Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce
Known to his people as "Thunder Traveling to the Loftier Mountain Heights."
About this page
This page is locked. Want to contribute to this page? Contact bgill
Nez Perce (Nimiputimt)
A long time ago, the Nimipu people were not many in number
"I have heard talk and talk, but nothing is done. Good words do not last long unless they amount to something. Words do not pay for my dead people. They do not pay for my country, now overrun by white men. Good words will not give my people good health and stop them from dying. Good words will not get my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves. I am TIRED of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and broken promises.
I believe much trouble and blood would be saved if we opened our hearts more. I will tell you in my way how the Indian sees things. The white man has more words to tell you how they look to him, but it does not require many words to speak the truth.
If the white man wants to live in peace with the indian...we can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike.... give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who is born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. We only ask an even chance to live as other men live. We ask to be recognized as men. Let me be a free man...free to travel... free to stop...free to work...free to choose my own teachers...free to follow the religion of my Fathers...free to think and talk and act for myself."
Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Ta Hool Hool Shute is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men 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 forever.
Chief Joseph - Thunder Traveling to the Loftier Mountain Heights - 1877
"I am tired of fighting.... from where the sun now stands, I will fight no more.
Nez Perce Literature & Quotes
"m_lac "_te tit_qan nim_pu hiw_ke waq_pa"
(A long time ago, the Nimipu people were not many in number)
"Indian people are still here. We are not going away.
It is time that the newcomers to this country started paying proper respect to the elder status of the first nations."
Otis Halfmoon, Nez Perce
"The earth is our mother. She should not be disturbed by hoe or plough. We want only to subsist on what she freely gives us."
"Every animal knows more than you do. White men have too many chiefs. Learn how to talk, then learn how to teach."
The man who became a national celebrity with the name "Chief Joseph" was born in the Wallowa Valley in what is now northeastern Oregon in 1840. He was given the name Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, or Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain, but was widely known as Joseph, or Joseph the Younger, because his father had taken the Christian name Joseph when he was baptized at the Lapwai mission by Henry Spalding in 1838.
Joseph the Elder was one of the first Nez Percé converts to Christianity and an active supporter of the tribe's longstanding peace with whites. In 1855 he even helped Washington's territorial governor set up a Nez Percé reservation that stretched from Oregon into Idaho. But in 1863, following a gold rush into Nez Percé territory, the federal government took back almost six million acres of this land, restricting the Nez Percé to a reservation in Idaho that was only one tenth its prior size. Feeling himself betrayed, Joseph the Elder denounced the United States, destroyed his American flag and his Bible, and refused to move his band from the Wallowa Valley or sign the treaty that would make the new reservation boundaries official.
When his father died in 1871, Joseph was elected to succeed him. He inherited not only a name but a situation made increasingly volatile as white settlers continued to arrive in the Wallowa Valley. Joseph staunchly resisted all efforts to force his band onto the small Idaho reservation, and in 1873 a federal order to remove white settlers and let his people remain in the Wallowa Valley made it appear that he might be successful. But the federal government soon reversed itself, and in 1877 General Oliver Otis Howard threatened a cavalry attack to force Joseph's band and other hold-outs onto the reservation. Believing military resistance futile, Joseph reluctantly led his people toward Idaho.
Unfortunately, they never got there. About twenty young Nez Percé warriors, enraged at the loss of their homeland, staged a raid on nearby settlements and killed several whites. Immediately, the army began to pursue Joseph's band and the others who had not moved onto the reservation. Although he had opposed war, Joseph cast his lot with the war leaders.
What followed was one of the most brilliant military retreats in American history. Even the unsympathetic General William Tecumseh Sherman could not help but be impressed with the 1,400 mile march, stating that "the Indians throughout displayed a courage and skill that elicited universal praise... [they] fought with almost scientific skill, using advance and rear guards, skirmish lines, and field fortifications." In over three months, the band of about 700, fewer than 200 of whom were warriors, fought 2,000 U.S. soldiers and Indian auxiliaries in four major battles and numerous skirmishes.
By the time he formally surrendered on October 5, 1877, Joseph was widely referred to in the American press as "the Red Napoleon." It is unlikely, however, that he played as critical a role in the Nez Percé's military feat as his legend suggests. He was never considered a war chief by his people, and even within the Wallowa band, it was Joseph's younger brother, Olikut, who led the warriors, while Joseph was responsible for guarding the camp. It appears, in fact, that Joseph opposed the decision to flee into Montana and seek aid from the Crows and that other chiefs -- Looking Glass and some who had been killed before the surrender -- were the true strategists of the campaign. Nevertheless, Joseph's widely reprinted surrender speech has immortalized him as a military leader in American popular culture:
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 forever.
Joseph's fame did him little good. Although he had surrendered with the understanding that he would be allowed to return home, Joseph and his people were instead taken first to eastern Kansas and then to a reservation in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) where many of them died of epidemic diseases. Although he was allowed to visit Washington, D.C., in 1879 to plead his case to U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes, it was not until 1885 that Joseph and the other refugees were returned to the Pacific Northwest. Even then, half, including Joseph, were taken to a non-Nez Percé reservation in northern Washington, separated from the rest of their people in Idaho and their homeland in the Wallowa Valley.
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. An indomitable voice of conscience for the West, he died in 1904, still in exile from his homeland, according to his doctor "of a broken heart."
