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Exhibits > Chief Joseph > Part 4

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Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians (Cont'd)

The Nez Perce realized their plight and decided to head north out of the park. They ascended Pelican Creek, headed on to the Lamar River and eventually threaded the Absaroka Range to Clark Fork River and on to the Yellowstone itself, a difficult trek.. A rearguard of warriors ran into more parties of Yellowstone tourists, killed two of them, and burned a ranch, adding to the charges leveled against the Nez Perce for not coming into the reservation back in Idaho on time.

Illustration 9: “Sketches of the Nez Perce War,” Harpers’ Weekly, Oct. 22, 1877. Collection of W. R. Swagerty.

Once in Crow country, the Nez Perces’ hopes of living among their buffalo-hunting friends were shattered when the Crow denied help, fearing the U. S. Army would turn against them as well. And so they pressed on. After crossing the Musselshell, they passed through the Judith Basin and finally reached the Missouri River, deciding at some point to make a run for Canada to live among the Sioux under Sitting Bull who had been there since the end of the Little Big Horn campaign the year before.

Map 12: from Bill Gulick, Chief Joseph Country, p. 277, courtesy of The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho

By late September, a weary group of survivors struggled to reach the Canadian border, only forty miles away. They hoped to find refuge there with Sitting Bull’s exiles, who had been given temporary sanctuary by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after the Battle of Little Big Horn. A final battle near the Bear’s Paw Mountains held off U. S. troops long enough for some Nez Perce to escape to Canada. Sixty women, eight children, and 103 men under the charge of Chief White Bird eluded detection and slipped across the border. On October 5, with Ollokot and Looking Glass dead, Joseph was left in the main leadership position. Chief Joseph surrendered himself, 86 other men, 184 women, and 147 children, with a pledge from U. S. officials that his people could spend the winter on Tongue River and return to Idaho in the spring to live on their reservation in peace. It was at this point that Joseph was photographed for the first time.

Photo 15: “Chief Joseph,” photographs taken by John Fouch, a local
photographer operating in the Tongue River country
shortly after his surrender, October, 1877. Courtesy National
Anthropological Archives, National Museum of Natural History,

Smithsonian Institution. Neg. # 2905-A-2. [note: these are considered the first photographs taken of Joseph. On the left he wears a striped Hudson’s Bay Company trade blanket and a store-bought shirt with a traditional choker around his neck and braids. On the right he wears a Nez Perce hide shirt, elaborately fringed and decorated with porcupine quills. Joseph is in grief, but he is not a broken man WRS].

   Shortly after these first photographs were taken, the Nez Perce were taken to Bismarck, North Dakota. Another photograph was taken by O. S. Goff, whose camera captured Joseph wearing the same neck choker as in the first photograph, but he has an embroidered shirt and bandalier across his shoulder, much more typical of Indians of the Great Lakes region than the Northwest. Photos like this were sold as souvenirs by frontier photographers, eager to make money on heroes and “villains” of the Indian Wars of the West.

Photo 16: “Chief Joseph.” Three photographers have been credited with this photograph, but it is likely that Orlando S. Goff actually took it. Courtesy National Anthropological Archives, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Neg. # 43201-A

   The promise made by General Howard was broken. For the next eight years, Joseph and most of his people remained prisoners-of-war in Indian Territory (modern Oklahoma), where many died of disease and despondency. The place is still remembered to this day as “Eeikish Pah,” or “The Hot Place” and is thought of as a time of imprisonment. Joseph made several trips back to Washington, D.C. and to New York City on behalf of his people, the first in 1879. He dictated his own account of the Nez Perce War hoping to draw sympathy and support from those in power, but the government did not move quickly on his appeals.

Photo 17: Chief Joseph in Washington, D.C., 1879. Charles Milton Bell photographer. Courtesy National Anthropological Archives, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Neg. # 2906.

   Finally, in 1885, the Nez Perce in “The Hot Place” were allowed to return to the Northwest. Those who had converted to Christianity were allowed to return to Idaho, but those who continued to practice the old ways were exiled to Washington State. Joseph and 150 of his non-Christian band were sent to the Colville Reservation in central Washington, where the chief lived out the rest of his life traveling and speaking on behalf of his people.

Map 12: “Relative Locations of Colville and Nez Perce Reservations, 1885,” from Bill Gulick, Chief Joseph Country, p. 281. Courtesy of The Caxton Press, Caldwell, Idaho.

   At Colville, Joseph had a log cabin, but he preferred the old way of living in tipis and mat lodges. His camp was photographed many times and became a classroom for younger Nez Perce and white friends to learn the old ways and to hear stories of the Nez Perce War.

Photo 18: Joseph’s “longcamp” at Nespelem, Washington. Edward H. Latham, photographer, 1901. Courtesy National Park Service, Nez Perce National Historic Site, Spalding, Idaho. Neg. # 66.

Joseph died, age sixty-four in September, 1904. His burial was a major event in the area. Many speeches were given and his white admirers had a large tombstone erected, complete with his image carved on the stone. It remains today at the cemetery in Nespelem, Washington on the Colville Reservation.

Some authors state that by the time of his death, Joseph had a total of nine children, but we will never really know how many boys and girls he took in due to Nez Perce customs of caring for orphans and those in need from other families. One son reported to have been Joseph’s was “Otto,” who was photographed.

Photo 19: “Otto, son of the Nez Perce’s Chief Joseph” courtesy National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Neg. # 56601.

It is generally thought that all but one of his own girls died before reaching adulthood. The daughter Kap-kap-on-mi from his second marriage survived the Nez Perce War by fleeing with Chief White Bird to Canada. When she returned, she changed her name to Sarah. In 1879, Sarah married George Moses, but they had no children and she never saw her father again. Her mother survived to 1929, dying in Nespelem on the Colville Reservation. Joseph’s nieces produced direct descendants, who still identify as the Joseph Band of the Nez Perce at Colville. Today they bear the proud legacy of Joseph and have surnames that include the Red Thunder, Half Moon, and Red Star families. In 1972, A United States postage stamp was struck in Chief Joseph’s honor. Three generations of his descendants through one niece attended the ceremony in Washington, D.C. and are shown in the photo below:

Photo 20: Ceremony unveiling the “Chief Joseph Stamp” 1972. Photograph by Harry Newfield, Courtesy National Anthropological Archives, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Neg. # 72-8411

Illustration 10: Chief Joseph. United States Postage stamp, original art by James E. Doak, 1972. Collection of the author.

A second U. S. postage stamp was released as part of the series, "Legends of the West" in 1993.

Illustration 11: “Legends of the West” in 1993. “Legends of the West Series,” United State Postal Service, 1993.

Illustration 12: Close-Up. 2nd “Chief Joseph Stamp.”

The back of the stam reads:

Illustration 13: [Scan of the back of the 2nd stamp]


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