Chief Joseph

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Chief Joseph

Joseph was not the main overall leader. The Nez Perce had several chiefs from different bands of Nez Perce.His Native American name translates to "Thunder Rolling Down The Mountain".

Chief Joseph was born Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt the ancestral In-nan-toe-e-in land of the Nez Perce Wallowa tribe in Oregon. After his father, Tuekakas' (Old Chief Joseph), death in 1871 he was elected leader of the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) tribe. During the time when Joseph became chief, the government tried to make terms to gain the land where the tribe lived. When they refused to give up their ancestral land, the U.S. general Oliver Howard threatened to use violence to get the Nez Perce to move off their land to a reservation in Idaho. As chief, he negotiated with the U.S. government to let his people stay in the fertile Walloway Valley. He later realized that the tension with the U.S. would likely lead to war and reluctantly agreed to the terms. Soon, however, the U.S. settlers discovered gold on the Nez Perce's land and began to invade, breaking the previous agreement (Treaty of 1863) and diminished the size of their land to one-tenth its original size. Some Nez Perce men, enraged from the loss of their land, killed some of the white settlers. Chief Joseph found out, and fearing U.S. army retribution, began a trek leading his people through the Rocky Mountains to Canada, seeking political asylum. The U.S. Army followed the tribe on their journey. Over the course of three months, the Nez Perce battled and overtook the pursuing army, traveled over a thousand miles, and crossed through four states.After losing 200 (29%) of his people in the famous Nez Perce War and just fourty miles left to the border, Chief Joseph realized it was crucial to surrender before the rest of his already beaten and starving people died. After surrendering, Chief Joseph negotiated for his people to be brought back to their homeland safely, instead the government herded them to Kansas then Oklahoma where they were kept as prisoners of war. There, the Nez Perce people caught diseases (Measles, mumps, chicken pox, influenza, and the common cold) that they had built no immunity from in their old homes, and many died. Joseph voiced his concerns about the injustce and the ill-being of his people in Oklahoma. In the end, though they were not able to live in their original home, he convinced the U.S. government, through speaking directly with the president, to allow the Nez Perce to move back closer to the Wallowa Valley.Chief Joseph died at the age of 64 on September 21, 1904 on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington. He death was diagnosed to be "of a broken heart". He is remembered for his kindness and compassion towards his people.



Most Nez Perce beleived in a religion called Waashat. The Waashat religion included dancing and ceremonial music. The religion taught that if the Nez Perce did what the spirits asked them that the white men would leave them alone. Chief Joseph's father, Old Chief Joseph, was one of the first Nez Perce people to be converted to Christianity.

Fun Facts

He had four wives and nine children. Only one of his children lived to the age of two.


The surrender took place on October 5, 1877 at the Bear Paw mountains in Montana, fourty miles from the Canada border to freedom.

"I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohulhulsote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led 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 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."



It does not require many words to speak the truth.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.I believe much trouble would be saved if we opened our hearts more.Treat all men alike. Give them the same law. Give them an even chance to live and grow.War can be avoided, and it ought to be avoided. I want no war.If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian he can live in peace.