Hototo

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Background

During the 1870s, the peaceful Nez Percé people were ordered by the U.S. governent to pack up and leave their ancestral homeland, to make way for white settlers and miners. Refusing to be ordered and moved around like a possession of the government, Chief Joseph, the administrative chief of the Nez Percé, and Hototo, a war chief of the Nez Percé, led their people on a fighting escape of about 1,700 miles to within 40 miles of the Canadian border. It came to be known as the Nez Percé War.

An exceptional subchief

Hototo was one of the heroic war chiefs* who played a significant role in the Nez Percé War. Half French and half Nez Percé, he was from the Bitterroot Valley in present-day Montana. Hototo went by several other names: Lean Elk, Little Tobacco, and Poker Joe.

Hototo was the chosen trail boss and guide of the Nez Percé people following the Battle of the Big Hole, in which the Nez Percé won a costly victory against pursuing U.S. forces in southwest Montana.

Hototo kept his people ahead of the army for the following seven weeks. He led the Nez Percé on a trek to the Missouri River, covering between 500 and 700 miles.

Hototo knew the land and the trails of Montana from years of buffalo hunting. He decided the routes and the schedule taken each day: The band was awakened early, and they traveled until mid morning. He then ordered a halt, and meals were prepared while the horses grazed. About mid afternoon, they were on the move again. They kept going until late in the evening. Under Hototo's leadership, the people traversed many miles each day, and gained precious distance. They outpaced the soldiers by an hour or two every day. The routes selected by Hototo for speedy travel, and the quickness with which he led the Nez Percé, proved to be highly effective against the army pursuit.

The Nez Percé are overtaken

Following a grueling forced march of their own, the army finally caught up and forced most of the Nez Percé to surrender after the five-day Battle of Bear Paw. A small remnant, led by war-chief White Bird, escaped to Canada.

During the epic chase, 29 Cheyenne and one Sioux (Lakota) acted as scouts for the army. During the Battle of Bear Paw, Hototo was mistaken for one of them and killed by Nez Percé fire.


*See White Bird.