Chief Joseph by Brookie Craig
Chief Joseph, was kept captive, never being allowed to return to his Nez Pearce Homeland even though General Miles promised he could live in Idaho. Chief Joseph is buried on the Colville Reservation in Washington and today I visited his grave to do ceremony.
The small village there consists of one gas station....very few houses and no businesses...very desolate in a unforgiving country of arid, desert surroundings. His grave sits on a small hill....surrounded by others of the People...most without headstones, but some with small rocks marking their final resting place.
I find him easily, sensing to know exactly where to go...and he is buried under the only tree in the cemetery....a sort of gnarled, broken, old, withered tree....A marker is there, furnished by Western Washington University in 1906, a few months after he died in 1905 at the age of 60, alone and forgotten by most of that time.
A sense of profound sadness captures me as I sit by the neglected grave of one of our People's greatest Leaders...Long ago items, now withered and decaying....left by those who do now remember his greatness, scattered in disarray, cluttering the ground in their glory to him.
Arrows..beads...plastic roses..feathers...strips of decaying cloths....a Colville Reservation emblem jacket, hanging on the tree...a bic lighter...many cigarettes stained by rains, or teardrops...a plastic water bottle....a priceless bone necklace draped on the tombstone...rocks....hand drawn pictures...private written messages held down by rocks....and countless coins, strewn all around broken vases holding stems of sage.
No one seems to clean up around it. It bothers me to know that this great leader is neglected as I sit caressed in the cool shadows of that ancient tree and I try to understand it all.
I notice that they even buried him facing West and not East towards his homeland....I weep...my tears joining countless unknown others who have felt the pain there. I tell him I hope he has found his peace....and the winds begin to come. Another there with me, who is watching from a respectful distance tells me later I have spoken aloud..."He is here."
The winds become stronger and he tells me later that they suddenly change direction, coming from the North...the direction they captured and brought him here from.
The light is dimming....I look up...and shade my eyes, looking over the horizon hills....seeing in my heart his figure on a pony. Silently I watch....and continue with the sage and cedar....and feel an overwhelming sense of sacredness like I have never felt before. I look up in the overhanging branches and see the long deserted birds nest...and the sky shows clear. Through its twigs I see the Nez Perce in their long retreat....fighting...struggling to reach freedom and asylum with Sitting Bull across the Border in Canada...for 105 days...always moving...700 people...women, children...elderly...walking 1,800 miles...only to be captured within 50 miles of their destination and freedom. Captured only because he was forced to surrender, refusing to leave the sick and dying of his People there, alone.
I remember that his tactics were so brilliant they are taught to this day at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.....and as I clear the decay from the ground which holds him captive, my heart remembers his words, "From where this sun now stands, I shall fight no more forever."
I watch the sun leaving me....and the shadow of this warrior falls back into the mountains. I touch the ground which caresses him....and weep for a man who believed in the goodness of others....who wanted nothing more than freedom....who was so great that an entire People walked those tortuous miles in freezing sleet and snows... who was never allowed to see his home again....and these words come strong to my heart to share with you... spoken from that sacred place:
"We live, we die, and like the grass and trees, renew ourselves from the soft clods of the grave. Stones crumble and decay, faiths grow old and they are forgotten but new beliefs are born. The faith of the villages is dust now...but it will grow again....like the trees. May serenity circle on silent wings and catch the whisper of the winds."
I turn and leave honor in my farewell as the shadows take him back....Now I shall miss him....even more.
Harper's Weekly, August 16, 1890 Volume 34.
The remnant of the Nez Perces to which Joseph belongs are now on a portion of the Cherokee Reservation, purchased in 1878 from the Cherokees. It is a square containing about 91,000 acres, lying across the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River, just above that which was bought for the Poncas. They have the Poncas on the east, and the Otoes and Missourias on the southeast. Kansas lies well to the north, and one crosses the big Osage Reservation when approaching it from the eastward. After their capitulation to General Miles in 1877, the remnant of the tribe, numbering 431 souls, were taken to Fort Leavenworth, where the location of their camp was so unhealthy that they lost many by disease. They were removed to their reservation on the Salt Fork in 1879, whence it has been proposed to move them again, in pursuance of the hand-to-hand policy which has affected Cherokees, Osages, and other larger nations in their gradual removal to the West before the swarming settlers. It was probably because of business relating to the further removal of the Indians that Chief Joseph came within range of our sculptor, and found himself immortalized in clay. Though he had ridden hard for many days to reach head-quarters, the old chief was fresh and alert. But, curiously enough, he found that sitting for his portrait was quite a different task from sitting a horse. Mr. Warner says that it wearied Chief Joseph exceedingly, far more than it does white men who are much less vigorous.
The Nez Perces belonged in what is now the State of Idaho, and the greater part of the tribe remained on reservations in that Territory. A few years ago several thousands were flourishing in the northern part of the Territory, having farms, schools, and churches. Other accounts make them out as debased by drink and the vices of white adventurers. A minority of the Nez Perces never agreed to the cession of their lands, and occupied the army for some months at various times in making them submit. The name given the Nez Perces by the French coureurs de bois is singularly inappropriate, as they do not mutilate their noses, and seem never to have done so as a tribe, whatever may have been the fashion in some branch of their kindred. The Sahaptins, for example, who have given the name to a congeries of tribes including the Nez Perces, are said to have bored the nose in order to carry a nose ornament like the Hindoo women and some tribes of Brazil.
