America, A Nation Blessed by God? Part Nine

Chief Joseph
Chief Joseph | Source
Geronimo
Geronimo | Source

Chief Joseph and Geronimo

Chief Joseph was the chief of the Nez Perce band located 250 east of Portland, Oregon in the Wallowa Valley. They were famed for their selective breeding of horses and had always been friends of the Americans. After the Civil War white settlers, cattlemen and gold miners came and wanted their land. The government supported the settlers’ claims.

In 1877 General Oliver Howard was ordered to remove the Nez Perce by treaty or by force.

``I did not want to come to this council, but I came hoping that we could save blood. The white man has no right to come here and take our country. We have never accepted any presents from the Government. Neither Lawyer nor any other chief had authority to sell this land. It has always belonged to my people. It came unclouded to them from our fathers, and we will defend this land as long as a drop of Indian blood warms the hearts of our men.'' – Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph agreed to relinquish his Wallowa Valley home. Tensions remained high anyways and a youth whose father had been murdered by settlers gathered several friends and killed four settlers who were known to have committed atrocities against Nez Perce Indians.

“I know that my young men committed a great wrong, but I ask, who was the first to blame? Their fathers and brothers have been killed. Their mothers and wives have been disgraced. They have been told by General Howard that all their horses and cattle were to fall into the hands of whites. I would have given my own life if I could have undone the killing of white men by my people.” -- Chief Joseph

When seven more whites were killed General Howard sent a military force against the Indian nation. The Indians responded by dispatching a truce delegation under a white flag to meet Howard’s advancing army. Howard’s men opened fire. So began Chief Joseph’s famous Flight for Freedom.

Over 700 men, women and children, with sick and elderly, went on a 1,800 mile fighting retreat. The five Nez Perce bands outwitted and outmaneuvered one military force after another as they made their way towards Sitting Bull’s camp and political asylum in Canada. After 105 days of constant pursuit they reached the Bear Paw Mountains in Montana, one day from freedom. Unfortunately, a new army had been dispatched by telegraph and was surrounding them as they camped. Chief Joseph and 70 others were cut off from the rest of the camp. The fighting lasted for days. Finally, on October 5th General Nelson A. Miles called Chief Joseph for peace talks under a flag of truce. Joseph gave up his gun.

“I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed...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 are--perhaps freezing to death....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.” -- Chief Joseph

But the United States would not honor the terms of Chief Joseph’s surrender. The Indians were shipped south to malaria-infested reservations at Fort Leavenworth, KS before final relocation to Oklahoma Territory. Chief Joseph continued fighting for the Indians and argued his case before Congress.

” I have heard talk and talk but nothing is done. Good words do not last long unless they amount to something. Words do not pay for my dead people. They do not pay for my country now overrun by white men. They do not protect my father's grave. They do not pay for my horses and cattle. Good words do not give me back my children. Good words will not make good the promise of your war chief, General Miles. Good words will not give my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves. I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises....I have asked some of the Great White Chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me.”

In 1885, after eight years and a campaigned launched by Eastern philanthropists, Chief Joseph’s people won the right to return to the Northwest, but not to their Wallowah Valley. Instead, Joseph and 150 members of his band were taken to a reservation in Washington Territory.

Cochise
Cochise | Source

The Apache – Cochise and Geronimo

"When I was young I walked all over this country, east and west, and saw no other people than the Apaches. After many summers I walked again and found another race of people had come to take it." – Cochise

When California joined the United States in 1848 more military and civilian traffic headed west. Many took a route near the Mexico border that went through the lands of Apache nations. The Apache had had a long history of defending their land against Mexican and Spanish invaders. As Americans crossed their land most Apache held no grievances against them and the leaders made every effort to accommodate the travelers.

In February of 1861, Cochise had a meeting with Second Lieutenant George Bascom, who accused the Indians of kidnapping a child from a nearby ranch. Cochise denied any of his men had done that. Cochise was ordered to be arrested, but he escaped through heavy gunfire. The men who had come with Cochise were held and executed.

Cochise went to war with them and cut off passage through Apache Pass (the Dragoon Mountains in Arizona). General James Carlton was sent by the US to establish Fort Bowie in Apache Pass.

“There is to be no council held with the Indians. The men are to be slain whenever and wherever they can be found. The women and children may be taken as prisoners. I trust that these demonstrations will give the Indians a wholesome lesson.” - James Carlton

The army had little success. Cochise fought a successful guerilla war against the cavalry for the next nine years. Finally, in 1872 General Oliver Howard sought peace. Cochise agreed to lay down his arms for a promise his people could live on their own land in Apache Pass. Howard’s promise held true through the remaining two years of Cochise’s life, but in 1876 the US dissolved the Apache Pass Reservation and ordered them to the barren San Carlos Reservation.

Two thirds of them refused to relocate, preferring to follow the philosophy of freedom at all cost. Among them was Geronimo. Geronimo’s wife and children had been killed earlier in a raid on his Mexican Indian village and he had vowed to kill every Mexican and American he saw.

The final Apache resistance was a monumental expression of human pride and love of freedom.

“We are vanishing from the earth, yet I cannot think we are useless or God would not have created us. He created all tribes of men and certainly had a righteous purpose in creating each. For each tribe of men Usen (Apache for God) created, He also made a home. In the land created for any particular tribe, He placed whatever would be best for the welfare of that tribe. Usen created the Apaches. He also created their homes in the West. He gave to them such grain, fruits, and game as they needed to eat. To restore their health when disease attacked them He made many different herbs to grow....When they are taken from these homes they sicken and die. How long will it be until it is said, there are no Apaches?” – Geronimo

For a decade they overcame the odds. By 1886 Geronimo’s 17 man band was being hunted across the mountains by 8,000 troops from Mexico and the United States..

However, Geronimo also had women and children who had to be fed. On September 3rd, 1886, Geronimo turned himself in to General Miles, the man who had made his reputation as the man who caught Chief Joseph. Miles promised Geronimo that his band would be taken into custody for only a short while before being released to a reservation in the southwest. Miles lied. Instead, the white man lied again, and Geronimo’s people, along with others, were shipped to Indian prisons in Florida.In 1909, after 23 years as a prisoner of war, Geronimo died.

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