THE Nez Perce tribe of Indians, like other tribes too large to be united under one chief, was
composed of several bands, each distinct in sovereignty. It was a loose confederacy. Joseph and his
people occupied the Imnaha or Grande Ronde valley in Oregon, which was considered perhaps the finest
land in that part of the country.
When the last treaty was entered into by some of the bands of the Nez Perce, Joseph's band was at
Lapwai, Idaho, and had nothing to do with the agreement. The elder chief in dying had counseled his
son, then not more than twenty-two or twenty-three years of age, never to part with their home,
assuring him that he had signed no papers. These peaceful non-treaty Indians did not even know what
 land had been ceded until the agent read them the government order to leave. Of course they refused.
You and I would have done the same.
When the agent failed to move them, he and the would-be settlers called upon the army to force them
to be good, namely, without a murmur to leave their pleasant inheritance in the hands of a crowd of
greedy grafters. General O. O. Howard, the Christian soldier, was sent to do the work.
He had a long council with Joseph and his leading men, telling them they must obey the order or be
driven out by force. We may be sure that he presented this hard alternative reluctantly. Joseph was
a mere youth without experience in war or public affairs. He had been well brought up in obedience
to parental wisdom and with his brother Ollicut had attended Missionary Spaulding's school where
they had listened to the story of Christ and his religion of brotherhood. He now
re-  plied in his simple way that neither he nor his father had ever made any treaty disposing of their
country, that no other band of the Nez Perces was authorized to speak for them, and it would seem a
mighty injustice and unkindness to dispossess a friendly band.
General Howard told them in effect that they had no rights, no voice in the matter: they had only to
obey. Although some of the lesser chiefs counseled revolt then and there, Joseph maintained his
self-control, seeking to calm his people, and still groping for a peaceful settlement of their
difficulties. He finally asked for thirty days' time in which to find and dispose of their stock,
and this was granted.
Joseph steadfastly held his immediate followers to their promise, but the land-grabbers were
impatient, and did everything in their power to bring about an immediate crisis so as to hasten the
eviction of the Indians. Depredations were committed, and finally the Indians, or some of
 them, retaliated, which was just what their enemies had been looking for. There might be a score of
white men murdered among themselves on the frontier and no outsider would ever hear about it, but if
one were injured by an Indian—"Down with the bloodthirsty savages!" was the cry.
Joseph told me himself that during all of those thirty days a tremendous pressure was brought upon
him by his own people to resist the government order. "The worst of it was," said he, "that
everything they said was true; besides"—he paused for a moment—"it seemed very soon for
me to forget my father's dying words, 'Do not give up our home!'" Knowing as I do just what this
would mean to an Indian, I felt for him deeply.
Among the opposition leaders were Too-hul-hul-sote, White Bird, and Looking Glass, all of them
strong men and respected by the Indians; while on the other side were men built up by emissaries of
the government for their own purposes
 and advertised as "great friendly chiefs." As a rule such men are unworthy, and this is so well
known to the Indians that it makes them distrustful of the government's sincerity at the start.
Moreover, while Indians unqualifiedly say what they mean, the whites have a hundred ways of saying
what they do not mean.
The center of the storm was this simple young man, who so far as I can learn had never been upon the
warpath, and he stood firm for peace and obedience. As for his father's sacred dying charge, he told
himself that he would not sign any papers, he would not go of his free will but from compulsion, and
this was his excuse.
However, the whites were unduly impatient to clear the coveted valley, and by their insolence they
aggravated to the danger point an already strained situation. The murder of an Indian was the climax
and this happened in the absence of the young chief. He returned to find the
 leaders determined to die fighting. The nature of the country was in their favor and at least they
could give the army a chase, but how long they could hold out they did not know. Even Joseph's
younger brother Ollicut was won over. There was nothing for him to do but fight; and then and there
began the peaceful Joseph's career as a general of unsurpassed strategy in conducting one of the
most masterly retreats in history.
This is not my judgment, but the unbiased opinion of men whose knowledge and experience fit them to
render it. Bear in mind that these people were not scalp hunters like the Sioux, Cheyennes, and
Utes, but peaceful hunters and fishermen. The first council of war was a strange business to Joseph.
He had only this to say to his people:
"I have tried to save you from suffering and sorrow. Resistance means all of that. We are few. They
are many. You can see all we have at a glance. They have
 food and ammunition in abundance. We must suffer great hardship and loss." After this speech, he
quietly began his plans for the defense.
