Born in 1840, Chief Joseph was a famous Native American Indian who was the leader of a band of the Nez Perce tribe. He took over as leader when his father, Joseph the
Elder, died in 1871. In what many now consider to be one of the most famous retreats in U.S. history, Chief Joseph lead his ever-dwindling tribe up towards Canada. He
died in 1904 before ever returning to the land where he was born and fought so hard to reclaim. There are many interesting facts about the life of Chief Joseph and the
information below highlights why he was such an important figure in U.S. history.
Basic Facts about Chief Joseph
Chief Joseph was born in Wallowa Valley in what is now present day Oregon.
Chief Joseph led a peaceful tribe of Indians who occupied areas of northeastern Oregon, southeastern Washington, and parts of Idaho.
His birth name, In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat, means "Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain" in English.
While Chief Josephs father was still alive, the U.S. government had agreed to certain boundaries for the Indians new reservation, but when gold was discovered on
Indian land the government did not follow through on its promise. Instead, the size of the land was drastically decreased to just a portion of land in Idaho. The
Indians felt betrayed.
After much resistance by Chief Joseph, in 1877, the United States government began forcefully attempting to move the tribe to a reservation.
Chief Joseph Retreat Facts
Refusing to relocate to a reservation and hoping to avoid bloodshed Chief Joseph began a retreat that would go down in history. It is significant because many feel it began a downward spiral for the Indians in the West during the early nineteenth century. Their lives and their culture would be forever changed.
The retreat of Chief Joseph towards Canada and the clashes with the U.S. Army attempting to halt their retreat have been called the Nez Perce War.
The warriors traveled almost 1,170 miles (1,880 km) during their retreat.
The journey began with 800 tribe members who had quite a bit of success in battling the U.S. Army. However their numbers eventually dwindled and those that did not
perish were quickly facing starvation.
Chief Joseph was admired for his ability to lead his men and fight diligently even though greatly out numbered.
Facts on Chief Joseph's Surrender
Just short of the Canadian border, four months after the start of his retreat, Chief Joseph officially surrendered. In one of his many now famous quotes he told his people, "I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."
Upon surrendering, the Nez Perce were exiled by the U.S. government first to Kansas and then to Oklahoma.
In 1879, after pleading and fighting for his peoples land to be returned, he met with President Rutherford Hayes. He had some success. In 1885 the Nez Perce were
granted access to the Pacific Northwest but it was not Wallowa Valley, their true homeland.
Chief Joseph gained recognition as the Red Napoleon by Americans and became a celebrity of his time.
It is said that he died in 1904 of a broken heart as he never made it back to see his homeland.