In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Salish, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootenai tribes of western Montana navigated a world of military struggles with enemy tribes in alliance with the newly arrived tribe of white Americans. By the last quarter of the century—from 1875 to 1889—the paradigm had shifted, as the tribes worked to keep the peace and preserve their tribal rights and assets against the onslaught of the growing white population.
In just fifteen years, the Flathead Reservation tribes careened from dramatic efforts to stay out of the 1877 Nez Perce War to pressing the white justice system to punish white men who murdered Indians. In 1889 the Missoula County sheriff actively pursued Indians accused of murdering white men, but whites accused of killing Pend d’Oreille chief Michelle’s relatives and Kootenai chief Eneas’s son went unpunished.
In 1882 tribal leaders negotiated terms for the sale of a railroad right of way through the reservation. Throughout the 1880s, Chief Charlo worked to secure the Salish’s right to remain in the Bitterroot and, if possible, obtain enough government aid to help establish a self-supporting Salish community in the Bitterroot Valley.