History’s Bitter Lessons

Why one fallen lawman won’t be on a Missoula memorial


Memory is a funny thing. These days, the word is more often associated with megabytes and storage capacity than with some shared appreciation of an individual’s feats or sacrifices. Even the names we see and use every day can become severed from the ties that bind them to their original owners and their accomplishments. One can only wonder how many people in Missoula could identify who Higgins, Caras or Chief Charlo were, let alone why prominent city landmarks bear their names.

Perhaps the same might have been said one day about Donald E. Gregory or Allen L. Kimery, two police officers killed in the line of duty in Missoula County, in 1976 and 1984 respectively, who were honored with community parks named after them. Sadly, even these tributes can lose some of their meaning over time, as the wooden signs that bear their names fall victim to vandals or the elements, and as their memory fades with the passage of generations.

Until now, there has been no place in Missoula to remember and honor all the law enforcement officers who made the supreme sacrifice in the defense of justice. However, that will change on July 22, when the Missoula Law Enforcement Memorial is unveiled in the Missoula Memorial Rose Garden. The centerpiece of the memorial is a six-foot by eight-foot granite slab along Mount Avenue that will bear the names of nine city, county, state and federal officers killed in the line of duty in Missoula County since 1878, above the words, “In valor there is hope.”

Although the memorial honors nine officers, a tenth name was recently removed from the list. It was a keen eye at the Montana Historical Society and the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee on the Flathead Indian Reservation, as well as the sensitivity and foresight of the Missoula Law Enforcement Memorial Committee that kept the tenth name from creating what could have been an unfortunate controversy.

By all admissions, it was an understandable error. After all, the front-page headline from The Daily Missoulian of Tuesday morning, October 20, 1908 read simply, “Game Warden Killed By Flathead Indians,” with reference further down about how one Charles B. Peyton of Ovando had been killed “while attempting to arrest four Redskins” for the unlawful shooting of game. Based on the glowing and heroic accounts of Peyton by his friends and colleagues in this and subsequent articles in the days that followed, there was little reason to suspect that any controversy surrounded Peyton’s death.

The incident, however, is remembered quite differently by the elders of the Salish and Pend d’Oreille people, in a story that will soon be included in a two-volume tribal history due out next year. Within the Native American community, the incident is better known as the Swan Valley Massacre, and it serves as a telling reminder of how much Missoula County has changed in less than 100 years.

According to the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, the Swan Valley is an ancient traditional hunting area for the Pend d’Oreille people, loaded with place names that hearken back to creation stories, and is considered an integral part of their traditional homeland. A spokesman for the committee recently shared a detailed account of the massacre that has been pieced together from documents provided by the National Archives, as well as oral and written accounts by eyewitnesses and tribal elders gleaned over the years.

The incident occurred in the fall of 1908, during a time when Missoula County encompassed a much larger swath of western Montana than it does now, and around the time when the reservation was just being opened to white settlement. The Swan Valley was still quite remote from non-Indian settlements, though by the turn of the century logging operations were beginning to make their way into those areas. Although the tribes retained their hunting rights through the Hellgate Treaty of 1855, the State of Montana had begun to institute a system of game wardens to enforce hunting laws that imposed a very different concept of hunting than the ones the native peoples had been practicing for hundreds of years.

In early October, a hunting party of Pend d’Oreille people set out from the Mission Valley, crossed over the Mission Mountains and into the Swan Valley. In their party were eight people: Camille Paul and his wife Clarice, who was six months pregnant, Atwen Scwi and his wife Mary, their 14-year-old son Frank and their 6-year-old daughter Little Mary, and two tribal elders, Martin Yellow Mountain and his wife Sap Shn Ma. From all tribal accounts, they were pious Catholics and regular church-goers, not the “rebellious redskins” they were made out to be in the newspaper articles of the time.

Although hunting licenses were technically unnecessary, all the hunters in the party carried them as double protection, since harassment and violence against Indians was not uncommon. Martin Yellow Mountain, an old man who no longer hunted, did not have a license but instead had a written note from the local Indian Agent allowing him to leave the reservation.

