In this lesson we explore Chief Joseph the Elder. Born as Tuekakas, the mid-19th century Nez Perce chief originally promoted peace with the white American settlers.
Nobody likes having the wool pulled over their eyes. Generally, when you make an agreement with someone – be it a neighbor, a business partner, or even your spouse – you expect that if you honor your end of the agreement, that person will honor his or hers. When a negotiating partner negotiates in bad faith, or just simply does not want to honor it later, it can often make the other party very angry.
Just such a bad faith negotiation occurred between the peaceful leader of the Nez Perce tribe, Chief Joseph the Elder, and the U.S. government in the mid-19th century.
Likely born in the 18th century with the name Tuekakas, Chief Joseph the Elder was the chief of the Nez Perce Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-19th century.
With traditional lands covering parts of northeastern Oregon, southeastern Washington, and northern Idaho, the Nez Perce considered the Wallowa Valley in Oregon sacred.Chief Joseph, as the tribal leader of the Nez Perce, promoted peace with the white American settlers in order to protect the Nez Perce’s presence in the Wallowa Valley. In 1838, he allowed himself to be baptized by a Christian missionary, from whom he received the Christian name, Joseph. In 1855, he again kept the peace between his people and the settlers, by helping the governor of Washington Territory draw the boundaries of a reservation on which he agreed to keep the Nez Perce tribes. The initial settlement preserved peace and included parts of present-day Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
The treaty which created the Nez Perce reservation and the peace that Chief Joseph the Elder so cherished was soon in tatters. Due to gold being found within the bounds of the Nez Perce reservation in the early 1860s, in 1863 the U.S.
government unilaterally redrew the boundaries of the reservation, reducing it from its original 7.7 million acres to an area roughly 780,000 acres, a territorial reduction of nearly 90%. Most importantly, the sacred Wallowa Valley was outside the boundaries of the new reservation.Enraged, Chief Joseph famously renounced any treaties he and the Nez Perce people had made with the American government.
He tore up his American flag, shredded his Bible, and refused to sign the treaty that had redrawn the reservation’s boundaries. He further refused to move his people from the Wallowa Valley.Chief Joseph the Elder died in 1871, although his son, Chief Joseph the Younger, was soon elected to lead the Nez Perce. Joseph’s son attempted to negotiate a settlement to allow the Nez Perce to remain in the Wallowa Valley, but in 1877 the U.S.
sent a cavalry detachment to forcibly move the Nez Perce to the new reservation. Chief Joseph the Younger attempted to flee to Canada with the remaining Nez Perce tribesmen, but surrendered after marching over 1,000 miles in October 1877. Many of the Nez Perce would be relocated to Kansas and then Oklahoma, before being returned to a reservation in Washington State.
- Chief Joseph the Elder was the chief of the Nez Perce people in the mid-19th century. He favored peace with the white American settlers over war.
- Chief Joseph the Elder helped draw the boundaries of the original, 7.
7-million acre Nez Perce reservation.
- When the U.S. government attempted to drastically reduce the size of the reservation in 1863, Chief Joseph the Elder tore up his American flag and Bible and renounced his previous treaties with the U.S.
- When Chief Joseph the Elder died in 1871, his son carried on the Nez Perce fight for their homeland before eventually surrendering to a pursuing U.S. cavalry detachment in 1877.
Lesson at a Glance
The Nez Perce tribe, led initially by Chief Joseph the Elder, and the U.S. government exhibited peaceful relations for a long time, until the U.
S. government withdrew the reservation boundaries to accommodate gold mining. Chief Joseph the Elder and his son, Chief Joseph the Younger, both fought for the Nez Perce tribe, only to surrender in 1877.
After reviewing this lesson, you should be able to describe the relationship between the Nez Perce tribe, their Chief Joseph the Elder, and the U.S. government.