''Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt'' (or ''Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it'' in Americanist
orthography), popularly known as Chief Joseph, Young Joseph, or Joseph the Younger (March 3, 1840 – September 21, 1904), was a leader of the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of Nez Perce
, a Native American
tribe of the interior Pacific Northwest
region of the United States
, in the latter half of the 19th century. He succeeded his father Tuekakas
(Chief Joseph the Elder) in the early 1870s.
Chief Joseph led his band of Nez Perce during the most tumultuous period in their history, when they were forcibly removed
by the United States federal government
from their ancestral lands in the Wallowa Valley
of northeastern Oregon
onto a significantly reduced reservation
in the Idaho Territory
. A series of violent encounters with white settlers in the spring of 1877 culminated in those Nez Perce who resisted removal, including Joseph's band and an allied band of the Palouse
tribe, to flee the United States in an attempt to reach political asylum
alongside the Lakota people
, who had sought refuge in Canada
under the leadership of Sitting Bull
At least 700 men, women, and children led by Joseph and other Nez Perce chiefs were pursued by the U.S. Army
under General Oliver O. Howard
in a fighting retreat known as the Nez Perce War
. The skill with which the Nez Perce fought and the manner in which they conducted themselves in the face of incredible adversity earned them widespread admiration from their military opponents and the American public, and coverage of the war in U.S. newspapers
led to popular recognition of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce.
In October 1877, after months of fugitive resistance, most of the surviving remnants of Joseph's band were cornered in northern Montana Territory
, just from the Canadian border. Unable to fight any longer, Chief Joseph surrendered to the Army with the understanding that he and his people would be allowed to return to the reservation in western Idaho. He was instead transported between various forts and reservations on the southern Great Plains before being moved to the Colville Indian Reservation
in the state of Washington
, where he died in 1904.
Chief Joseph's life remains iconic of the American Indian Wars
. For his passionate, principled resistance to his tribe's forced removal, Joseph became renowned as a humanitarian
Chief Joseph was born ''Hinmuuttu-yalatlat'' (alternatively ''Hinmaton-Yalaktit'' or ''Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt'' Nez Perce
: "Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain"], or ''Hinmatóoyalahtq'it'' Thunder traveling to higher areas"
in the Wallowa Valley
of northeastern Oregon
. He was known as Young Joseph during his youth because his father, Tuekakas
, was baptized with the same Christian name and later become known as "Old Joseph" or "Joseph the Elder".
While initially hospitable to the region's white settlers, Joseph the Elder grew wary when they demanded more Indian lands. Tensions grew as the settlers appropriated traditional Indian lands for farming and livestock. Isaac Stevens
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 the Treaty of Walla Walla
, with the United States establishing a Nez Perce reservation encompassing in present-day Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. The 1855 reservation maintained much of the traditional Nez Perce lands, including Joseph's Wallowa Valley. It is recorded that the elder Joseph requested that Young Joseph protect their 7.7-million-acre homeland, and guard his father's burial place.
In 1863, however, an influx of new settlers, attracted by a gold rush
, led the government to call a second council. Government commissioners asked the Nez Perce to accept a new, much smaller reservation of situated around the village of Lapwai
in western Idaho Territory
, and excluding the Wallowa Valley.
In exchange, they were promised financial rewards, schools, and a hospital for the reservation. Chief Lawyer
and one of his allied chiefs signed the treaty on behalf of the Nez Perce Nation, but Joseph the Elder and several other chiefs were opposed to selling their lands and did not sign.
Their refusal to sign caused a rift between the "non-treaty" and "treaty" bands of Nez Perce. The "treaty" Nez Perce moved within the new reservation's boundaries, while the "non-treaty" Nez Perce remained on their ancestral lands. Joseph the Elder demarcated Wallowa land with a series of poles, proclaiming, "Inside this boundary all our people were born. It circles the graves of our fathers, and we will never give up these graves to any man."
Leadership of the Nez Perce
Joseph the Younger succeeded his father as leader of the Wallowa band in 1871. Before his death, the latter counseled his son:
Joseph commented: "I clasped my father's hand and promised to do as he asked. A man who would not defend his father's grave is worse than a wild beast."
