Chief Joseph


Background Information

Date of Birth: March 3rd, 1840 Date of Death: September 21, 1904
Hometown: Wallowa Valley of Northeast Oregon
Education: No formal education
Family: His father was the famous Chief Joseph the Elder, he also had 2 brothers, 4 sisters, a spouse, and 1 daughter.
What was life like for this person as a child?
Chief Joseph was once known as Joseph the Younger. His Father, Joseph the Elder, was Chief of the Nez Perce tribe. They both converted to Christianity and supported Americans. However, a gold rush came through their land and the tribe's land was reduced to about one tenth its prior size. Feeling betrayed by the United States Government for not returning the support and for taking over their land, Joseph the Elder burned the American flag and his Bible, symbolizing that he no longer trusted or respected the United States. When Joseph the Elder died, Joseph the younger succeeded him, becoming known as Chief Joseph.

How did this person influence American History? Chief Joseph influenced American history by his ideas on government. He and his father felt betrayed by the United States government. The treaties that were made to protect the Native Americans were broken because of Indian Removal Acts. Chief Joseph tried to resist the government and he did not think the government had the right to force them off the land that was rightfully and originally theirs. Although many people of the Nez Perce Tribe had died in the efforts of the resistance and due to treatment of the U.S. government, Chief Joseph tried to keep the misfortune alive. He tried to warn and tell people of the way the United States Government had treated him and his people. In his later years, Chief Joseph spoke against the injustice of United States policies toward his tribe. He hoped that one day, America's promise of freedom and equality will be followed through for all men, including Native Americans.

Accomplishments: Chief Joseph felt strongly about moving his people to new land and the idea of being forced off the land that was originally theirs. He did not want to move his tribe to a reservation in Idaho but he was threatened by the US government's Cavalry. However, he was very peaceful and did not want to fight but he would not stand for this awful act. If he didn't move, he knew his people would die. Therefore, he marched his people 1,400 miles and fought in 4 battles with only 200 Indians against 2,000 American soldiers. In 1873, the government changed its mind and decided to leave the land to the original owners, but it eventually changed its mind back saying that the Indians had to go to Idaho. Chief Joseph had retreated and surrendered only 40 miles from the Canadian border. Therefore, he never made it to Canada or won his battle against the US government. In 1879, Chief Joseph went to Washington D.C. to personally ask President Hayes if he and his people could go back home to their original land. In 1885, Native Americans were allowed to leave Idaho and go back to where they came. Unfortunately, most of them never made it back home.

Supporters and Friends: General William Tecumseh Sherman, who is usually unsympathetic, but he could not help but to be impressed by Chief Joseph's military retreat and strength against the US Government. Also, the people of the Fremont expedition who befriended the Nez Perce tribe while exploring the west. Also, the people of the Nez Perce tribe who greatly looked up to Chief Joseph were his supporters and friends.

Critics and Enemies: Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe made few enemies. However, the United States Government who forced him off his home land and General Oliver Otis Howard who threatened the cavalry attack on the Nez Perce tribe were his major enemies.

"Fun Facts": Schools, dams, roads, and various structures have been named after Chief Joseph as well as several geographic features. His famous quote was "I am tired of fighting....Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I shall fight no more forever!" This meant that he was surrendering to the US government. He was so sad about the fighting, his doctor said he died from a “broken heart”.