Chief Charlo

Chief Charlo

Chief Charlo (Claw of the Little Grizzly or Small Grizzly-Bear Claw) lived from 1830-1910 in the Bitterroot Valley and served as head chief of the Bitterroot Salish from 1870 to 1910. He was appointed chief upon death of his father, Chief Victor (Many Horses or Plenty-of-Horses). Chief Victor was a principal signer of the Treaty of Hellgate in 1855. Chief Charlo, like Chief Victor before him, followed a policy of peace with the American settlers in Southwestern Montana and the soldiers at nearby Fort Missoula. In November 1891 Chief Charlo and a small remnant of the Bitterroot Salish were forced by a contingent of troops from Fort Missoula to move from the Bitterroot Valley to the Flathead Reservation. Chief Charlo had three children from his marriage to Margaret: Martin, Ann Felix, and Victor. Victor became head chief upon the death of Chief Charlo in 1910.

A speech printed in 1876 by Montana newspapers expressed the frustration and betrayal felt by Chief Charlo towards the white settlers and the U.S. military and government representatives. In part it read: Since our forefathers first beheld him...[the whiteman] has filled graves with our bones...His course is destructrion. He spoils what the Spirit who gave us this country made beautiful and clean. But that is not enough. He wants us to pay him besides his enslaving our country...and...that degradation of a Tribe who never were his enemies. What is he? Who sent him here? We were happy when he first came...To take and to lie should be burned on his forehead, as he burns the sides of my horses with his own name. Had heaven's Chief burnt him with some mark, we might have refused him. No, we did not refuse him in his weakness. In his poverty we fed, we cherished him-yes, befriended him, and showed the fords and defiles of our lands...We owe him nothing. He owes us more than he will pay...His laws never gave us a blade of grass nor a tree nor a duck nor a grouse nor a trout...You know that he comes as long as he lives, and takes more and more, and dirties what he leaves."

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