|Austin, Stephen F.|
|Cabeza de Vaca, Alvar Nuñez|
|Chivington, John M.|
|Cody, William F.|
|Cushing, Frank Hamilton|
|Custer, George Armstrong|
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 PercÚ 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 PercÚ reservation that stretched from Oregon into Idaho. But in 1863, following a gold rush into Nez PercÚ territory, the federal government took back almost six million acres of this land, restricting the Nez PercÚ 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
Unfortunately, they never got there. About twenty young Nez PercÚ 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 PercÚ'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 PercÚ 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."