As recorded in The Encyclopedia of the Lewis and Clark Expedition:
It would have been an easy matter to kill them and take possession of their guns, ammunition, and trade goods, thus ensuring the Nez Perce’s dominance over other nations, and several of the warriors advocated doing just that.
It was an old woman named Watkuweis who stopped them. Watkuweis stepped forward and said, “These are the people who helped me. Do them no hurt.”
“She told history about the whites and every Nez Perce listened . . . told how the white people were good to her, treated her with kindness. That is why the Nez Percés never made harm to the Lewis and Clark people. . . . We ought to have a monument to her in this far West. She saved much for the white race.”
From The Women of The Fur Trade website, with permission and a big THANKS to Sandy Gabbert Hunt:
The story of Watkuweis has been handed down in the oral history of the Nez Perce tribe. Lewis and Clark never even knew, so of course they recorded nothing of the event. Clark did meet her and recorded in his journal about the woman who had been captured by the Minitarries of the North and had seen white men.
Watkuweis, whose name means “Returns from a Far Land,” had been captured, taken to Canada, and then traded between tribes until she ended up far away in the Great Lakes region. She had been purchased by a white man and lived for a time among the whites. According to the stories she was the first of their tribe to see white men and return to tell about it. After she had given birth to a child she determined to escape. With the help of the friendly whites, who supplied her with food and a horse, she began her long journey back to her tribe.
It was such an incredible distance for a lone woman and her baby to travel! Whenever she was in danger of being discovered the fog would close in thick and hide her! Faced with starvation in the season of cold, she killed her horse for food. Under such hardships, her baby died. By a miracle she made her way to a band of Salish who helped her return to her tribe, but the privations of her journey had taken a toll on her health, which she never fully regained. Though still young, she was called “Old Watkuweis.”
She was on her deathbed when the strange party of white men arrived with their Shoshone guide. Their arrival immediately aroused suspicion because the Nez Perce had recently sent a group of their men to try and establish peace with the Shoshones, but the Nez Perce delegation was killed. They felt vulnerable, since many Nez Perce warriors were absent from the village at this time, having gone to revenge their fallen tribes.