The party camped at the ranch of a ranger known to be friendly to Indian people, who they called “Roman Nose.” With him they traded two of their horses for 60 hides, which may have caused the game warden to later believe the party had over-hunted its quota.

About Peyton himself there is mixed information. There were those who said he got along with the Salish and spoke sympathetically of their plight when they were removed from the Bitterroot Valley. Others say he was a zealot who bore a grudge toward Indians. The Oct. 20, 1908 Daily Missoulian article wrote that “he was feared by the Indians, having arrested many of their number on previous occasions for offenses against the game law.” A similar account from a Pend d’Oreille man of the time says, “He was mean, this game warden, on the other side of the mountain. It was him that met the hunting party. He does not like Indian people.”

On Friday, Oct. 16, 1908, the party camped just north of Holland Lake. It was there they first encountered Peyton, who came into their camp to check their permits while the men were out hunting. According to one account, he grabbed the old man’s permission note and laughed at it, saying, “This paper is no good. I have rights to kill Martin Yellow Mountain.”

Peyton reportedly returned to the camp twice the following day, and during one visit tried to take a rifle away from Camille Paul. A scuffle ensued and Peyton departed, warning that he would be back. Accounts differ about what Peyton said before he left, but the threat was menacing enough that the party debated well into the night whether they should leave right away. With a pregnant woman and young children in their party, they prepared to be ready to leave at first light.

On Sunday morning, Oct. 18, the hunting party rose early to discover that the corral gate had mysteriously been opened during the night and their horses were gone. After they had rounded up the lost horses and loaded the elders onto them, Peyton returned to the camp, this time with a local laborer, Herman Rudolph, whom he had deputized.

What occurred next is the subject of debate. The Indian people say that Camille Paul was moving around his horse and putting his rifle into its scabbard when Peyton fired at him. An official account says that Peyton assumed Camille Paul was going for his gun. Another eyewitness reported that Peyton just began firing. What isn’t disputed is that Peyton shot Camille Paul, and then Atwen Scwi. Martin Yellow Mountain went for his pistol, but since he was very old and arthritic, he was slow on the draw. Peyton shot him dead as well. Peyton also fired at the women and children but didn’t hit them. Frank, the 14-year-old boy, turned and aimed his rifle at Peyton. Rudolph saw the boy and pulled the trigger, but his gun misfired. The boy then shot Peyton in the gut, knocking him to the ground. Rudolph reloaded his gun and killed the boy.

Meanwhile, the women and children had scattered into the brush. Mary, Atwen Scwi’s wife, came out and held her husband’s head in her lap until he died. By this time, Peyton had gotten up on one knee and was reloading his rifle, when Mary told Clarice to shoot him again. She refused, citing the Ten Commandments. Mary told her that Peyton would kill them otherwise, so Clarice pulled a rifle from under her dead husband and shot Peyton at point-blank range. She escaped on horseback with Rudolph hot on her trail. He gave chase but never caught her; she rode herself nearly to exhaustion.

Several posses were sent after the hunting party, and affidavits of the shootings were taken from Mary and Clarice Paul when they returned to the reservation. Enough legal questions arose after the shooting that the paperwork was sent down to Missoula County to prosecute Rudolph. Meanwhile, Rudolph had been seen drinking in bars in Missoula, and was heard bragging about the killings. When word got out that he was wanted for questioning, Rudolph slipped out of town during the night and was never seen or heard from again. Years later, a historian learned that he had moved to Canada, where he had taken work as a guide. He was never brought to justice for the crime, and the affidavits sent to the Missoula County district attorney had mysteriously disappeared.

Although a few questions surrounding Peyton’s death remain unanswered, there was enough incriminating evidence against him that the 1909 Montana Legislature refused to grant his widow his pension, and Peyton’s name was never included on the national law enforcement memorial in Washington, D.C. Needless to say, the tribal family members were never compensated for their losses either.

Like all memorials, the Missoula Law Enforcement Memorial stands as much to honor the living as the dead, providing, as Missoula County Deputy Chris Schultz puts it, “a place where people can go and reflect on the sacrifices that have been made, plus the sacrifices that all law enforcement make every day for being out there.” Thankfully, the nine men whose names will appear will be honored by the company of those who upheld the highest values of law enforcement, namely, justice and the truth.

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