Chief Joseph calls himself Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekht, and the tribe is said to use Numepo as their preferred title, though nomenclature among Indians is a parlous thing, many names at the same time and different names at different epochs being the fashion with them individually and in the mass. He is a very high type of Indian as regards brains and courage, but he possesses many of the peculiarities of the savage. His eyes are dull and his features stolid as a rule, but if a bird passes, an animal makes a sound in the bush, an insect comes within earshot or eyesight, something happens in that vacant look. Things that we do not regard have hidden meanings to him, either in connection with the weather, or by reason of superstitions which link certain results with certain appearances, or because the sight of one animal or insect has to do with the presence or the absence of another. The sculptor says that only when some beast, bird, or insect was in sight did the old chief look the warrior and the Indian. When that was gone he relapsed into the apparently unthinking state of an animal, and showed very plainly that to remain in one position while the clay was modelling itself under the artist's fingers was a penance greater than to wait immovable for hours until game revealed itself or an enemy crept in sight.
Chief Joseph belongs to the light-colored Indians. As most people are aware, the native races vary in tint from a brown that approaches the blackness of a negro to a light coffee-color not so dark as many Europeans. The Quichuas of Peru are very black, and the Heidahs of Queen Charlotte and Blackfeet of the Saskatchewan are fair. The Pammas of Brazil are lighter than many Spaniards and Portuguese, while the Iroquois and Algonquin tribes are coppery or light brown. But what is often overlooked is the apparent unimportance of climate on the color of the Indians under the arctic circle or at the equator. Were it not for the broad plaits of hair and absence of beard, giving to Chief Joseph that curious resemblance, in our eyes, to an old woman which we see in so many Indians, the face might be that of a European. As heavy lips, as bent a nose, as high a cheek-bone, may be seen in any crowd of white men. The forehead is good, and the brain cavity ample. In sailors and woodsmen we find the same close-lipped, somewhat saturnine expression.
On the artistic side one may note how Mr. Warner has felt the building up of the cranium and jaw, and how strongly yet subtly he has modelled the texture of the face. From the inscription the marks of quotation might well be spared at the words Joseph and Nez Perce, while the word Indians itself might be criticised as redundant.
Chief Joseph, as we all know, had a claim to the Wallowa Valley in Oregon, dating from the Stevens treaty in 1855, and conceded again to him and his tribe of about 500 Indians in 1873 by General Grant, while the latter was President. Two years later the concession of June 16, 1873, was revoked, and the Wallowa Valley was thrown into the public domain along with all of Oregon west of the Snake River. In 1877 it was determined to remove the Nez Perces from Oregon to the reservation in Idaho, and General Howard reported that they had agreed to go, not willingly, but under constraint. Some whites were killed, and Chief White Bird sent word that he would not remove, whereupon an unequal war began between retreating bands of Nez Perces and companies of United States cavalry, aided by volunteers. The Indians crossed the Yellowstone Park and River, endeavoring to escape into British territory, but were followed closely by Howard, and headed off by General, then Colonel Miles. In the battle that ensued near the mouth of Eagle Creek 6 chiefs and 25 warriors were killed, and 38 men wounded. Two officers and 21 men were killed and 4 officers and 38 men wounded on the side of the pursuers. The whole camp of about 450 men, women, and children fell into Colonel Miles's hands. General Howard reached the battle-field just in time to be present at the surrender.
Chief Joseph conducted this retreat with very extraordinary skill. He beat Colonel Gibbon with 15 officers, 146 troopers, and 34 volunteers, though with much loss of men. He stampeded General Howard's horses and pack-train, fought Colonel Sturgis on the Yellowstone River, losing many horses, and came very near making good his retreat to British America. Of this campaign General Sherman has said: "The Indians throughout displayed a courage and skill that elicited universal praise; they abstained from scalping; let captive women go free; did not commit indiscriminate murder of peaceful families, which is usual; and fought with almost scientific skill, using advance and rear guards, skirmish lines, and field fortifications." These facts only make harder the fate that awaited them, for it shows that no forbearance, no bravery and generalship, are able to win for Indians justice. The right of the Nez Perces to the Wallowa Valley was perfect, and the killing of four white men possibly but not certainly by Indians was made the pretext of hunting them down and letting them die of disease at Fort Leavenworth. By neglecting to provide means to prevent tyranny and land-grabbing on the part of its white citizens our government is constantly forced to violate the most solemn treaties, and confess itself unworthy of trust. The weakness and injustice of our dealing with Indians was never shown in a more picturesque and striking example than in our conduct toward this little section of the Nez Perces. It is only fair to say, however, that we have had recent examples in which the government realized that the nation has a duty to perform in protecting Indians against encroachments by white settlers, and the troops were used in a more honorable exploit than hunting down men with whom the nation had broken a solemn compact.
The Coming Of Chief Joseph
By Bruce A. Wilson
One day in December, 1885, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce arrived at Nespelem to spend the remaining 19 years of his life on Colville Indian Reservation. Historically, he is the most important figure ever to reside in Okanogan County.
With Joseph came about 120 other Nez Perces, all except the younger children veterans of a monumental retreat conducted during the summer of 1877.
