Society of the Old West

From early westward expansion through the early 20th Century.

The great Chief Joseph was born in Wallowa Valley what is now the called the Northeastern Oregon, in 1840. His birth name was Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, which in English means Thunder rolling down the mountain. He got the name Joseph because of his father. His father died in 1871 and he was elected to succeed him.

Chief Joseph's band was mistreated and abused. It was the whites intentions that they be relocated onto an Idaho reservation. But Joseph resisted. In 1873, a federal order to move the white settlers and let Joseph's people remain in the Wallowa Valley made it look like he was going to be successful, but the US federal government soon reversed itself. In 1877 General Oliver Otis Howard threaten to attack with his Calvary to force Joseph's band and the other hold outs onto the reservation. Joseph reacted by this movement by moving his people toward Idaho.

Although Joseph put much effort into getting his band to Idaho, they never were able to reach it. The Nez Perce people were extremely outraged by them having to leave their homeland and about twenty Nez Perce warriors attacked nearby settlements and killed many whites. The army began to pursue Joseph's band and the others that had not moved onto the reservations. Although the great chief strongly opposed war he felt that this time it was necessary because he must support his people and resist. He did not know that he was about to be chased by the worst of the generals of the federal forces who had burned the homes and farms of thousands of Southerners on his “march to the sea.” Chief Joseph now displayed his intelligence by putting on the most brilliant military retreats in American history. Even General William Tecumseh Sherman was impressed by the 1,400 mile march. In just three months , the band of about 700, fewer than 200 of were warriors, fought 2,000 U.S. solders and Indian auxiliaries in four major battles and numerous flees. “the Indians throughout displayed a courage and skill the elicited universal praise.... they, fought with almost scientific skill, using advance and rear guards, skirmish lines, and field fortifications." (William Tecumseh Sherman.)

Chief Joseph surrendered on October 5, 1877, and because Joseph was recognized for having such brilliant military attacks and defensive stops he was called by the white man, "Red Napoleon". But in truth Joseph's younger brother, Olikut, was the one who lead the attacks and Joseph was just there to protect their camp. In fact, Joseph opposed the decision to go to Montana and seek the aid from the crows and other great chiefs, but it was Joseph's great surrender speech that has brought him much fame as a military leader in American culture. Olikut’s skill, daring, and prowess as a warrior was ignored by the historians.

“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.”

Chief Joseph surrendered with the understanding that him and his tribe could return to his homeland but they were actually taken to eastern Kansas and then to a reservation in the Indian territory. In the Indian reservation most of Joseph's tribe died of diseases. In 1904 the Chief Josephs doctor reported that he died and said he died because of a broken heart.


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