Joseph (Nez Percé chief)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Joseph (Nez Percé chief)

Joseph (Chief Joseph), c.1840–1904, chief of a group of Nez Percé. On his father's death in 1871, Joseph became leader of one of the groups that refused to leave the land ceded to the United States by the fraudulently obtained treaty of 1863. Faced with forcible removal (1877), Joseph and the other nontreaty chiefs prepared to leave peacefully for the reservation. Misinformed about the intentions of the Nez Percé, Gen. Oliver Otis Howard ordered an attack, which the Native Americans repulsed. Pursued by the U.S. army, the warriors, with many women and children, began a masterly retreat to Canada of more than 1,000 mi (1,609 km). The Nez Percé won several engagements, notably one at Big Hole, Mont., but 30 mi (48 km) short of the Canadian border they were trapped in a cul-de-sac by troops under Gen. Nelson A. Miles and forced to surrender. His eloquent surrender speech is one of the best-known Native American statements. The whites had assumed that Joseph, spokesman for the tribe in peacetime, was responsible for their outstanding strategy and tactics, which actually had been agreed upon in council by all the chiefs. He became, however, a symbol of the heroic, fighting retreat of the Nez Percés. He was taken to Fort Leavenworth, then spent the remainder of his life on the Colville Indian Reservation in the state of Washington and strove to improve the conditions of his people. In 1903 he made a ceremonial visit to Washington, D.C.

See biographies by O. O. Howard (1881, repr. 1972) and H. A. Howard (1941, repr. 1965); M. D. Beal, I Will Fight No More Forever (1985).

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