of the items in the collection here at the WSU Manuscript Archives and Special Collections. And some of the ethnographic items that were collected by L.V. McWhorter in his association with our people, the Nimiipuu, the Nez Perce people.

So this particular whistle is reputed to have been owned by hímiin maqsmáqs, or later known as Yellow Wolf, who was one of McWhorter’s primary informants, and whose work resulted in the book Yellow Wolf: His Own Story. And Yellow Wolf was one of the primary warriors, be in the prime of his life, twenty-one years old in 1877. And he was of the warrior class that had acquired the certain prerequisite of not only the physical and mental capabilities of a warrior, but also the spiritual attributes that would allow him to fight in battle, which was most important. More important than the others. And this was a part of those spiritual gifts that were given to this warrior, that allowed him to go into battle and to remain unharmed. And this particular whistle is made out of the wing bone of either a crane or a goose, I think, is what the information left behind. And then it’s suspended from a buckskin string and it’s wrapped with buckskin as well. And then in the middle it has a plug made out of pitch, pitch and charcoal that is used to form the reed part of it, I guess you might say, if that’s the proper term. And then suspended as two also projections of buckskin thongs.

And at the end, eagle plumes that were taken. Oftentimes, the small plumes taken from the chest area in front of the heart of the eagle. Again, a very sacred bird. But not the only sacred bird as represented by the crane and other types of birds. And the two small cut feathers with the beaded ends could either be a wetyétmes, or trumpeter swan, which is a very powerful bird in Nez Perce cosmology. Or it could be another bird. And only the warrior, only the man or the family might know the specifics. And the paint that’s applied, the red paint is referred to as ‘éet’is in Nez Perce, the mineral paint that was found in different parts of the country and gathered for those particular purposes. Later on, there was a type of vermilion that was traded in and was also utilized as well. which some of this may actually be that traded vermilion.

So again, a very sacred item that was a personal item, but also was transferred generation to generation, ultimately through the family. That would often happen like many of these items. So in a sense, they were individual items. But they also had a community aspect in terms of how they often were transferred within a family of lineage to the benefit of a larger community. Those spiritual gifts and attributes that were used by the individual could also benefit the broader community. As was the role of the warrior in 1877 and prior to that. He wasn’t fighting just for himself. He was using and summoning all his gifts that he had been bestowed to his life to protect the women and children, to protect the noncombatants. And to protect his own life, so that he could carry on. So because that, these very important items are very significant to the life and the spirit of many of the warriors that fought in 1877.