external image indian_chief_joseph.jpg
Chief Joseph was a Nez-Perce indian chief who lived from March 3, 1840 – September 21, 1904. He is known mostly for his resistance to General Oliver Howard's forceful removal of indians to a reservation in Idaho.This was part of the Dawes Severalty Act He was born Hinmuuttu-yalatlat which means "Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain", in the Wallowa of northeastern Oregon, he was known as Young Joseph during his childhood because his father had the same name. He was initially hospitable and kind to the region's white newcomers, his father, Joseph the Elder, grew cautious when settlers wanted more Indian lands. Tensions grew as the settlers appropriated and encroached on traditional Indian lands for farming and grazing livestock.

​ Isaac Stevens, governor of the Washington Territory, organized a council to designate separate areas for Natives and settlers in 1855. Joseph the Elder and the other Nez Perce chiefs signed a treaty with the United States creating a Nez Perce reservation encompassing 7,700,000 million acres in present-day Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. The 1855 reservation maintained much of the traditional Nez Perce lands, including Joseph's Wallowa Valley.
Chief Joseph speaking with Alice Fletcher
Chief Joseph speaking with Alice Fletcher

While He Was Chief Joseph

Joseph the Younger became chief when his father died in 1871.
The non-treaty Nez Perce suffered many injustices at the hands of settlers and prospectors, but out of fear of reprisal from the militarily superior Americans, Joseph never allowed any violence against them, instead making many concessions to them in hopes of securing peace.
In 1873, Chief Joseph negotiated with the federal government to ensure his people could stay on their land in the Wallowa Valley. But in 1877, the government went back on its policy, and Army General Oliver Howard threatened to attack if the Nez-Perce tribes in the Willoawa Valley did not relocate to the Idaho Reservation with the other Nez Perce. Chief Joseph eventually agreed. Before the outbreak of violence, General Howard held a meeting to try to convince Joseph and his people to relocate. Joseph finished his address to the General, which focused on human equality, by expressing that the Great Spirit Chief gave one kind of men the right to tell another kind of men what they must do." Howard reacted angrily, thinking it was Joseph was challenging to his authority. Howard offered them a plots of land that were occupied by Whites and Indians, promising to clear them out. Joseph and his chieftains refused, keeping to their tribal tradition of not taking what did not belong to them. Unable to find any suitable land on the reservation, Howard informed Joseph that his people had thirty days to collect their livestock and move to the reservation. Joseph asked for more time, but Howard told him that he would them occupying the Wallowa Valley beyond the thirty-day mark an act of war. When he returned home, Joseph called a council among his people. At the council, he spoke of peace, preferring to abandon his father's grave over war. The Wallowa band began making preparations for the long journey, meeting first with other bands at Rocky Canyon. At this council too, many leaders urged war, while Joseph argued in favor of peace. While the council was underway, a young man whose father had been killed rode up and announced that he and several other young men had already killed four white men, an act sure to initiate war. Still hoping to avoid further bloodshed, Joseph and other Nez Perce chiefs began leading his people north toward Canada.

On The Run
2,000 U.S. soldiers gave chase while Joseph and other Nez Perce chiefs led 800 Nez Perce toward the Canadian border. For over three months, the Nez Perce outmaneuvered and battled their pursuers traveling 1,600 miles across Oregon, Washing, Wyoming, Idaho and Motana. Finally, after a five-day battle during freezing weather conditions with no food or blankets, Chief Joseph surrendered to General Nelson Miles on October 5, 1877 in the Bear Paw Mountains of the Montana Territory, less than 40 miles from the Canadian Border, which was their goal. The famous speech given by Chief Joseph is known for the quote "I will fight no more, forever."
Map of the paths the Nez Perce took