The main plan of campaign was to engineer a successful retreat into Montana and there form a
junction with the hostile Sioux and Cheyennes under Sitting Bull. There was a relay scouting system,
one set of scouts leaving the main body at evening and the second a little before daybreak, passing
the first set on some commanding hill top. There were also decoy scouts set to trap Indian scouts of
the army. I notice that General Howard charges his Crow scouts with being unfaithful.
Their greatest difficulty was in meeting an unencumbered army, while carrying their women, children,
and old men, with supplies and such household effects as were absolutely necessary. Joseph formed an
auxiliary corps that was to effect a retreat at each engagement, upon a definite plan
 and in definite order, while the unencumbered women were made into an ambulance corps to take care
of the wounded.
It was decided that the main rear guard should meet General Howard's command in White Bird Canyon,
and every detail was planned in advance, yet left flexible according to Indian custom, giving each
leader freedom to act according to circumstances. Perhaps no better ambush was ever planned than the
one Chief Joseph set for the shrewd and experienced General Howard. He expected to be hotly pursued,
but he calculated that the pursuing force would consist of not more than two hundred and fifty
soldiers. He prepared false trails to mislead them into thinking that he was about to cross or had
crossed the Salmon River, which he had no thought of doing at that time. Some of the tents were
pitched in plain sight, while the women and children were hidden on the inaccessible ridges, and the
men concealed in the canyon ready to fire upon
 the soldiers with deadly effect with scarcely any danger to themselves. They could even roll rocks
In a very few minutes the troops had learned a lesson. The soldiers showed some fight, but a large
body of frontiersmen who accompanied them were soon in disorder. The warriors chased them nearly ten
miles, securing rifles and much ammunition, and killing and wounding many.
The Nez Perces next crossed the river, made a detour and recrossed it at another point, then took
their way eastward. All this was by way of delaying pursuit. Joseph told me that he estimated it
would take six or seven days to get a sufficient force in the field to take up their trail, and the
correctness of his reasoning is apparent from the facts as detailed in General Howard's book. He
tells us that he waited six days for the arrival of men from various forts in his department, then
followed Joseph with six hundred soldiers, beside a large number of citizen volunteers
 and his Indian scouts. As it was evident they had a long chase over trackless wilderness in
prospect, he discarded his supply wagons and took pack mules instead. But by this time the Indians
had a good start.
Meanwhile General Howard had sent a dispatch to Colonel Gibbons, with orders to head Joseph off,
which he undertook to do at the Montana end of the Lolo Trail. The wily commander had no knowledge
of this move, but he was not to be surprised. He was too brainy for his pursuers, whom he constantly
outwitted, and only gave battle when he was ready. There at the Big Hole Pass he met Colonel
Gibbons' fresh troops and pressed them close. He sent a party under his brother Ollicut to harass
Gibbons' rear and rout the pack mules, thus throwing him on the defensive and causing him to send
for help, while Joseph continued his masterly retreat toward the Yellowstone Park, then a
wilderness. However, this was but little advantage to him, since he must
neces-  sarily leave a broad trail, and the army was augmenting its columns day by day with celebrated
scouts, both white and Indian. The two commands came together, and although General Howard says
their horses were by this time worn out, and by inference the men as well, they persisted on the
trail of a party encumbered by women and children, the old, sick, and wounded.
It was decided to send a detachment of cavalry under Bacon, to Tash Pass, the gateway of the
National Park, which Joseph would have to pass, with orders to detain him there until the rest could
come up with them. Here is what General Howard says of the affair. "Bacon got into position soon
enough but he did not have the heart to fight the Indians on account of their number." Meanwhile
another incident had occurred. Right under the eyes of the chosen scouts and vigilant sentinels,
Joseph's warriors fired upon the army camp at night and ran off their mules. He went straight on
toward the park,
 where Lieutenant Bacon let him get by and pass through the narrow gateway without firing a shot.
Here again it was demonstrated that General Howard could not depend upon the volunteers, many of
whom had joined him in the chase, and were going to show the soldiers how to fight Indians. In this
night attack at Camas Meadow, they were demoralized, and while crossing the river next day many lost
their guns in the water, whereupon all packed up and went home, leaving the army to be guided by the
However, this succession of defeats did not discourage General Howard, who kept on with as many of
his men as were able to carry a gun, meanwhile sending dispatches to all the frontier posts with
orders to intercept Joseph if possible. Sturgis tried to stop him as the Indians entered the Park,
but they did not meet until he was about to come out, when there was another fight, with Joseph
 General Howard came upon the battle field soon afterward and saw that the Indians were off again,
and from here he sent fresh messages to General Miles, asking for reinforcements.