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 the hope of securing peace. A handwritten document mentioned in the Oral History of the Grande Ronde recounts an 1872 experience by Oregon pioneer Henry Young and two friends in search of acreage at Prairie Creek, east of Wallowa Lake. Young's party was surrounded by 40–50 Nez Perce led by Chief Joseph. The Chief told Young that white men were not welcome near Prairie Creek, and Young's party was forced to leave without violence.
In 1873, Joseph negotiated with the federal government to ensure his people could stay on their land in the Wallowa Valley. But in 1877, the government reversed its policy, and Army General Oliver O. Howard
threatened to attack if the Wallowa band did not relocate to the Idaho reservation with the other Nez Perce. Joseph reluctantly agreed. Before the outbreak of hostilities, General Howard held a council at Fort Lapwai
to try to convince Joseph and his people to relocate. Joseph finished his address to the general, which focused on human equality, by expressing his "isbelief 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, interpreting the statement as a challenge to his authority. When Toohoolhoolzote
protested, he was jailed for five days.
The day following the council, Joseph, White Bird
, and Looking Glass
all accompanied Howard to examine different areas within the reservation. Howard offered them a plot of land that was inhabited by whites and Native Americans, promising to clear out the current residents. Joseph and his chieftains refused, adhering to their tribal tradition of not taking what did not belong to them. Unable to find any suitable uninhabited land on the reservation, Howard informed Joseph that his people had 30 days to collect their livestock and move to the reservation. Joseph pleaded for more time, but Howard told him he would consider their presence in the Wallowa Valley beyond the 30-day mark an act of war.
Returning home, Joseph called a council among his people. At the council, he spoke on behalf of peace, preferring to abandon his father's grave over war. Toohoolhoolzote, insulted by his incarceration, advocated war. In June 1877, the Wallowa band began making preparations for the long journey to the reservation, meeting first with other bands at Rocky Canyon. At this council, too, many leaders urged war, while Joseph continued to argue 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 retaliated by killing four white settlers. Still hoping to avoid further bloodshed, Joseph and other non-treaty Nez Perce leaders began moving people away from Idaho.
Nez Perce War
The U.S. Army's pursuit of about 750 Nez Perce and a small allied band of the Palouse
tribe, led by Chief Joseph and others, as they attempted to escape from Idaho became known as the Nez Perce War
. Initially they had hoped to take refuge with the Crow Nation
in the Montana Territory
, but when the Crow refused to grant them aid, the Nez Perce went north in an attempt to obtain asylum with the Lakota
band led by Sitting Bull
, who had fled to Canada following the Great Sioux War
in 1876. In ''Hear Me, My Chiefs!: Nez Perce Legend and History'', Lucullus V. McWhorter argues that the Nez Perce were a peaceful people that were forced into war by the United States when their land was stolen from them. McWhorter interviewed and befriended Nez Perce warriors such as Yellow Wolf
, who stated, "Our hearts have always been in the valley of the Wallowa".
Robert Forczyk states in his book ''Nez Perce 1877: The Last Fight'' that the tipping point of the war was that "Joseph responded that his clan's traditions would not allow him to cede the Wallowa Valley".
The band led by Chief Joseph never signed the treaty moving them to the Idaho reservation. General Howard, who was dispatched to deal with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce, tended to believe the Nez Perce were right about the treaty: "the new treaty finally agreed upon excluded the Wallowa, and vast regions besides".
For over three months, the Nez Perce deftly outmaneuvered and battled their pursuers, traveling more than across present-day Oregon
, and Montana
. One of those battles was led by Captain Perry and two cavalry companies of the U.S. Army led by Captain Trimble and Lieutenant Theller, who engaged Chief Joseph and his people at White Bird Canyon
on June 17, 1877. The Nez Perce repelled the attack, killing 34 soldiers, while suffering only three Nez Perce wounded. The Nez Perce continued to repel the Army's advances, eventually reaching the Clearwater River
, where they united with another Nez Perce chief, Looking Glass, and his group, bringing the size of their party to 740, though only 200 of these were warriors.
