Nez Perce History

Jackson Sundown

Jackson Sundown in cowboy regalia.



A famous Nez Perce rodeo man and an excellent horseman


Jackson Sundown is from the Wallowa band and nephew to Chief Joseph










1983, Jackson Sundown, Nez Perce Horseman, in Montana, the Magazine of Western History, vol. 33, no. 4

1994, Rodeo's Sundown, in Wild West

Idaho County Free Press

Lewiston Morning Tribune

Rodeo Idaho ! Louise Shadduck

The horse became a very important part of the Nez Perce people;  not only for hunting in buffalo country, but the horse was a warrior.  Nez Perce learned to breed and work with horses.  Jackson Sundown (1863 - December 18, 1923) Waaya-Tonah-Toesits-Kahn  (Blanket of The Sun)  from an early age worked and cared for horses.  Waaya-Tonah-Toesits-Kahn was a famous all-around cowboy, horseman, and excellent rider and breeder of horses. He was also the nephew of Chief Joseph.

The horsemanship of the Nez Perce was envied and admired throughout the Indian Nation.  It was from these Nez Perce warriors that Jackson Sundown had learned to ride. He rode his own Appaloosa pony from the time he could walk. By the time he was eleven years old the five bands of the Nez Perce Indian Nation left Ft. Fizzle and swept through Idaho, fleeing over the Lolo Pass into Montana. They where hotly pursued by U.S. Army troops lead by O.O. Howard. Sundown and other boys were hiding under buffalo robes when the Army troops made an early dawn atteck on the Indian encampment, August 9, 1877, at the Battle of Big Hole in Montana. Although the tepee in which they were hiding was set on fire, the boys managed to escape.

The Nez Perce War of 1877 began and Waaya-Tonah-Toesits-Kahn was 11 years old.  Waaya-Tonah-Toesits-Kahn and Sam Tilden (Suhm-Keen) both were assigned to attend to the horses in the evening and herd the horses while the tribe decamped.  After the battle ended Waaya-Tonah-Toesits-Kahn retreated to Canada expecting to jon up with Sioux Chief Sitting Bull, with a small band of cold, hungry and injured Nez Perce. An early snow on September 30th at Bear Paw made it easier for the calvary to again swoop down upon the Indians. Young Sundown was one of the Nez Perce who escaped from that fight, and he did so by hiding himself from the soldiers by clinging to the side of his horse so that it appeared riderless. He was, however, slightly wounded and had no blankets or food. He continued to ride North and eventually reached Sitting Bulls camp in Canada.

Waaya-Tonah-Toesits-Kahn became known as Jackson Sundown and developed a well know reputation as a skilled horseman.

In 1910, Jackson Sundown moved back to Idaho.  And in 1912 he married Cecelia Wapshela, and they lived on her ranch located at Jacques Spur, six miles east of Lapwai.

Sundown became a well known all-round rodeo rider.  Jackson Sundown was going to rodeos all over the northwest.  In 1912 it is recorded that Jackson Sundown (at the age of 49) entered rodeo events in Canada and Idaho (Culdesac, Orofino, Kamiah and Grangeville). He rode in Grangevilles Border Days Rodeo several times.

 At the first rodeo in Grangeville in 1912 on the last day of the event  during the afternoon program he declared he would ride the unriden bucker Cyclone for any amount of money, with all the riders taking part in the celebration swearing vengance on the horse. The event managers pulled Cyclone and would not allow him to be ridden again for fear of someone loosing their life.

Sundown became a favorite at these rodeos because he was tall, lean and handsome, he wore his hair in braids tied under his chin, and he always wore bright colored shirts.

In 1914, while competing in the Culdesac annual roundups, Sundown was having much success as an all-around rodeo rider.  Other contestants pulled out of rodeos because Sundown was riding and they knew he would win.  As a result the rodeo manager, Al Fonberg, decided to hire Sundown to exhibition ride for $50.00 a day to entertain the crowds.

In 1915, Sundown (at age 52) went to Pendleton Oregon and placed third.  Sundown decided to retire from rodeo after the Pendleton Roundup. He packed up his buffalo-skinned tepee and his cowboy gear and went to Pendleton. In 1916 a sculptor, Alexander Phimister Proctor (who was sculpting Sundown at the time), persuaded Sundown to enter the 1916 Roundup in Pendleton, Oregon and paid his entrance fee.  Sundown made it to the saddle bronc  semi-final round and then rode "Casey Jones" to move into the finals with two other cowboys (Rufus Rollen and Bob Hall).  Rollen and Hall both had excellent rides.  As Sundown eased onto Angel's ,( he had first ridden Angel at the Pendleton Round up in 1911), back for his final ride, the blindfold was removed from Angel.  Angel tried to whirl and leap to throw Sundown off.  All Sundown's years as a child in the Wallowa's riding, and his career in Montana as a horseman, and his rodeo experience showed that day.  It is said that  Sundown became one with the horse.  As Angel tried one last attempt at throwing Sundown off, Sundown fanned his hat at the horse.  And then the signal of the end of the ride.  Jackson Sundown, Waaya-Tonah-Toesits-Kahn, was the 1916 World Champion Bronc Rider. He had used his old range saddle as always. When the handsome leather tool prize saddle was awarded and he was asked what he would like engraved on the silver plate , he asked that his wife's name be inscribed

Jackson Sundown Champion 1916

Sundown made his last public appearance in Lewiston in 1917 with Idaho Governor Moses Alexander as the guest of honor.

In 1923, Jackson Sundown died of pneumonia, he was buried at Slickpoo Mission Cemetery near Jacques Spur.  Later a stone monument was placed there to remember the Nez Perce warrior and horseman Waaya-Tonah-Toesits-Kahn.

The memorial reads:

Jackson Sundown


Nez Perce    Born in Montana 1863

Died at Jacques Spur, December 18,1923

At the age of 60 years

Jackson Sundown rode with Chief Joseph in 1877.  He performed in many rodeos in the Northwest and Canada.  In 1916 he won the World's Championship at Pendleton and an ovation never before equaled.

                                                                   A. Phimister Proctor, a nationally famous sculptor,
                                                                  did a statue of Jackson  Sundown in 1919 and
                                                                  exhibited it several times in European shows. It is
                                                                  now on permanent display in the RCA building in
                                                                  Radio City, New York City. 

Jackson Sundown in rodeo regalia.

Nez Perce Tribe Information Systems Department.
Copyright 2009 Nez Perce Tribe. All rights reserved.
Revised: August 17, 2010 .



Nez Perce Tribe 2006. All rights reserved.