When Injun Joe was 31 years old, his father died. These are his fatherâ€™s words to him: My son, my body is returning to my mother earth, and my spirit is going very soon to see the Great Spirit Chief. When I am gone, think of your country. You are the chief of these people. They look to you to guide them. Always remember that your father never sold his country. You must stop your ears whenever you are asked to sign a treaty selling your home. A few years more and white men will be all around you. They have their eyes on this land. My son, never forget my dying words. This country holds your father's body. Never sell the bones of your father and your mother.
Injun Joe did not take his fatherâ€™s words lightly. He committed himself to the spirit of those words at the same time as committing himself to peace and equality. Unfortunately, this brought him into conflict with General Howard, a man who seemed bent on persecuting Injun Joe and his people.
General Howard swept his arm northward. â€œHere, take these lands, Joe. Your people can live there.â€
But Injun Joe declined, â€œThere are other Indians who live there as well as Whites,â€ he said.
â€œFear not, Iâ€™ll move them for you,â€ promised Howard.
Still Injun Joe resisted, adhering to their tribal tradition of not taking what did not belong to them.
â€œThen,â€ Howard sneered, â€œyou have thirty days to collect your people and livestock and move to the reservation. If you do not comply,â€ he bellowed, â€œI will consider your actions an Act of War.â€
Injun Joe retreated to his tribe and, along with Chief Looking Glass, called council. â€œIt pierces my heart, deep drives the arrow, but I must advocate for peace for my people,â€ Injun Joe said.
â€œWar!â€ shouted Too-hul-hul-sote, â€œWe cannot allow Howard and his men to shove us into land that is not ours nor expect to drive us from our homeland. War!â€Â The cry was echoed by many.
Still Injun Joe persisted.Â â€œNo. No war. I will abandon my fatherâ€™s grave before I will lead my people into war.â€
The Wallowa band headed north, slowly collecting other bands, continuing to go peacefully. Though many in the council indignantly called for war, Injun Joe continued to urge that there be no bloodshed.Â He and the other chiefs of his nation began their long trek to Canada.
Along the way, they met up with their friends, the Crow Nation. However the Crows betrayed them and skirmishes with the United States ensued and magnified.
For over three months, Injun Joe and his people persevered covering Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. General Howard, with his cavalry, pursued them for 1600 miles. Finally, after a five-day battle fought in bitter winds and snow with no food or blankets to fortify them, Injun Joe admitted defeat.
On the spot of his defeat, 40 miles south of Canada and freedom, Injun Joe spoke:
"Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Too-hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men 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 areâ€”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! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."
Now you know the story of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce.