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Quotes from Chief Joseph

Updated on October 4, 2008

Briefly About Chief Joseph Nez Perce

Chief Joseph was the chief of the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of Nez Perce Indians during General Oliver O. Howard's attempt to forcibly remove his band and the other "non-treaty" Indians to a reservation in Idaho. For his principled resistance to the removal, he became renowned as a humanitarian and peacemaker.

Born Hinmuuttu-yalatlat (alternatively Hinmaton-Yalaktit or Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, Nez Perce: "Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain") in the Wallowa Valley of northeastern Oregon, he was known as Young Joseph during his youth because his father had the same name.

While initially hospitable to the region's newcomers, Joseph the Elder grew wary when settlers wanted more Indian lands. Tensions grew as the settlers appropriated traditional Indian lands for farming and grazing livestock.

Joseph the Younger succeeded his father as chief in 1871. Before his death, the latter counseled his son:

" 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. "

Chief Joseph commented "I clasped my father's hand and promised to do as he asked. A man who would not defend his father's grave is worse than a wild animal."

In his last years, Joseph spoke eloquently against the injustice of United States policy toward his people and held out the hope that America's promise of freedom and equality might one day be fulfilled for Native Americans as well. An indomitable voice of conscience for the West, he died in 1904, still in exile from his homeland, according to his doctor "of a broken heart."

The Chief Joseph band of Nez Perce Indians, who still live on the Colville Reservation, bear his name in tribute to their prestigious leader. Chief Joseph died in September 1904 and was buried in Nespelem, Washington the site where many of his tribe's members still live.

Quotes from Chief Joseph

It does not require many words to speak the truth.

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 all my horses and cattle.

I love the land of winding waters more then all the rest of the world. A man who would not love his father's grave is worse then a wild animal.

The Earth is the Mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. You might as well expect the river to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases.

All men were made brothers. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born free should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases.

We were taught to believe that the Great Spirit sees and hears everything, and that he never forgets, that hereafter he will give every man a spirit home according to his deserts; If he has been a good man, he will have a good home; if he has been a bad man, he will have a bad home.

We live, we die, and like the grass and trees, renew ourselves from the soft earth of the grave. Stones crumble and decay, faiths grow old and they are forgotten but new beliefs are born. The faith of the villages is dust now...but it will grow the trees.

Chief Joseph   March 3, 1840 – September 21, 1904
Chief Joseph March 3, 1840 – September 21, 1904

From 'Cry of the Great Spirit'


I have been to the end of the earth

I have been to the end of the waters

I have been to the end of the sky

I have been to the end of the mountain

I have found none that are not my friends

I have seen when a buffalo is wounded or sick

that the others will circle around him to help him stand

We too must do that with each other

For this is the wish of the great spirit

In our hearts we know the perfumed flowers are our sisters

The deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers

That the earth does not belong to man

Man belongs to the earth

And this also we know

All things are connected like the blood which unites one family

That man did not weave the web of life

He is but a strand in it

Whatever he does to the web he does to himself

So friend, do it this way and if you so do

The power of the universe will come to your assistance

But be sure your heart and mind are one

For all of creation is related and the hurt of one is the hurt of all

And the honour of one is the honour of all

And whatever we do touches each and everything in the universe

Each of us was but here in this time and this place

To personally decide the future of the world

Did you think you were put here for something less

So if you do it this way, that is if you truly join your heart and mind as one

Whatever you ask for, that's the way its going to be

Inspired and Adapted from

Various Native American Elders

From Helen Hunt Jackson

Helen Hunt Jackson recorded one early Oregon settler's tale of his encounter with Chief Joseph in her 1902 Glimpses of California and the Missions:

"Why I got lost once, an' I came right on [Chief Joseph's] camp before I knowed it . . . 't was night, 'n' I was kind o' creepin' along cautious, an' the first thing I knew there was an Injun had me on each side, an' they jest marched me up to Jo's tent, to know what they should do with me ... Well; 'n' they gave me all I could eat, 'n' a guide to show me my way, next day, 'n' I could n't make Jo nor any of 'em take one cent. I had a kind o' comforter o' red yarn, I wore round my neck; an' at last I got Jo to take that, jest as a kind o' momento."

Words From Chief Joseph


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  • Prisana profile image

    Prisana Nuechterlein 6 years ago from Thailand and Colorado

    Thank you for an excellent hub on Chief Joseph. His speech below was heartbreaking and so poignant.

    I Will Fight No More Forever

    Surrender Speech by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce

    I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohulhulsote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led 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 are--perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many 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."

  • ramasethu2001 profile image

    ramasethu2001 9 years ago from Chennai,Tamil Nadu,India

    One More Feather!!