Chief Joseph, born in the Wallowa Valley in 1840, was a member of the Nez Perce tribe. He was named Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, meaning Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain, but was also called Joseph the Younger because his father, chief of the Wallowa band of Nez Perce, was also called Joseph. When Chief Joseph was born, the Nez Perce were already under pressure to surrender their lands to white settlers.
That pressure increased as the U.S. government repeatedly broke its treaties and moved the Nez Perce onto smaller reservations. Eventually, several of the chiefs refused to relocate again. General Howard threatened to attack the band if they refused to move onto the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho. At the council, Chief Joseph advocated peace, but a number of young warriors went on a killing spree.
On the morning of June 17, the Army attacked the Nez Perce camp in White Bird Canyon. They were defeated, and around one thousand Nez Perce began moving northward, hoping to avoid further violence. About two hundred were warriors; the rest were women, children, and old men. They intended to relocate in Canada.
They traveled more than 1700 miles over the next four months, executing a masterful retreat across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. They were only 40 miles from the Canadian border when they were forced to surrender on October 5, 1877. Chief Joseph's eloquent speech of surrender was published in a November issue of Harper's Weekly.
The surrender agreement was that Chief Joseph and the 431 survivors would be allowed to join the other Nez Perce bands on the reservation. The agreement was broken immediately. The group was taken to Fort Leavenworth and later moved to Oklahoma, where many more died. They were not allowed to return to the Pacific Northwest until 1885, after Chief Joseph had met with President Hayes and had presented his case to the public with an interview in the North American Review.
Chief Joseph died September 21, 1904. He is remembered as a peacemaker and an advocate for his people.