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.
Surrendering to Gen. Nelson Miles 138 years ago today, Joseph reportedly said:
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’. 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