Nakia Williamson-Cloud interprets a photograph of piyopyóot’alikt (Chief Peo Peo Tholekt) on a war pony

This photo entitled Chief Peo Peo Tholekt on a war pony is a McWhorter photo from 1911.
Cultural Narrative: 

This photo entitled Chief Peo Peo Tholekt on a war pony is a McWhorter photo from 1911. And I believe this was taken at Astoria, Oregon at a centennial celebration. And there was a group of Nez Perce people from the Nez Perce reservation as well as the Colville reservation that were organized by L.V. McWhorter to come and participate in that particular event. And this depicts the famous warrior Peo Peo Tholekt that was in many of the battles, many of the prominent battles in 1877, except for the first battle at lamáta because at that time he was camped with ‘elelímyeté’qenin’, or Young Looking Glass over on Clear Creek and they were trying to remain peaceful. And they were actually located within the reservation boundaries when they were attacked, thus forced into the armed conflict with Howard at that time and, later on, some of the other lieutenants and generals and colonels that were allied against the Nez Perce people.

And he’s riding a horse. And for many of the leaders, they preferred white horses like the one he is riding. Many of these horses that they were specifically trained by warriors. And they literally lived with those horses and trained them on a daily basis. So they were so well trained that these particular horses were valued above almost anything because of, if you think about it, the lives of the prominent warrior faction of our people, the warrior class of Nez Perce people, their lives actually depended on these horses. And when they were fighting another tribe, enemy tribe, or another enemy such as the case in the 1877 war, these horses were very trained specifically to navigate, even just when they’d be running across the open plain that if they would hit a badger hole or they would hit a ground squirrel hole that could cause the horse to stumble. And thus if they were being chased by a group of enemy combatants then that could mean the death of that individual warrior. As well as when they were fighting and taking offensive measures against enemies, their horse, they would keep it on a long sort of lead rope, you might say, that acted both as a lead rope as well as a hímpa’ayn or a bridle. They’d have it looped underneath the jaw. And that lead rope was about twenty feet long so they’d keep it coiled in their belt.

And when they would fight, the Nez Perce had a particular way, they would fight on horseback. But to have more accurate shooting, they would often dismount their horse and shoot from the ground. And therefore have a more accurate aiming when they would be shooting at the enemy.

And in the battle of lamáta or White Bird Battle, many of these horses was [commandeered?] by some of the soldiers and volunteers that were allied against the Nez Perce people. At that time while on the soldiers and volunteer side their horses were jumping and bucking because of the din of battle, the firing of rifles and the smoke was making their horses jump around and act up and balk and things of that nature. While that was happening on the soldiers’ side, the horses that the Nez Perce warriors were utilizing would just simply be sitting there with their head down eating grass while all this fighting was taking place. That’s how well-trained those horses were at that time. Because these horses, like I said, had lived with these warriors and they were so well-trained that they understood and they were accustomed to the firing of guns and other weapons around them. So it never did really bother them. So this image is a very good depiction of one of those horses and one of the truly great horsemen of the Nez Perce people, Peo Peo Tholekt. And he also had descendants who were very prominent horsemen as well amongst the Nez Perce reservation. But in this image, he’s just more for a parade. Whereas in battle they would strip down, strip their leggings off and down to just a breech cloth and bare body. And whatever their medicine was, they would tie it to their hair or tie it to their side. And then they would charge into battle, knowing that their life would be protected not only from their wéeyekin or their power, but that the horse that they had trained and lived with from the time that it was just a colt.

And so those horses were that esteemed and that well taken care of. And they would take care of those horses before anything, because that’s how much they meant to them. And when they were in hostile territories, they always kept those horses near them. They wouldn’t let them just graze out into the fields. Those horses were kept in or near the camp or the lodge of the warrior so that if they needed them, they would be right there for immediate action. So this photo definitely depicts one of those types of horses and one of those types of horsemen, the man we know as Peo Peo Tholekt.