Joseph had now turned northeastward toward the Upper Missouri. He told me that when he got into that
part of the country he knew he was very near the Canadian line and could not be far from Sitting
Bull, with whom he desired to form an alliance. He also believed that he had cleared all the forts.
Therefore he went more slowly and tried to give his people some rest. Some of their best men had
been killed or wounded in battle, and the wounded were a great burden to him; nevertheless they were
carried and tended patiently all during this wonderful flight. Not one was ever left behind.
It is the general belief that Indians are cruel and revengeful, and surely these people had reason
to hate the race who had driven them from their homes if any
 people ever had. Yet it is a fact that when Joseph met visitors and travelers in the Park, some of
whom were women, he allowed them to pass unharmed, and in at least one instance let them have
horses. He told me that he gave strict orders to his men not to kill any women or children. He
wished to meet his adversaries according to their own standards of warfare, but he afterward learned
that in spite of professions of humanity, white soldiers have not seldom been known to kill women
and children indiscriminately.
Another remarkable thing about this noted retreat is that Joseph's people stood behind him to a man,
and even the women and little boys did each his part. The latter were used as scouts in the
immediate vicinity of the camp.
The Bittersweet valley, which they had now entered, was full of game, and the Indians hunted for
food, while resting their worn-out ponies. One morning they had a council to which Joseph rode over
bare-  back, as they had camped in two divisions a little apart. His fifteen-year-old daughter went with
him. They discussed sending runners to Sitting Bull to ascertain his exact whereabouts and whether
it would be agreeable to him to join forces with the Nez Perces. In the midst of the council, a
force of United States cavalry charged down the hill between the two camps. This once Joseph was
surprised. He had seen no trace of the soldiers and had somewhat relaxed his vigilance.
He told his little daughter to stay where she was, and himself cut right through the cavalry and
rode up to his own teepee, where his wife met him at the door with his rifle, crying: "Here is your
gun, husband!" The warriors quickly gathered and pressed the soldiers so hard that they had to
withdraw. Meanwhile one set of the people fled while Joseph's own band entrenched themselves in a
very favorable position from which they could not easily be dislodged.
 General Miles had received and acted on General Howard's message, and he now sent one of his
officers with some Indian scouts into Joseph's camp to negotiate with the chief. Meantime Howard and
Sturgis came up with the encampment, and Howard had with him two friendly Nez Perce scouts who were
directed to talk to Joseph in his own language. He decided that there was nothing to do but
He had believed that his escape was all but secure: then at the last moment he was surprised and
caught at a disadvantage. His army was shattered; he had lost most of the leaders in these various
fights; his people, including children, women, and the wounded, had traveled thirteen hundred miles
in about fifty days, and he himself a young man who had never before taken any important
responsibility! Even now he was not actually conquered. He was well entrenched; his people were
willing to die fighting; but the army of
 the United States offered peace and he agreed, as he said, out of pity for his suffering people.
Some of his warriors still refused to surrender and slipped out of the camp at night and through the
lines. Joseph had, as he told me, between three and four hundred fighting men in the beginning,
which means over one thousand persons, and of these several hundred surrendered with him.
His own story of the conditions he made was prepared by himself with my help in 1897, when he came
to Washington to present his grievances. I sat up with him nearly all of one night; and I may add
here that we took the document to General Miles who was then stationed in Washington, before
presenting it to the Department. The General said that every word of it was true.
In the first place, his people were to be kept at Fort Keogh, Montana, over the winter and then
returned to their reservation. Instead they were taken to Fort
 Leavenworth, Kansas, and placed between a lagoon and the Missouri River, where the sanitary
conditions made havoc with them. Those who did not die were then taken to the Indian Territory,
where the health situation was even worse. Joseph appealed to the government again and again, and at
last by the help of Bishops Whipple and Hare he was moved to the Colville reservation in Washington.
Here the land was very poor, unlike their own fertile valley. General Miles said to the chief that
he had recommended and urged that their agreement be kept, but the politicians and the people who
occupied the Indians' land declared they were afraid if he returned he would break out again and
murder innocent white settlers! What irony!
The great Chief Joseph died broken-spirited and broken-hearted. He did not hate the whites, for
there was nothing small about him, and when he laid down his weapons he would not fight on
 with his mind. But he was profoundly disappointed in the claims of a Christian civilization. I call
him great because he was simple and honest. Without education or special training he demonstrated
his ability to lead and to fight when justice demanded. He outgeneraled the best and most
experienced commanders in the army of the United States, although their troops were well
provisioned, well armed, and above all unencumbered. He was great finally, because he never boasted
of his remarkable feat. I am proud of him, because he was a true American.
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