PEOPLE IN AMERICA -- a program in Special English by the Voice ofAmerica. Every week at this time, we tell the story of a man or awoman who played an important part in the history of the UnitedStates. Today, Warren scheer and Larry West begin the story of ChiefJoseph of the Nez Perce Indians. He is remembered as a hero of allAmerican Indian people.
An old man looks out at a green valley. Tall dark mountains standabove it. Snow covers the mountain tops. In the clear water of alake dance the dark shapes of the mountains.Graphic Image
The old man's name is Tuekakas.White men call him Old Joseph.
The Wallowa Valley is the old man's home -- and the home of theNez Perce people -- for as long as anyone can remember. It lies inthe northwestern part of the United States. Today, the land is partof the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
No one knows exactly when the Nez Perce first came to the valley.From earliest times, the people hunted and raised cattle there. Theykept horses, the kind called Appaloosas.
The Nez Perce did not own the land. They had not bought it fromanyone else. They possessed no documents of ownership. But theybelieved the land was theirs. . . Simply because that was where theylived.
For almost seventy years, the Nez Perce showed friendship to thewhite farmers, churchmen and explorers who came to their land.
Old Joseph, the chief, had been a friend to the white men. But ineighteen seventy-one, as he looked out across the valley, he couldsee a time of trouble coming. White people had discovered gold inmountains on Nez Perce land. More and more white farmers were askingthe United States government to open the land for development.
To do that, the Indians had to be moved. The government usuallyoffered the Indians money or gifts to leave the area. Differentdeals were made with different indian groups.
Several years before, the white governor of the territory metwith Old Joseph. He asked the chief to sign a treaty. The governorsaid he wanted the land divided so the Indians and white men couldlive separately. "If the two groups are to live in peace," thegovernor said, "it is necessary for the Indians to have a countryset apart for them. And in that country they must stay."
Old Joseph was furious. "Take away your paper," he said. "I willnot touch it with my hand. "
Other Nez Perce chiefs, however -- beyond the valley -- signedtreaties to give up their lands. Those chiefs and their peoplebecame Christians. They cut their hair short. They forgot the waysof their tribe.
Old Joseph's people did not forget. They wore their hair long.And they loved the land.
Old Joseph had been chief for many years. Now he was dying. Hecalled for his first son. The son, like the father, was namedJoseph.
Old Joseph spoke. His voice was the voice of a dying man. But hiswords were the words of a strong, proud spirit:
"My son, " the old man said, "when I am gone you will be chief ofthese people. They look to you to guide them. Always remember thatyour father never gave up his land.
Young Joseph was thirty-one years old when his father died. Hispeople called him Heinmot Tooyalaket. Those were the words the NezPerce used to describe the noise that lightning makes in themountains.
The young man had a wide face. His hair was tied on both sides ofhis head and hung down on his chest like long, heavy ropes. He worechains of seashells around his neck. Small pieces of colored glassshone brightly on his clothing. Already, the Nez Perce knew him forhis good judgment, his kindness, and his ability with words. And nowthey would know him as their leader ... Chief joseph.
Chief Joseph remembered his dying father's words. He said: "Thisland has always belonged to my people. We will defend this land aslong as Indian blood warms the hearts of our men. "
In eighteen seventy-three, Chief Joseph sent a message to thepresident of the United States, Ulysses Grant. He asked that no morewhite persons be permitted to live in the Wallowa Valley. PresidentGrant agreed. But two years later, under pressure from farmers andgold-hunters, the president broke his promise. More white peoplecame. Some stole cattle and horses. Some insulted the Indians.
Always, Chief Joseph kept the peace.
In may, eighteen seventy-seven, the government told GeneralOliver Howard to meet with the Nez Perce chiefs. He was ordered totell the Indians that they must leave their land. The government hada place in Idaho for all Nez Perce people. It was called the LapwaiReservation.
General Howard did not like his orders. To his friends he said itwas a great mistake to take the valley from Joseph. But the generalhad spent many years in the army. He obeyed his orders.
To the Nez Perce chiefs he said: "I stand here for the president.My orders are clear and must be obeyed. You have thirty days toleave the valley. If you delay even one day," General Howard said,"the soldiers will force you to the reservation. And all your cattleand horses will fall into the hands of the white men. "
The chiefs had a difficult choice. They could leave. Or theycould fight. Joseph and the other chiefs had only ninety warriors.They knew they could not defend the valley with such a smallfighting force. Chief Joseph said:
"I have carried a heavy load on my back ever since I was a boy. Ilearned then that we were but few, while the white men were many,and that we could not defeat them.
Some of the Nez Perce chiefs wanted to stay and fight. They werewilling to try, even if there was little chance of winning. ButJoseph said, "to protect my people from war, I will give up mycountry. I will give up everything."
So the Nez Perce prepared to leave the Wallowa Valley. To get tothe reservation in time, they had to leave behind many of the thingsthey owned. They took some cattle and horses, and what food andpossessions they could carry.
Chief Joseph had promised them peace. But peace would not followthem.
That will be our story next week.
you have been listening to the Special English program, PEOPLE INAMERICA. Your narrators were Warren scheer and Larry West. Ourprogram was written by Barbara Dash. The Voice of America invitesyou to listen again next week at this time, when we will completethe story of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians.