Nez Perce War 1877

(Chief Joseph's Uprising)

[ 1877 ]

When gold was discovered along the Salmon River in present-day western Idaho, US forces moved in to dislodge the peaceful, highly civilized Nez Perce Indians, who had been ceded the area by the US government. The Indians led by Chief Joseph (1840?-1904) resisted stoutly, routed the soldiers in White Bird Canyon (June 17, 1877), and advanced eastward into Idaho and Montana. US troops under General Oliver O. Howard (1830-1909) failed to defeat the elusive, well-disciplined Nez Perce. But Chief Joseph soon realized that his warriors could never prevail against the white man and sought to lead his people north into Canada. In one of the most masterly retreats in military history, he guided about 1,000 Nez Perce over some 1,500 miles of harsh mountainous and plains terrain, evading two pursuing armies under Howard and General Nelson A. Miles (1839-1925). While resting in northern Montana, about 40 miles from the Canadian border, Joseph and his depleted tribe were overtaken by the soldiers, who fought them for four days. On October 5, 1877, Joseph surrendered to Miles, giving an eloquent speech that ended: "Hear me, my chiefs; I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever." In 1878, he and his band were sent to a reservation in present-day Oklahoma, where many died of illness. Joseph and the remnants of his tribe were later allowed to move to Washington state -- to a reservation where he devoted the rest of his life to the peaceful betterment of his people.

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