For generations, Joseph’s band had lived in the Wallowa Mountains of Northeastern Oregon. Ordered to a reservation in Idaho, they were about to comply when a handful of younger braves ran amok, vengefully slaughtering 16 whites. Fearful of retribution, Joseph’s band and others began a meandering retreat, eventually moving toward sanctuary in Canada.
The Nez Perces numbered about 700. Of these, perhaps 150 were warriors. Encumbered by women, children and household goods, these 150 out-marched, outmaneuvered, and outfought an aggregate of 1,400 pursuing troops, trailing to within 50 miles of the Canadian border before yet another military column pinned them down, forcing them finally to give up.
The Nez Perce retreat of 1877 covered 1300 miles over 3 ½ months. Four major battles were fought-at White Bird Canyon, the Clearwater River, Big Hole, and the Bear Paw mountains in Montana. Col. Nelson A. Miles’ route which finally intercepted the Nez Perces and caused their surrender.
Joseph was not the Nez Perces’ war leader. More akin to Lincoln than Napoleon, he sought to preserve the fabric of the Nez Perce society and safeguard the horse herd on which everything depended. Older chiefs and veteran buffalo hunters made the strategic decisions.
Yet it was Joseph whose wisdom was ultimately accepted, and he who voiced the surrender.
"Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired, my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."
Some of the Nez Perces escaped into Canada. Surrendering with Joseph were 87 men, 184 women, 147 children. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, believing the early atrocities made it risky to return these survivors to the Northwest, confined them to "Indian territory" (Oklahoma) for seven years. More than a hundred died of a dismal diet, impure water, and a lack of medication.
With public pressure mounting, the Indian bureau in April, 1885, relented. Even then, only a portion were permitted to move to the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. Still fearing reprisals, the bureau insisted that Joseph and many leading warriors be assigned to the Colville Reservation in Washington Territory.
Their arrival was resented by local tribes who now had seen both Moses’ Columbias and Joseph’s Nez Perces injected into their traditional homelands. However, Moses became friendly with Joseph and the relationship between these two prominent figures helped considerably in easing some of the tensions.
Chief Joseph Memorials
In the town of Nespelem, is a memorial to Chief Joseph who was sent to the reservation in 1884 with 150 of his band of Nez Perce Indians.
Historic Park Includes Nespelem Grave site.
The final site of the future Nez Perce National Historic Park is located on the Colville Indian Reservation in Nespelem, northwest of Grand Coulee Dam.
The historical park, awaiting final congressional approval, consists of 38 geographically separate sites located on the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.
The Trail begins in Oregon at the Old Chief Joseph grave site, located near Joseph, Oregon.
The Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail is followed by many visitors from all over the world, who honor and respect Chief Joseph and his band of people.
Chief Joseph's band of Nez Perce is part of the Colville Confederated Tribes, whose reservation is in Okanogan and Ferry counties.
Some Frequently visited sites are:
1. Old Chief Joseph grave site. Final resting place of Chief Joseph's father is in a cemetery that is a national historic landmark. His grave site is sacred and sensitive for the Nez Perce people.
Old Chief Joseph's grave is marked by a tall stone marker bearing the legend, "To the Memory of Old Chief Joseph, Died 1870." The cemetery is separated from the highway by a cobble wall and gateposts built by the Umatilla Tribal Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938-40.
The site is located on Oregon Highway 82, one mile south of Joseph, Oregon.
2. Dug Bar. This was the traditional crossing site where the Chief Joseph band forded immediately before the 1877 Nez Perce War. Although they did not know it at the time, this treacherous crossing was the band's final farewell to its homeland.
3. The Lostine Campsite. Lostine is a traditional Nez Perce campsite at the historic junction of the Lostine and Wallowa Rivers. It is about 12 miles northwest of Enterprise, Oregon, just off Oregon Highway 82.
Old Chief Joseph died in this area in 1871 and his original grave site is nearby.
This campsite exemplifies the Nez Perce's long-term habitation in the Wallowa Valley.
4. The Nez Perce Cemetery. The cemetery located in Nespelem, is an active, traditional Nez Perce cemetery. It occupies about five acres.
The cemetery contains the remains of many participants of the Nez Perce War of 1877, including younger Chief Joseph and Yellow Wolf. It has an association with the return of the Joseph Band from exile in Oklahoma.
The site is administered by the Colville Confederated Tribes.
The cemetery is on a grassy knoll with a few trees. It is bordered on two sides by a residential area.
Those wishing to pay their respects are asked by members of the Nez Perce band to visit the roadside historic marker in Nespelem, and seek permission from the band to visit any other site in this sensitive area. Visitors are asked not to visit the grave site.
The cemetery holds the remains of many Nez Perce, including members of the Joseph Band and members allotted/enrolled on the Umatilla and Nez Perce reservations. A 1905 monument has been placed on Chief Joseph's grave site.
A number of historic grave markers date from throughout the 20th century. There also are many unmarked graves.
Only the Joseph Band, through the Colville Confederated Tribes, can decide what if anything should be done at this sacred and sensitive site.
Among the Nez Perce a great respect is attributed to the deceased and every effort is extended to insure protection of Chief Joseph's grave.
In 1928, the descendents of the Wallowa Band and Joseph's descendents got together to talk over the matter of protecting Chief Joseph's grave. It was decided that it should be moved to the edge of Wallowa Lake. When the family had exhumed the body, they had discovered Joseph's skull had been removed. They had suspected as much because of some rumored reports about it having been on display somehwere.
