Chief Joseph was a peace-minded eloquent political leader and acclaimed military genius. The Nez Perce lived peacefully in Idaho, hunting and trading with other tribes. They welcomed and fed Lewis and Clark in 1805 marking the beginning of a half century of peaceful co-existence with white people.
However starting in 1855 a series of treaties were forced on Nez Perce calling for relinquishing control of 95% of the 13 million acres where they had live, hunted and fished and to settle on a small reservation. Bridling at these and other injustices the Indians ended up in a war with the United States in 1877. Chief Joseph led 300 warriors and 500 women and children in an epic four month long flight toward freedom through some of the most difficult terrain in the American West. His guerrilla campaign eluded pursuing U.S. troops over 1,300 miles brilliantly defeating the U.S. Army in 7 major battles. Hungry, cold, and outnumbered the before surrendering to General Nelson Miles within 40 miles of the Canadian border and sanctuary where he hoped to join Sitting Bull’s band.
After being held prisoner in Kansas, where five of his children died of disease, Chief Joseph became a tireless and well publicized champion for this people’s right to return to their homelands in Oregon’s Wallowa Valley. Chief Joseph was never allowed to return home. He died in 1904 at the Colville Reservation in Washington State.