Today in History

Today in History: October 5

Chief Joseph Surrenders

I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed; Looking-glass is dead. Too-hul-hul-suit is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men, now, who say ’yes’ or ’no’[that is, vote in council]. He who led on the young men [Joseph’s brother, Ollicut] is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people--some of them--have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are---perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find;maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever!

Chief Joseph's surrender to General Nelson A. Miles, October 5, 1877.
C. E. S. Wood, "Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce," The Century: a Popular Quarterly 28, no. 1 (May 1884): 141.
The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals

On October 5, 1877, Chief Joseph, exhausted and disheartened, surrendered in the Bears Paw Mountains of Montana, forty miles south of Canada. Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain was born in 1840 in the Wallowa Valley of what is now northeastern Oregon. He took the name of his father, (Old) Chief Joseph, or Joseph the Elder. When his father died in 1871, Joseph, or Joseph the Younger, was elected his father's successor. He continued his father's efforts to secure the Nez Percé claim to their land while remaining peaceful towards the whites.

Indexed Map of Oregon
Indexed Map of Oregon…,
Rand McNally and Company,
Map Collections

In 1873, Chief Joseph negotiated with the federal government to ensure that his people could stay on their land in the Wallowa Valley as stipulated in 1855 and 1863 land treaties with the U.S. government. But, in a reversal of policy in 1877, General Oliver Otis Howard threatened to attack if the Indians did not relocate to an Idaho reservation. Chief Joseph reluctantly agreed.

As they began their journey to Idaho, Chief Joseph learned that a group of Nez Percé men, enraged at the loss of their homeland, had killed some white settlers in the Salmon River area. Fearing U.S. Army retaliation, the chief began a retreat. With 2,000 soldiers in pursuit, Chief Joseph led a band of about 700 Nez Percé Indians—fewer than 200 of whom were warriors, towards freedom—nearly reaching the Canadian border. For over three months, the Nez Percé had outmaneuvered and battled their pursuers traveling some 1,000 miles across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

By the time Chief Joseph surrendered, more than 200 of his followers had died. Although he had negotiated a safe return home for his people, the Nez Percé instead were taken to eastern Kansas and then to a reservation in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). In 1879, Chief Joseph went to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Rutherford Hayes and plead the case of his people. Finally, in 1885, nine years before his death, Chief Joseph and his followers were allowed to return to a reservation in the Pacific Northwest—still far from their homeland in the Wallowa Valley.

The Big Chiefs
"The Big Chiefs", Nez-Percé and Yakima Indians, Astoria, Oregon, 1911.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

One early Oregon settler told of his encounter with Chief Joseph:

Why I got lost once, an' I came right on [Chief Joseph's] camp before I knowed it…'t was night, 'n' I was kind o' creepin' along cautious, an' the first thing I knew there was an Injun had me on each side, an' they jest marched me up to Jo's tent, to know what they should do with me….
Well, Jo, he took up a torch, a pine knot he had burnin', and he held it close't up to my face, and looked me up an' down, an' down an' up; an' I never flinched; I jest looked him up an' down 's good 's he did me; 'n' then he set the knot down, 'n' told the men it was all right, --I was`tum tum;' that meant I was good heart; 'n' they gave me all I could eat, 'n' a guide to show me my way, next day, 'n' I could n't make Jo nor any of 'em take one cent. I had a kind o' comforter o' red yarn, I wore round my neck; an' at last I got Jo to take that, jest as a kind o' momento.

Helen Hunt Jackson, Glimpses of California and the Missions, 1902, 278-79.
"California as I Saw It": First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900

The American Memory collections hold a variety of resources relevant to Native American History and Native-American affairs: