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Joe Wurst

December 2, 2009

Mr. Malone

History P.8

The life of Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph was born in Wallowa Valley, which is present day Oregon,

in 1840. He was given the name Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, or Thunder Rolling

Down the Mountain. Regardless, he was mainly known as Joseph or Joseph the

Younger. He was known as this because his father took the Christian name

Joseph after being baptized.

The Nez Percé was one of the largest ethnic groups in the Columbia

Plateau. The name Nez Percé means nose piercing. The Nez Percé were known

for wearing shells through their noses.They lived between the Blue Mountains

and the Snake River in the Wallowa Valley. The Nez Percé hunted deer, elk,

mountain goats, and grizzly bears. They also caught and ate salmon. They were

heavily influenced by their neighbors in the Plains to the east. They acquired

horses in the 1700’s and became to be known for their great horsemanship.

They maintained a friendly relationship with the Americans.

The Elder Joseph (Chief Joseph’s father) was a strong supporter of peace

with whites. In 1855 the Elder Joseph signed a treaty that helped set up a Nez

Percé reservation. This reservation stretched from Oregon to Idaho. After a gold
rush into the Nez Percé territory, in 1863 the Government took back almost 6

million acres of this land. This made the reservation confined to Idaho. The Elder

Joseph felt betrayed and destroyed both the American Flag and his Bible. He

also refused to leave or move his tribe from the Wallowa Valley. The Elder

Joseph died in 1871 and Joseph the Younger succeeded him. His last words to

Young Joseph were "This country holds your father's body. Never sell the bones

of your father and your mother."

When Joseph the Younger’s father died he inherited both the name and

the situation in which his father had made. Chief Joseph maintained a

questionable peace between his tribesmen and the ever-expanding white

population. Chief Joseph resisted any and all attempts to force his band into the

Idaho territory. Then, in 1873 a federal order to remove white settlers and let the

Nez Percé stay was issued. But in 1877, when two settlers murdered a young

Nez Perce man things in the area became tension filled. Soon after in 1877

General Oliver Otis Howard threatened to attack if any bands were holding out

and still refusing to leave. Fearing that his tribe could not take on the whites he

had no choice but to comply. He gave the Nez Percé only 30 days to leave their


This forced Joseph to lead his people toward Idaho. During the next 30

days the Indians gathered up all their herds of cattle and horses. They headed

with them to the reservation. While crossing the river many of the cattle turned
and ran back to safety. While Chief Joseph was back gathering the cattle, three

of his warriors left the camp and started fires in the settlers homes. Eighteen

people were killed. When Chief Joseph then refused to be removed Calvary were

sent to deal with the situation. The Indians then performed one of the most

brilliant retreats in military history.

On their retreat the Indians had the knowledge of how to find easy food

such as berries. This gave them an advantage over the soldiers who carried

heavy food loads. The first battle resulted in the U.S. Military losing thirty-four

men and the Nez Percé losing none. The Nez Percé proved to be remarkable

marksman. The U.S army had thousands of soldiers and Joseph knew they

would just keep coming. Therefore, he decided to head on a fifteen hundred mile

march to Canada.

The Indians crossed the Yellowstone Park and River, attempting to

escape into British territory. They were followed closely by Howard. In the battle

that occurred near the mouth of Eagle Creek six chiefs and twenty-five warriors

were killed, and thirty-eight men wounded. Two officers and twenty-one men

were killed and four officers and thirty-eight men wounded on the side of the

pursuers. The whole camp of about four hundred and fifty men, women, and

children fell into Colonel Miles' hands. General Howard, who wasn’t present

during the battle, reached the battlefield just in time for the surrender. The

Indians were then exiled to the Kansas territory. Three hundred managed to
escape but eighty-seven the Indians were only a mere forty miles away from

Canada where they would be free from American oppression. This is where

Chief Joseph’s famous speech was spoken. He said, “I am tired of fighting. Our

chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men

are all dead. It is the young men who say, "Yes" or "No." He who led the young

men [Olikut] is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are

freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have

no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are -- perhaps freezing to death.

I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find.

Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My

heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more


Even though Chief Joseph was defeated he still fought for his people.

Being the good writer and speaker he was, he wrote letters to government

officials as high up as President Rutherford B. Hayes. These attempts proved to

be unsuccessful.

In 1904, Chief Joseph died on the Colville Reservation. He was said to

have died of a broken heart. The Great Chief’s spirit lives on through his words

and peaceful ideas of ways of living.