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Chief Joseph Biography

Chief Joseph was the leader of the Wal-lam-wat-Kain band of the Nez Perce.

The Nez Perce lived in the northwest of the United States. He became leader in the 1870s.

Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph encountered lots of difficulties and testing times as a leader. The Nez Perce were forced out of their homes in north eastern Oregon to a small reservation in Idaho Territory.

Under Chief Joseph, his band and the Palouse band refused to move. They then fled the United States after white settlers repeatedly attacked them in 1877.

Chief Joseph Band

The Treaty of Walla Walla

In 1855, Chief Joseph’s father, Joseph the Elder, and other Nez Perce leaders signed a treaty with the United States called the Treaty of Walla Walla.

This Treaty promised that the Nez Perce could stay on their lands which stretched over 31,000km2. These lands are located in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Walla Walla Council

In 1863, white settlers had found out there was gold on the Nez Perce land. This led to a lot of new settlers heading for the gold.

This was called the Gold Rush.

The government decided they were no longer happy to give so much land to the Nez Perce, so they formed a second council.


They asked the Nez Perce to have a much smaller reservation of 3, 100km2 near western Idaho Territory.

Chief Lawyer signed the new treaty for the Nez Perce Nation. Chief Joseph was one of the chiefs who refused to sell his land and would not sign.

There was a split created among bands who did sign, and bands who did not sign.

Bear Paw Battlefield

In 1877, Chief Joseph negotiated with the government to make sure that his people could stay on their lands in Wallowa Valley.

However, this was reversed in 1877 and General Oliver O. Howard said he would attack if Chief Joseph’s Wallowa band did not relocate to Idaho.

The Nez Perce War

The U.S. Army chased the 750 Nez Perce peoples as they escaped from Idaho. The Nez Perce had hoped to stay with the Crow Nation but the Crow refused.

They went up north to try to get peace with the Lakota band led by Sitting Bull. They had already fled to Canada after the Great Sioux War in 1876.

Nez Perce War Battle Map

Over three months, the Nez Perce had to battle the U.S. who were chasing them. They travelled for 1,170 miles.

Finally, General Howard was sent and the Nez Perce and General Howard’s cavalry fought in a five-day long battle in the freezing cold.

Chief Joseph had to surrender to General Miles in 1877. Joseph and his followers were not treated nicely. They were taken to a prisoner of war camp for eight months.


Those who survived were taken to a reservation in Indian Territory (which is in present-day Oklahoma).

Chief Joseph continued to lead his people on a new reservation that they were taken to in 1885. Chief Joseph spoke out about the treatment of his people by the U.S. government.

He is reported to have said that he hopes America’s promise of freedom might one day come for Native Americans too.

Today, the Chief Joseph band – who still live on the Colville Reservation – use his name in tribute to all he did.

Young Chief Joseph

Quiz Time

When was Chief Joseph born?

What did Chief Joseph say he hoped for?

What was the Treaty between the Nez Perce and the U.S. government called?

How big was the new reservation promised by America?

Where did the Nez Perce flee?

Native Americans

Lewis And Clark At Three Forks

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