Let me be a free man,
free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose,
free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers,
free to talk, think and act for myself -- and I will obey every law or
submit to the penalty.
Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekht has spoken
for his people.
- Chief Joseph
Indians, like other tribes too large to be united under one chief,
was composed of several bands, each distinct in sovereignty. It was a
and his people occupied the Imnaha or Grande Ronde valley in
which was considered perhaps the finest land in that part of the
When the last treaty
was entered into by some of the bands of the
band was at Lapwai,
and had nothing to do with the agreement. The elder chief in
dying had counseled his son, then not more than twenty-two or
twenty-three years of age, never to part with their home, assuring him
that he had signed no papers. These peaceful non-treaty
Indians did not even know what land had been ceded until the agent
read them the government order to leave. Of course they refused. You and I would have done the same.
When the agent failed
to move them, he and the would-be settlers called upon the army to
force them to be good, namely, without a murmur to leave their
pleasant inheritance in the hands of a crowd of greedy grafters. General O. O. Howard, the Christian soldier, was sent to do the work.
He had a long council with
and his leading men, telling them they must obey the order or be
driven out by force. We may be sure that he presented this hard
alternative reluctantly. Joseph
was a mere youth without experience in war or public affairs. He
had been well brought up in obedience to parental wisdom and with his
brother Ollicut had attended Missionary Spaulding's school where they
had listened to the story of Christ and his religion of brotherhood. He now replied in his simple way that neither he nor his father had
ever made any treaty disposing of their country that no other band of
was authorized to speak for them, and it would seem a mighty injustice
and unkindness to dispossess a friendly band.
General Howard told them in effect that
they had no rights, no voice in the matter: they had only to obey. Although some of the lesser chiefs counseled revolt then and there,
maintained his self-control, seeking to calm his people, and still
groping for a peaceful settlement of their difficulties. He
finally asked for thirty days' time in which to find and dispose of
their stock, and this was granted.
steadfastly held his immediate followers to their promise, but the
land-grabbers were impatient, and did everything in their power to bring
about an immediate crisis so as to hasten the eviction of the
Indians. Depredations were committed, and finally the
or some of them, retaliated, which was just what their enemies had been
looking for. There might be a score of white men murdered among
themselves on the frontier and no outsider would ever hear about it, but
if one were injured by an
--"Down with the bloodthirsty savages!" was the cry.
me himself that during all of those thirty days a tremendous pressure was
brought upon him by his own people to resist the government order. "The worst of it was," said he, "that everything they said was true;
besides" -- he paused for a moment -- "it seemed very soon for me to
forget my father's dying words, ‘Do not give up our home!'" Knowing
as I do just what this would mean to an
I felt for him deeply.
Among the opposition
leaders were Too-hul-hul-sote, White Bird, and Looking Glass, all of them
strong men and respected by the
while on the other side were men built up by emissaries of the government
for their own purposes and advertised as "great friendly chiefs." As
a rule such men are unworthy, and this is so well known to the
that it makes them distrustful of the government's sincerity at the start. Moreover, while
unqualifiedly say what they mean, the whites have a hundred ways of saying
what they do not mean.
The center of the storm was this simple young
man, who so far as I can learn had never been upon the warpath, and he
stood firm for peace and obedience. As for his father's sacred dying
charge, he told himself that he would not sign any papers, he would not go
of his free will but from compulsion and this was his excuse.