The Crushing of an Indian Nation:

Chief Joseph Leads the Nez Perce to Destruction












BY: Marshall Clark
November 16, 1998
The Crushing of an Indian Nation:
Chief Joseph Leads the Nez Perce to Destruction

In 1855, the Nez Perce Nation entered into a treaty with the government of the United States giving it most of its native lands, a total of about 28 million acres. But within a few years, the area was under pressure from settlement and a gold rush. In 1863, the government forced them to give up almost 90% of their lands, leaving them with the Wallowa valley in a remote portion of northeastern Oregon.
Chief Joseph was born in the Wallowa Valley in about 1840, the son of an elder Chief Joseph. He was named Hinmahtooyahlatkekht which means "Rolling thunder in the mountains". He was more commonly known by his name Joseph. The pressures of settlement and the gold rush continued. Before this problem could be solved Elder Joseph died. Upon the death of his father, young Joseph was elected chief of his people.
The United States again insisted that the treaty be modified and that the Nez Perce relocate to a new reservation in Idaho. Even though they did not sign the treaty, by 1877, their young chief Joseph, had decided that they were forced to comply with the orders of the United States.
He and his people were terribly upset with the need to move to lands outside of their native land, to a reservation. They believed that they were being changed from free men to prisoners. About 20 enraged warriors were so mad about losing their land that they planned a raid on a white camp. They killed several whites. The government sent an army unit to catch the Nez Perce tribe.
The Nez Perce then went on a route to Canada where they would be free from the US government. Chief Joseph led them on a retreat that was one of the most brilliant military retreats ever thought of. Along the way, Joseph led his people in battle three times; each time they won. As Chief Joseph led the Nez Perce in courageous battles; he not only gave commands on what to do in the fight he also fought with his tribe members in all of the battles.
This journey was over eighteen hundred miles long. Finally, just forty miles from the Canadian border, their goal, in the Bear Paw mountains, they were stopped in the final battle. Two chiefs were killed, all of the old men had died, the leader of the young men was killed. When they could not win the battle at Bear Paw mountain, they surrendered on October 15, 1877. In sadness, Chief Joseph said, "From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."
The amazing thing about this journey and all of the battles along the way is that the Nez Perce tribe's band only had seven hundred people in it. Less then two hundred of this band were soldiers. That means the rest of the band, which was about five hundred people were women, children and old men. That slowed them down tremendously. When the people started to get weak and sick Chief Joseph refused to leave them behind, so their pace was the pace of the slowest person in the tribe. If Chief Joseph would have left some of the sick people behind like they wanted to, the Nez Perce probably would have made it all the way to the Canadian border and to freedom.
When they surrendered at Bear Paw, they were told that they would be taken back to their homes. They were not taken to their homes or any where near their homes. They were taken to Kansas for a while. Then they were taken to Oklahoma. While going in between the places many of the tribe people got epidemic diseases and died.
Later, Chief Joseph was allowed to go to Washington DC to plead his case to the President of the United States. He and his tribe were sent home, but more than half of them were sent to non Nez Perce reservations where they spent the rest of their lives. He spent his time speaking about how the government treated his tribe