To this day, no one seems to know where it is. Several family members remember some names and people and it may yet be possible to find out where the skull is and who took it.
While I was working at the Wallowa-Whitman Nat Forest, a group of people were wanting to purchase land immediately adjacent to Old Joseph's grave site. The intent was to develop condos and such as the area next to the lake is the most prime land anywhere in northeast Oregon. Since that time, many others have joined in and want to cash in on the development.
It is certainly an understatement on my part to say that the Wallowa is sacred to my family and descendents of the Wallowa Band Nez Perce. That land contains the spirit of our people. Now it seems everybody wants to cash in on the Nez Perce history. When I think about it, I just get angry and I want to bite my tongue off for fear of saying bad things!
If people knew the true reasons why the whites wanted the Wallowa and pressured the government for the removal of the Nez Perce then they would understand the greed that now grips them.
Quotes from Chief Joseph
Our fathers gave us many laws, which they had learned from their fathers. These laws were good. They told us to treat all people as they treated us; that we should never be the first to break a bargain; that is was a disgrace to tell a lie; that we should speak only the truth; that it was a shame for one man to take another his wife or his property without paying for it.
We were contented to let things remain as the Great Spirit made them.
Suppose a white man should come to me and say, Joseph, I like your horses. I want to buy them. I say to him, No, my horses suit me; I will not sell them. Then he goes to my neighbor and says, Pay me money, and I will sell you Josephís horses.
The white man returns to me and says, Joseph, I have bought your horses and you must let me have them. If we sold our lands to the government, this is the way they bought them.
I am not a child, I think for myself. No man can think for me.
If you tie a horse to a stake, do you expect him to grow fat? If you pen an Indian up on a small spot of earth, and compel him to stay there, he will not be contented, nor will he grow and prosper.
The earth and myself are of one mind.
We were taught to believe that the Great Spirit sees and hears everything, and that he never forgets, that hereafter he will give every man a spirit home according to his deserts; If he has been a good man, he will have a good home; if he has been a bad man, he will have a bad home.
This I believe, and all my people believe the same.
Good words do not last long unless they amount to something. Words do not pay for my dead people. They do not pay for my country, now overrun by white men. They do not protect my fatherís grave. They do not pay for all my horses and cattle.
Good words cannot give me back my children. Good words will not give my people good health and stop them from dying. Good words will not get my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves.
I am tired of talk that comes to nothing It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk.
It does not require many words to speak the truth.
We do not want churches because they will teach us to quarrel about God, as the Catholics and Protestants do. We do not want that. We may quarrel with men about things on earth, but we never quarrel about the Great Spirit.
I believe much trouble and blood would be saved if we opened our hearts more. I will tell you in my way how the Indian sees things. The white man has more words to tell you how they look to him, but is does not require many words to seek the truth.
Too many misinterpretations have been made... too many misunderstandings...
The Great Spirit Chief who rules above all will smile upon this land... and this time the Indian race is waiting and praying.
If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian...we can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike.... give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who is born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. We only ask an even chance to live as other men live. We ask to be recognized as men. Let me be a free man...free to travel... free to stop...free to work...free to choose my own teachers...free to follow the religion of my Fathers...free to think and talk and act for myself."
Perhaps you think the Creator sent you here
to dispose of us as you see fit.
If I thought you were sent by the Creator,
I might be induced to think you had a right to dispose of me.
Do not misunderstand me, but understand fully
with reference to my affection for the land.
I never said the land was mine to do with as I choose.
The one who has a right to dispose of it is the one who has created it.
I claim a right to live on my land
and accord you the privilege to return to yours.
Brother, we have listened to your talk coming from the father in Washington,
and my people have called upon me to reply to you.
And in the winds which pass through these aged pines
we hear the moaning of their departed ghosts.
And if the voices of our people could have been heard,
that act would never have been done.
But alas, though they stood around,
they could neither be seen nor heard.
Their tears fell like dorps of rain.
I hear my voice in the depths of the forest,
but no answering voice comes back to me.
All is silent around me.
My words must therfore be few. I can say no more.
He is silent, for he has nothing to answer when the sun goes down.
Selected Statements and Speeches
The first white men of your people who came to our country were named Lewis and Clark. They brought many things which our people had never seen. They talked straight and our people gave them a great feast as proof that their hearts were friendly. They made presents to our chiefs and our people made presents to them. We had a great many horses of which we gave them what they needed, and they gave us guns and tobacco in return. All the Nez Perce made friends with Lewis and Clark and agreed to let them pass through their country and never to make war on white men. This promise the Nez Perce have never broken.
For a short time we lived quietly. But this could not last. White men had found gold in the mountains around the land of the Winding Water. They stole a great many horses from us and we could not get them back because we were Indians. The white men told lies for each other. They drove off a great many of our cattle. Some white men branded our young cattle so they could claim them. We had no friends who would plead our cause before the law councils. It seemed to me that some of the white men in Wallowa were doing these things on purpose to get up a war. They knew we were not stong enough to fight them. I labored hard to avoid trouble and bloodshed. We gave up some of our country to the white men, thinking that then we could have peace. We were mistaken. The white men would not let us alone. We could have avenged our wrongs many times, but we did not. Whenever the Government has asked for help against other Indians we have never refused. When the white men were few and we were strong we could have killed them off, but the Nez Perce wishes to live at peace.
