Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph

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Wallowa River,
Birth Sign
Wallowa River,

Chief Joseph was the head of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce tribe in Oregon, United States, who garnered international attention for his brave attempt to lead his followers to Canada when the United States government sought to force his tribe to relocate to a reservation. His father, Chief Joseph the Elder, had made every effort to keep relations with the whites friendly. He’d even converted to Christianity and adopted the Christian name of ‘Joseph,’ which he and his son shared. He had signed a pact with the US government promising the Nez Perce tribes millions of acres of land. However, by the time his father died and Chief Joseph assumed command, relations between the government and the locals had deteriorated significantly. When the government attempted to forcibly relocate the tribes from their homeland to a reserve, he led his supporters on a march to Canada. In what became known as the Nez Perce War, the US Army followed them relentlessly. Chief Joseph, along with other tribal chiefs, led the warriors in a show of remarkable bravery and tenacity in the face of the US Army. Chief Joseph, on the other hand, had no choice but to submit once their supplies were depleted and the number of warriors fell.

Childhood and Adolescence

Chief Joseph was born in the family of Chief Joseph the Elder, the chief of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce tribe in Oregon, as Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt. Tuekakas was his father’s name, and Khapkhaponimi was his mother’s. He has a large family of brothers and sisters. After getting baptized in 1838, his father turned to Christianity and took the name Joseph. The son was likewise given the same name as his father.

Because he spent his boyhood in tribal territory, little is known about him. He is certain to have gotten training in combat and guidance on tribal ways of life from his dad and other elders as the son of a tribal leader, yet it is unknown if he ever obtained any official schooling.

His father made every effort to keep excellent connections with the whites, going out of his way to do so. In 1855, his father signed a treaty with the United States government that guaranteed the Nez Perce a new reservation. However, the treaty was broken, and whites began to seize the Indians’ territory. In 1863, the government attempted to persuade the Nez Perce to accept a reserve that was far smaller than the one previously agreed upon. This contract, known as the ‘Lapwai Treaty,’ was rejected by Joseph the Elder.

However, some Nez Perce bands accepted the pact and relocated to the reservation. Chief Joseph the Elder, on the other hand, was resolute in his resolve: his clan would not abandon their homeland.

Years Later of Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph the Elder died in 1871, and his son took over as leader. The government and the tribes had a tumultuous relationship during this time. In early 1877, the Army attempted to force the last members of the Nez Perce tribe to relocate to the Lapwai Reservation. To avoid any violence, the tribes reluctantly agreed.

Despite the Chief’s best efforts to prevent it, violence broke out when some tribal members killed and injured whites in a vengeful act, making a battle with the US Army unavoidable. Chief Joseph, White Bird, and Looking Glass, together with other major Nez Perce chiefs, chose to lead their followers, estimated to number between 700 and 1000, on a retreat to Canada.

The invasion on the tribes, which became known as the Nez Perce War, was directed by General Oliver Howard of the United States Army. In the first fight, the army suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of the tribes. Over the next few months, the Nez Perce bravely continued their march, carrying only what they could possibly carry. They traversed almost 1100 miles of rugged terrain in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana, bravely fighting off pursuers who outnumbered them by a factor of ten.

A five-day fight erupted, wiping off the majority of the tribe warriors. Many great combat heroes were killed, including the Chief’s brother. All of their food and clothing supplies had run out. The war’s physical and mental toll was too much for the Chief to bear.

On the 5th of October 1877, Chief Joseph formally surrendered to the US Army in the Bear Paw Mountains, about 40 miles from his objective. The US Army and the general public admired and respected him for the moving statement he gave after his surrender. The Nez Perce conflict was extensively reported by the media, and the Chief and his tribe were lauded for their bravery and heroism in trying the escape. Because of his bravery, he was dubbed “Red Napoleon.” In 1879, he met with the President to argue his people’s case, but his appeal was denied. He and the rest of his tribe were relocated to the Colville Indian Reservation, far from their homeland.

Chief Joseph is most known for leading his followers in the Nez Perce War against the United States Army in 1877. White Bird and Looking Glass, among the other chiefs, bravely fought the enemy while leading the following on a march to Canada.

Personal History and Legacy

As was customary among the tribes, he had numerous women and children. Heyoon and Springtime were two of his more well-known wives.  He died on the Colville Indian Reservation on September 21, 1904, at the age of 64. He died of a “broken heart,” according to his doctor.

Estimated Net Worth

Chief is one of the wealthiest war heroes and one of the most popular. Chief Joseph’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.


In his native tongue, his name literally meant “Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain.” The Chief Joseph Scenic Highway in Wyoming, named for him, follows the path taken by the Chief and his tribes on their journey to Canada.
In 1975, a television movie based on his life was released called ‘I Will Fight No More Forever.’