This Week's Story

Chief Joseph: "If we fight, then we will fight with honor for our lands and freedom."

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

I will speak with a straight tongue part three

“You make cowards of us, Chief Joseph.  You tell us, ‘If we fight, then we will fight with honor for our lands and freedom.  We must take no scalps, nor attack women and children.’

“Your way is for old men! I say, ‘Honor wins no battles. We must fight to win!’”

“Walaitits, your words have no wisdom.  Revenge burns in you. You dream of enemy soldiers dead in battle and you whirl in war dances to light your passions for torture and scalping.

“We struggle against a power mightier than all of us. The U. S. government orders us to live on the Lapwai Reservation or expect war. I do not want the blood of white men on the hands of my people, nor do I thirst for blood.

“You and your friends angered the government, when you raided the homes of white settlers and murdered them. Our wives, children, and we warriors, now are locked into a bloody journey as the U.S. military pursues us.  Every battle with them further destroys our hopes

to return to our lands.  Perhaps we will have safety, if we reach Canada.

Chief Joseph walked away from Walaitits.  “What I want is not what I must do.  Tomorrow my warriors and I fight again.”

And they fought, at Clearwater in Idaho in July 1877.  Chief Joseph, with other chiefs, had 300 warriors against General Howard’s 600 soldiers and civilian volunteers.  The U.S. soldiers came with trained officers, a howitzer, and two Gatling guns.  The Nez Perce came with strategy, superb marksmanship, and excellent leadership

After two days neither side had won and the Nez Perce retreated from battle with amazing rapidity. The General’s forces moved slowly with wagons and guns.  The Nez Perce headed up steep cliffs on a narrow trail that led over the northern Rocky Mountains through Lolo Pass into Montana. 5,233 feet were reached. Dead and dying horses littered the rocks.

In a high mountain meadow the Nez Perce stopped to rest and repair equipment.  They relaxed with horse racing and foot racing and gambling with the “stick game.” During the darkest part of one evening 200 soldiers advanced upon the camp.  At dawn they surrounded the village and attacked. They set fire to the lodgings and fired into them killing women, children, and men.  Even as the village became burned rubble, warriors gathered in nearby trees and beat off two attacks.  They cleared the village of the soldiers and retreated successfully.  80 Nez Perce were killed, 50 of them women and children.  The military lost 29 soldiers and 5 civilian volunteers.

For 1,000 miles more the journey continued.   When the warriors expected help from the Crow Indians, the Crows stole 500 horses from the Nez Perce herds.

About thirty miles from the Canadian border, safety seemed possible.  Warnings came of Cheyenne scouts and of 400 soldiers nearing the Nez Perce camp site.  135 warriors remained.  The final battle began with troopers galloping into camp.  Twice the warriors threw back attacks.  Light artillery was brought in and pounded the Nez Perce positions.

Finally in surrender Chief Joseph raised his arms toward the sky and spoke, “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.”

This is Barbara Steiner reporting a story with honor and betrayal.

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