On account of the treaty made by the other bands of the Nez Perce the white man claimed my lands. We were troubled with white men crowding over the line. Some of them were good men, and we lived on peaceful terms with them, but they were not all good. Nearly every year the agent came over from Lapwai and ordered us to the reservation. We always replied that we were satisfied to live in Wallowa. We were careful to refuse the presents or annuities which he offered.
Through all the years since the white man came to Wallowa we have been threatened and taunted by them and the treaty Nez Perce. They have given us no rest. We have had a few good friends among the white men, and they have always advised my people to bear these taunts without fighting. Our young men are quick tempered and I have had great trouble in keeping them from doing rash things. I have carried a heavy load on my back ever since I was a boy. I learned then that we were but few while the white men were many, and that we could not hold our own with them. We were like deer. They were like grizzly bears. We had a small country. Their country was large. We were contented to let things remain as the Great Spirit Chief made them. They were not; and would change the mountains and rivers if they did not suit them.
[At his surrender in the Bear Paw Mountains, 1877]
Tell General Howard that I know his heart. What he told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead, Tu-hul-hil-sote is dead. the old men are all dead. It is the young men who now say yes or no. He who led the young men [Joseph's brother Alikut] 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 and 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, my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more against the white man.
[On a visit to Washington, D.C., 1879]
At last I was granted permission to come to Washington and bring my friend Yellow Bull and our interpreter with me. I am glad I came. I have shaken hands with a good many friends, but there are some things I want to know which no one seems able to explain. I cannot understand how the Government sends a man out to fight us, as it did General Miles, and then breaks his word. Such a government has something wrong about it. I cannot understand why so many chiefs are allowed to talk so many different ways, and promise so many different things. I have seen the Great Father Chief [President Hayes]; the Next Great Chief [Secretary of the Interior]; the Commissioner Chief; the Law Chief; and many other law chiefs [Congressmen] and they all say they are my friends, and that I shall have justice, but while all their mouths talk right I do not understand why nothing is done for my people. I have heard talk and talk but nothing is done. Good words do not last long unless they amount to something. Words do not pay for my dead people. They do not pay for my country now overrun by white men. They do not protect my father's grave. They do not pay for my horses and cattle. Good words do not give me back my children. Good words will not make good the promise of your war chief, General Miles. Good words will not give my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves. I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk. Too many misinterpretations have been made; too many misunderstandings have come up between the white men and the Indians. If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike. Give them the same laws. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. You might as well expect all rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. If you tie a horse to a stake, do you expect he will grow fat? If you pen an Indian up on a small spot of earth and compel him to stay there, he will not be contented nor will he grow and prosper. I have asked some of the Great White Chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me.
I only ask of the Government to be treated as all other men are treated. If I cannot go to my own home, let me have a home in a country where my people will not die so fast. I would like to go to Bitter Root Valley. There my people would be happy; where they are now they are dying. Three have died since I left my camp to come to Washington.
When I think of our condition, my heart is heavy. I see men of my own race treated as outlaws and driven from country to country, or shot down like animals.
I know that my race must change. We cannot hold our own with the white men as we are. We only ask an even chance to live as other men live. We ask to be recognized as men. We ask that the same law shall work alike on all men. If an Indian breaks the law, punish him by the law. If a white man breaks the law, punish him also.
Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself -- and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty.
Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each other then we shall have no more wars. We shall be all alike -- brothers of one father and mother, with one sky above us and one country around us and one government for all. Then the Great Spirit Chief who rules above will smile upon this land and send rain to wash out the bloody spots made by brothers' hands upon the face of the earth. For this time the Indian race is waiting and praying. I hope no more groans of wounded men and women will ever go to the ear of the Great Spirit Chief above, and that all people may be one people.
Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekht has spoken for his people.
The Colville Indian Reservation
The Colville Indian Reservation is an Indian reservation in eastern Washington State, inhabited and managed by Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, which is recognized by the United States of America as an American Indian Tribe
The Confederated Tribes have 8,700 descendants from 12 aboriginal tribes. The tribes are known in English as: the Colville, the Nespelem, the San Poil, the Lake, the Palus, the Wenatchi, the Chelan, the Entiat, the Methow, the southern Okanogan, the Moses Columbia, and the Nez Perce of Chief Joseph's Band. The full origins of the Colville Indians are unknown as the actual reservation was named after Col. John Colville of the U.S. Army who served as the local agent. The spoken language of the tribe is a Salishian language made up of several different dialects among the tribes.
Outsiders often named the Colville Scheulpi or Chualpay; the French traders called them Les Chaudières ("the kettles") in reference to Kettle Falls.
When Joseph was born in 1840 in a cave on Joseph Creek, a tributary of the Grand Ronde River, in the northeast corner of present-day Oregon, his people were already well known to Americans. His father, Tuekakas (one of many spellings), was the leader of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce and one of Henry and Eliza Spaulding's first Christian converts at the Lapwai mission, founded in 1836. His mother's name survives as Khap-khap-on-imi. Spaulding gave the Tuekakas the Christian name, Joseph, probably at his baptism in 1839. His young son, Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekht, 'Thunder Rolling In The Mountains,' received the same name , probably in the early 1860s, and incoming white settlers distinguished father and son as Old Joseph and Young Joseph.
