Chief Joseph led his Nez Perce Indian tribe through difficult times and did so with much dignity. The Nez Perce tribe had a long history of friendship to white people. They had provided valuable aide to Lewis and Clark during their sojourn and many had quickly converted to Christianity. Treaties with the Nez Perce were made and broken, and their lands lost, they remained friendly to whites. When a few Nez Perce begged to hold on to their ancestral land in the Wallowa Valley, they were even supported by president Grant. These were valuable lands however and settlers demanded on possessing the Wallowa Valley. Fighting broke out, soldiers moved in, and the last remaining free bands of Nez Perce that had not yet been forced on to reservation lands, began to run. Their hope had been to flee eastward, hunt buffalo on the plains and eventually join up with Crow Indians who had long been close friends and allies. They fought numerous skirmishes over a 1700 mile retreat. They had to retreat with their families and all of their worldly possessions in tow. Nevertheless, they were able to fight very effectively the US Military many times. Reaching Crow country however, they were even attacked by their longterm friends, and thus forced to flee to the Canadian border. Finally, exhausted and starving they camped, thinking that they had crossed the Canadian frontier. They had not. They were surrounded by well-armed US troops, they were attacked and forced to surrender. Chief Joseph then made his famous speech that is outlined below his image. Survivors were taken to a series of reservations, and their Appaloosa herd of nearly 4000 animals was shot at the surrender site. The Plains Indian wars virtually ended that day with the surrender of the Nez Perce Indians. Joseph became very well known and highly respected throughout the east. He was friends with several presidents and lobbied relentlessly for the Nez Perce to be allowed to return to their sacred lands in the Wallowa Valley. This was never permitted during his lifetime.
One can say that a lot of Indian wars were the result of fear, ignorance and misunderstanding on both sides. In the case of the Nez Perce however, it is my view that their lands were outright stolen by greed and chicanery. Most of the Nez Perce Indians have long since converted to Christianity, they had eschewed violence and had already signed over most of their lands through various treaty agreements.
While Joseph was not the military leader of this brilliant retreat (Looking Glass was), he became the spokesman for the Nez Perce tribe in defeat and in exile. He represented his people well and with great dignity.