The final battle of the Nez Perce War occurred approximately 40 miles south of the Canadian border where the Nez Perce were camped on Snake Creek near the Bears Paw Mountains
, close to present-day Chinook
in Blaine County, Montana
. A U.S. Army detachment commanded by General Nelson A. Miles
and accompanied by Cheyenne
scouts intercepted the Nez Perce on September 30 at the Battle of Bear Paw
. After his initial attacks were repelled, Miles violated a truce and captured Chief Joseph; however, he would later be forced to exchange Chief Joseph for one of his captured officers.
General Howard arrived on October 3, leading the opposing cavalry, and was impressed with the skill with which the Nez Perce fought, using advance and rear guards, skirmish lines, and field fortifications. Following a devastating five-day siege during freezing weather, with no food or blankets and the major war leaders dead, Chief Joseph formally surrendered
to General Miles on the afternoon of October 5, 1877. The battle is remembered in popular history by the words attributed to Joseph at the formal surrender:
The popular legend deflated, however, when the original pencil draft of the report was revealed to show the handwriting of the later poet and lawyer Lieutenant Charles Erskine Scott Wood
, who claimed to have taken down the great chief's words on the spot. In the margin it read, "Here insert Joseph's reply to the demand for surrender".
Although Joseph was not technically a war chief and probably did not command the retreat, many of the chiefs who did had died. His speech brought attention, and therefore credit, his way. He earned the praise of General William Tecumseh Sherman
and became known in the press as "The Red Napoleon
". However, as Francis Haines argues in ''Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Warrior'', the battlefield successes of the Nez Perce during the war were due to the individual successes of the Nez Perce men and not that of the fabled military genius of Chief Joseph. Haines supports his argument by citing L. V. McWhorter, who concluded "that Chief Joseph was not a military man at all, that on the battlefield he was without either skill or experience". Furthermore, Merle Wells argues in ''The Nez Perce and Their War'' that the interpretation of the Nez Perce War of 1877 in military terms as used in the United States Army's account distorts the actions of the Nez Perce. Wells supports his argument: "The use of military concepts and terms is appropriate when explaining what the whites were doing, but these same military terms should be avoided when referring to Indian actions; the United States use of military terms such as 'retreat' and 'surrender' has created a distorted perception of the Nez Perce War, to understand this may lend clarity to the political and military victories of the Nez Perce."
By the time Joseph had surrendered, 150 of his followers had been killed or wounded. Their plight, however, did not end. Although Joseph had negotiated with Miles and Howard for a safe return home for his people, General Sherman overruled this decision and forced Joseph and 400 followers to be taken on unheated rail cars to Fort Leavenworth
, in eastern Kansas, where they were held in a prisoner of war
campsite for eight months. Toward the end of the following summer, the surviving Nez Perce were taken by rail to a reservation in the Indian Territory
); they lived there for seven years. Many of them died of epidemic diseases while there.
In 1879, Chief Joseph went to Washington, D.C.
to meet with President Rutherford B. Hayes
and plead his people's case. Although Joseph was respected as a spokesman, opposition in Idaho prevented the U.S. government from granting his petition to return to the Pacific Northwest
. Finally, in 1885, Chief Joseph and his followers were granted permission to return to the Pacific Northwest to settle on the reservation around Kooskia, Idaho
. Instead, Joseph and others were taken to the Colville Indian Reservation
in Nespelem, Washington
, far from both their homeland in the Wallowa Valley and the rest of their people in Idaho.
Joseph continued to lead his Wallowa band on the Colville Reservation, at times coming into conflict with the leaders of the 11 other unrelated tribes also living on the reservation. Chief Moses
of the Sinkiuse-Columbia
, in particular, resented having to cede a portion of his people's lands to Joseph's people, who had "made war on the Great Father".
In his last years, Joseph spoke eloquently against the injustice of United States policy toward his people and held out the hope that America's promise of freedom and equality might one day be fulfilled for Native Americans as well. In 1897, he visited Washington, D.C. again to plead his case. He rode with Buffalo Bill
in a parade honoring former President Ulysses Grant
in New York City, but he was a topic of conversation for his traditional headdress more than his mission.
In 1903, Chief Joseph visited Seattle
, a booming young town, where he stayed in the Lincoln Hotel as guest to Edmond Meany
, a history professor at the University of Washington
. It was there that he also befriended Edward Curtis
, the photographer, who took one of his most memorable and well-known photographs. Joseph also visited President Theodore Roosevelt
in Washington, D.C. the same year. Everywhere he went, it was to make a plea for what remained of his people to be returned to their home in the Wallowa Valley, but it never happened.