The Nez Perce, who had maintained good relations with the Americans for virtually the entire period from their encounter with the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805, remained neutral during the Cayuse War of 1847-1850, and aided the Americans militarily during the Yakima War. By then, however, Old Joseph had begun to distance himself from Christianity and return to more traditional native beliefs and practices espoused by the Wanapam prophet, Smohalla, whose followers were called 'Dreamers' by whites. Two young sons, Ollokot and Young Joseph, followed their father's inclinations. Old Joseph signed the Treaty of Walla Walla engineered by Stevens in May/June 1855, but he had grown suspicious of American intentions and sincerity. (See also: "Indian Council at Walla Walla" and "Lawyer of the Nez Perces")
His fears were substantiated when thousands of miners invaded Nez Percez lands after gold was discovered on them in 1860, and in 1863 when government commissioners ordered the Nez Perce reservation reduced from 5000 square miles to between 500 and 600 at a treaty council held at Lapwai. The Wallowa Valley was not included in the reduced reservation. The treaty demands split the Nez Perce into treaty and non-treaty factions, more or less along religious lines; the treaty faction being led by Christians and the non-treaty by those retaining traditional beliefs. Old Joseph numbered himself among the latter, tearing up his copy of the treaty and destroying the bible Spalding had given to him.
The Lapwai treaty, known by angry Nez Perce as the 'thief treaty,' left Old Joseph's people in an untenable position. Further treaty councils affirmed Nez Perce ownership of the Wallowa Valley, but in 1875, this decision was reversed, and more settlers entered the area. Made a trespasser in his own country, Old Joseph had few allies to help him resist white demands for his people's removal. Just before his father died in 1871, young Joseph recalled his plea. "My son never forget my dying words. This country holds your father's body. Never sell the bones of your father and your mother."
In January, 1877, the Army demanded that all non-treaty Nez Perce remove themselves to the Lapwai Reservation. At stormy council meetings held in May, government officials backed by military force demanded that the Nez Perce leave the Wallowa Valley, and the chiefs consented grudgingly. General Oliver Howard gave them 30 days to make the move. Passions rose as the Nez Perce gathered their goods and stock, and in June, three young men, seeking to revenge a kinsman murdered earlier by a settler, killed and wounded several whites. Another group went on another rampage killing more people. The army intervened and in the early morning of June 17, attacked the Nez Perce in White Bird Canyon. (See also: "General Howard and the Nez Perce War of 1877" and "Nez Perce and their War".)
The army suffered a humiliating defeat in what became the opening battle of the Nez Perce War. During the next four months approximately 1000 Nez Perce men, women and children, of which somewhat less than a quarter were fighting men, encumbered by what goods they could carry and hundreds of horses, conducted an extraordinary retreat over 1700 miles of mountain and prairie, fighting several engagements against better armed and more numerous forces until they were eventually forced to surrender barely 40 miles from safe haven in Canada.
The national press covered the campaign closely, and identified Joseph as the primary war leader during most of it, but subsequent study places Looking Glass in that role after his group joined the retreat in July. Specifically, Joseph guarded the women and children, the people's hope and future, during the retreat, making him, in effect, the guardian of the people. (See also: "Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Warriors")
His courage, intelligence and confident bearing, his empathy, tact and diplomatic skills inspired them to heroic efforts and impressed their white adversaries. After the Bear Paws battle, with most of the warriors and leading chiefs killed, it fell to him to surrender, and his speech, recorded at the site by Lieutenant C. E. S. Wood, and published in the November 17, 1877 issue of Harper's Weekly, made him the symbol of Nez Perce heroism and resistence. (See also: "Last Stand of the Nez Perces.)
Even in defeat Joseph did not lose heart, but continued to defend and support those entrusted to his care with every tool at his disposal. (See also: "Nez Perces in Exile") During his people's fatal confinement at Fort Leavenworth and in Oklahoma, he appealed to military and civil officials, even President Rutherford B. Hayes for their return to their homeland, and he presented his case to the public at large, providing his account of Nez Perce history and their treatment at the hands of the Americans to the Reverend W. H. Hare in an interview published in North American Review in April, 1879. Eventually 268 Nez Perce of the non-treaty bands who survived captivity were permitted to return to the Northwest. About half went to Lapwai and in June 1885, Joseph led his remnant band to the Colville Reservation in Eastern Washington.
General Oliver Otis Howard
Throughout his long military career, Oliver Otis Howard gained victory by the force of his own moral convictions as often as by force of arms.
Born in Maine in 1830, Howard received his education at Bowdoin College, then attended West Point, where he became a mathematics professor in the mid-1850's. He was on the verge of switching careers to become a minister when the Civil War erupted. During the war, he commanded troops at First Bull Run, Fair Oaks (where severe wounds forced the amputation of his right arm), Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.
Born in Maine in 1830, Howard received his education at Bowdoin College, then attended West Point, where he became a mathematics professor in the mid-1850's. He was on the verge of switching careers to become a minister when the Civil War erupted. During the war, he commanded troops at First Bull Run, Fair Oaks (where severe wounds forced the amputation of his right arm), Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.
