Salish Attempts to Retain the Bitterroot

The Hellgate Treaty signed at Council Grove near Missoula in 1855 created the Jocko, or Flathead, Indian reservation and was interpreted by the U.S. government as requiring the Pend’Oreille, Kootenai, and Salish tribes to cede all their other lands in western Montana. The Bitterroot Salish disagreed with the federal government's interpretation and believed that the treaty preserved their right to live in the Bitterroot. The Salish fight to protect their right to stay in their homeland, under the leadership of Chief Charlo, is a moving and, ultimately unsuccessful, example of using diplomacy and compromise to defend their way of life and geographical base.  The tribe's exodus from their traditional homeland was a bitter moment of conflict and a turning point in their history.  The historical events in this saga illustrate the complexities and cultural frameworks underlying European Americans' settlement of the American West and of the overwhelming challenges that natives faced to defend their way of life and the lands and resources on which they lived. This story, as so many others, reflects so much deadly conflict and so many failed compromises.


Secondary Sources


Bigart, Robert, ed.  Life and Death at St. Mary’s Mission. (Pablo, MT: Salish Koontenai College Press, 2005).


Evans, Lucylle H. St. Mary’s in the Rocky Mountains: A History of the Cradle of Montana’s Culture (Stevensville, 1990). 


Missoula, Missoulian, August 28, 1941.  


Toole, K. Ross Toole. Lecture, “Apostasy” (University of Montana, 1962). Montana Historical Society Research Center video library.


“Relations with the United States Government,” Challenge to Survive, History of the Salish Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation. Unit III: Victor and Alexander Period, 1840-1870. Salish Kootenai College Tribal History Project (Pablo, MT: Salish Kootenai College Press, 2008): 9-28. Read online.  


Primary Sources


Bigart, Robert and Clarence Woodcock, In the Name of the Salish & Kootenai Nation: the 1855 Hell Gate Treaty and the Origins of the Flathead Indian Reservation (Pablo, MT: Salish Kootenai College Press, 1966). 


Ronan, Margaret, Girl from the Gulches: The story of Mary Ronan, ed. Ellen Baumler (Helena: Montana Historical Society Press, 2003), Book 3.


Dunbar, Seymour and Paul C. Phillips, The Journals and Letters of Major John Owen, Pioneer of the Northwest 1850-1871, (Portland, ME: Southworth Press, 1927).


Missoula Missoulian, September 10, 1911. 


Primary and Secondary Sources on the Web


Transcript of the Hellgate Treaty 


Letter from Chief Victor to Territorial Governor Sidney Edgerton, April 25, 1865 


Chief Charlo biography 


Vertical Files at the Montana Historical Society


Charlot, Chief (Slem-Hak-Kah “Little claw of Grizzly bear”)

Salish Indians

Victor (Salish Chief)