An indomitable voice of conscience for the West, still in exile from his homeland, Chief Joseph died on September 21, 1904, according to his doctor, "of a broken heart".
Meany and Curtis helped Joseph's family bury their chief near the village of Nespelem, Washington
, where many of his tribe's members still live.
The Chief Joseph band of Nez Perce who still live on the Colville Reservation bear his name in tribute.
Notable dramatic works
*''I Will Fight No More Forever'' (1975), an historical drama film starring Ned Romero.
*''Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson'' (1976), Robert Altman's revisionist Western film based on the Broadway play ''Indians''.
*From 1969 to 1970, actor George Mitchell played Chief Joseph on Broadway in the play ''Indians''.
*Merrill Beal's ''I Will Fight No More Forever: Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War'' (2000) was received positively both regionally and nationally.
*Chief Joseph is portrayed sympathetically in Will Henry's novel of the Nez Perce War, ''From Where the Sun Now Stands'' (1959). The book won the 1960 Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Novel of the West.
*Helen Hunt Jackson recorded one early Oregon settler's tale of her encounter with Joseph in her ''Glimpses of California and the Missions'' (1902):
*In the children's fiction book, ''Thunder Rolling in the Mountains'', by Newbery medalist Scott O'Dell and Elizabeth Hall, the story of Chief Joseph is told by Joseph's daughter, Sound of Running Feet.
*The saga of Chief Joseph is depicted in Robert Penn Warren's poem "Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce" (1982).
*Chief Joseph appears in The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost. In his speech, Chief Joseph says that he visited "the place known to our is tribe'sancestors, seldom visited, the place of smoke by the great falls and twin mountains, to seek the aid of the Great Spirit Chief in this time of need" in a speech he gives to his people before the retreat, in 1877. Thus he's important to the novel because he is the leader of the Nez Perce, the people who keep the peace in the woods of the Pacific Northwest (Twin Peaks) before the settlers flood in and industrialize the area.
Multiple manmade and natural geographic features have been named for Joseph, such as:
*Chief Joseph middle school in Richland, WA
* Chief Joseph Elementary School in Portland, OR
*A statue of Young Chief Joseph in Enterprise, Oregon
*A wall-mounted quote by Joseph in The American Adventure in the World Showcase pavilion of Walt Disney World's Epcot
*Chief Joseph Pass in Montana
*Chief Joseph Elementary School in Great Falls, Montana.
*The city of Joseph, Oregon, home of Chief Joseph Days festival.
*Joseph Canyon, in northern Wallowa County, Oregon, and southern Asotin County, Washington
*Joseph Creek, on the Oregon–Washington border
*Chief Joseph Scenic Byway in Wyoming
*Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River in Washington, the second-largest hydroelectric power producer in the U.S. and the only dam in the Northwest named after an American Indian
*Chief Joseph is depicted on previously issued $200 Series I U.S. savings bonds
Tributes in music
Swedish country pop group Rednex sampled a part of his famous speech in their 2000 single ''The Spirit of the Hawk,'' which became a worldwide hit.
In 1983, Fred Small released "The Heart of the Appaloosa".
In July 2012, Chief Joseph's 1870s war shirt was sold to a private collection for the sum of $877,500.
Halls of fame
In 1973, he was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
* Aoki, Haruo (1994). ''Nez Perce Dictionary''. University of California Publications in Linguistics, Volume 122. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
* Chief Joseph
''Chief Joseph's Own Story''
Originally published in the ''North American Review'', April 1879.
* Henry, Will (1976). ''From Where the Sun Now Stands''. New York: Bantam Books. .
* Nerburn, Kent (2005). ''Chief Joseph & the Flight of the Nez Perce: The Untold Story of an American Tragedy''. HarperOne. .
''Today in History: October 5''
U.S. Library of Congress
Friends of the Bear Paw, Big Hole & Canyon Creek Battlefields
- University of Washington Library
A Personal Web Tribute
– Idaho Indian Tribes Project – Nez Perce
– Political elements of Nez Perce history during the mid-1800s
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