Even in battle Howard was as much a moral crusader as a warrior, insisting that his troops attend prayer and temperance meetings. After the war, he was appointed head of the Freedman's Bureau, which was designed to protect and assist the newly-freed slaves. In this position, Howard quickly earned the contempt of white Southerners and many Northerners for his unapologetic support of black suffrage and his efforts to distribute land to African-Americans. He was also fearlessly candid about expressing his belief that the majority of white Southerners would be happy to see slavery restored. He even championed freedom and equality for former slaves in his private life, by working to make his elite Washington, D.C., church racially integrated and by helping to found an all-black college in the District of Columbia, which was soon named Howard University in his honor.
In 1877, Howard faced a different situation in Oregon, where he was sent to persuade a Nez Percé band led by Chief Joseph to leave their homeland in the Wallowa Valley for the reservation assigned to them in Lapwai, Idaho. Howard found himself agreeing with Joseph that his people had never signed a treaty giving up their homeland, but in Howard's view this did not change the fact that eastern Oregon was no longer a place where Indians could roam free.
After his offer to purchase the valley was rejected, Howard made it clear that he would use force to move the Nez Percé as he had been commanded. And despite his sympathies for Joseph's band, he did not hesitate to send his troops against them when Nez Percé warriors killed several white settlers in the area. Nonetheless, Howard never lost sight of the underlying moral issue in this confrontation, and after Joseph's surrender, he was outspoken among those officers who argued without success that his band should be allowed to return to their home.
Howard's military career after the Nez Percé War included serving as superintendent of West Point for several years and as the commanding officer of the Department of the Platte and the Division of the East. In his later years and after his retirement from the army in 1894, he wrote several books on military and Indian affairs, including Nez Percé Joseph (1881), Autobiography (1907), My Life and Experiences Among Hostile Indians (1907) and Famous Indian Chiefs I Have Known (1908). Howard died in 1909.
Chief Looking Glass
Chief Looking Glass was a principal architecht of many of the military strategies employed by the Nez Perce during the War of 1877.
He was a warrior of renown and frequently hunted buffalo in Montana. In July, 1874, Looking Glass, along with his men, were allies of the Crow and helped the Crow defeat the Sioux at a battle on the mouth of Prior Creek, Montana.
The Crows were appreciative of the help of the Nez Perce and extended to them an offer of support should they ever be called upon for support. Looking Glass believed the Crows would honor their earlier offer; and, so he sought an alliance with the Crows. Looking Glass probably felt the Crows could help the Nez Perce escape the military forces of General Howard by assisting them in an escape to Canada. It is unlikely that he considered such an alliance in terms of helping to defeat the forces of Howard, since all the Nez Perce Chiefs were interested in escaping from these forces and not in fighting them.
The Crows refused the Nez Perce request for support sometime while they were in the Yellowstone Park Area. After exiting the Clarks Fork Canyon, which is near Yellowstone Park, the Nez Perce headed for Canada. There, the Nez Perce believed they would be permitted to stay as Sitting Bull and his followers had done following the defeat of General Custer in 1876.
Chief Joseph with General John Gibbon
(Photo taken on the shore of Lake Chelan in 1889)
On August 9, 1877, at dawn, Colonel Gibbon and his forces attacked the sleeping Nez Perce camp at the Big Hole. Gibbon officially reported 83 Nez Perce dead and made no mention of women and children killed in his official report. Of the 83 Nez Perce killed, 50 were women and children. Later, John Gibbon would become the commander of the Department of the Columbia with the rank of General. While commander, General Gibbon ordered the arrest of Skolaskin, a traditional Nez Perce religious leader, and Gibbon had him sent to prison at Alcatraz. Skolaskin was imprisoned without the benefit of trial and was finally released after three years imprisonment as a political prisoner in 1892. As a condition of his release, Skolaskin had to sign the following statement:
"In case the authorities will permit me to return to my people, I promise to obey the Indian Agent; to treat employees of the Agency well and to make no threats against them; also that I will not make any trouble amongst the Indians nor between them and the white people, nor give any advice or talk to the Indians that will make them discontented or not willing to obey the agent."
1. Chief Joseph with Ahlakat, Ben Beveridge, and Amos F. Wilkinson(Photo taken in 1897)
2. Chief Joseph & Nez Perce Chiefs (Photo taken in late 1860s or early 1870s)
The men in the photo with Joseph are not identified. Joseph is wearing a felt hat with feathers placed in a ribbon and is sitting on the far right of the first row.
3. Chief Joseph & Amos F. Wilkinson (Photo taken in 1897)
Amos Wilkinson was the nephew of Chief Joseph
Encounter with Chief Joseph
In Glimpses of California and the Missions (1902), Helen Hunt Jackson recorded one early Oregon settler's tale of his encounter with Chief Joseph:Why I got lost once, an' I came right on [Chief Joseph's] camp before I knowed it . . . 't was night, 'n' I was kind o' creepin' along cautious, an' the first thing I knew there was an Injun had me on each side, an' they jest marched me up to Jo's tent, to know what they should do with me ... Well, Jo, he took up a torch, a pine knot he had burnin', and he held it close't up to my face, and looked me up an' down, an' down an' up; an' I never flinched; I jest looked him up an' down 's good 's he did me; 'n' then he set the knot down, 'n' told the men it was all right, --I was`tum tum;' that meant I was good heart; 'n' they gave me all I could eat, 'n' a guide to show me my way, next day, 'n' I could n't make Jo nor any of 'em take one cent. I had a kind o' comforter o' red yarn, I wore round my neck; an' at last I got Jo to take that, jest as a kind o' momento.