Chief Joseph, of the Nez Perce

Heinmot Tooyalakekt
Called Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph

Nez Perce National Historic Park

Joseph, known to his own people as Heinmot Tooyalakekt, who had originally been the most eloquent and persuasive leader of the effort to retain their homeland in the Wallowa Valley, played only a minor role in the vain flight toward freedom. Yet owing partly to his personal charisma among white people, and partly to circumstances beyond his control, he was destined to bear the cloak of legend. His principal role throughout the journey had been to care for the non-combatants, so he was the one who, with their survival and well-being at heart, surrendered them to Colonel Nelson Miles on October 5, 1877.

At the time of the capitulation he was about thirty-five years old. Major Henry Remsen Tilton of the Seventh Cavalry described his appearance that day: "He is a man of splendid physique, dignified bearing and handsome features. His usual expression was serious, but occasionally a smile would light up his face, which impressed us very favorably."

The plight of the non-treaty Nez Perce held nationwide attention for many years after that, but in spite of the best efforts by himself and many sympathetic white citizens and Government officials, only twenty-nine of the refugees were permitted to return to the reservation. In 1883, two old men and twenty-seven widows and orphans were escorted back to Lapwai, Idaho. The rest languished in Eeikish Pah until 1885, when Joseph and the 149 remaining survivors, still feared and despised not only by some white settlers in Idaho, but rejected even by some of their own kinsmen, who blamed them for creating a rift between Christian and non-Christian Nez Perce, were transported to the Colville Reservation in Washington, to live out their lives among Indians of other tribes, some of whom were openly unfriendly.

On September 21, 1804, in his sixty-second year, Heinmot Tooyalakekt died while seated by the fire in his lodge. He was victim, it was said, of a broken heart.