By Jane Candia Coleman
CHIEF JOSEPH; TRAIL OF GLORY AND SORROW
By Ted Meyers Hancock Publishers Ltd. Surrey, British Columbia – Blaine Washington
ISBN 978-0-88839-743-7 EAN 0-88839-743-7
As a boy, Canadian writer and historian Ted Meyers became fascinated with the history and legends of the Northwest Native American tribes. He discovered Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe at age eight and his fascination never waned. His recent work, “Chief Joseph: Trail of Glory and Sorrow is the result of over twenty five years of research, interviews, and on-site knowledge. And what a thorough and monumental work it is! The Appendices alone make fascinating reading, and the photographs of chiefs, warriors and battlefields are riveting and, as with so many battlefields -The Little Big Horn comes to mind – ghost ridden.
The Nez Perce bands had lived in Eastern Washington and Southern Oregon for centuries until the arrival of the white man and the long finger of Washington bureaucracy succumbed to greed. In 1845, Old Joseph, the father of then young Joseph and his brother Ollokot, moved his band from the mission at Lapwai to the Wallowa Valley. The Walla Walla Treaty was ratified by Congress in 1859, but gold was discovered shortly thereafter. In 1863, Washington stepped in and made changes to the original treaty, reducing the land held by the Nez Perce by 90 percent, a horrendous decision. In 1871 Old Joseph died leaving leadership of the band to his two sons, Ollokot who became war chief, and Joseph who became “civil chief”. It is important to note that although Joseph was engaged in battles, he was never “warrior.” His position was to see to the safety and welfare of his people and to care for the horses and stock that belonged to them, which he did until the end of his life.
In early 1877, General Oliver Howard was sent to persuade the band to leave the Wallowa Valley and return to Lapwai. That Howard hadn’t the faintest understanding or regard for the Nez Perce – or any other tribe – becomes obvious. Still, the people agreed to the move and arrangements were made. As with so many plans, the move went awry when some white settlers raided the horse band and made off with many. Angered, fifteen warriors went out and killed eleven of the settlers. And such was the beginning of the long and arduous trip taken by the Nez Perce who, chased from their home and battled by U.S. troops across Idaho and into Montana, hoped to find safety in Canada. Through it all, Chief Joseph cared for and fought for his people, finally surrendering to General Howard after the battle at Bear Paw, Montana on October 5, 1877. It was there that he spoke the words that echo down the years. “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
His fight to protect his people, however, was far from over. They were moved from Montana to North Dakota and from there to Fort Leavenworth Kansas, where they were left in squalor for 8 months, and where many died of malaria. From there they were transported to “Indian Territory” in Oklahoma. He remained there until 1885 when he was taken to Colville, Washington and where he died in September 1904 without ever being allowed to return to his beloved Wallowa Valley.
This is a book that must be read and re-read for its tragedy, for the courage and leadership Chief Joseph demonstrated throughout his life. It belongs in every library, on the shelf of anyone interested in the American West, in the story of a brave and dedicated leader of his people. Joseph himself, and all of us, owe thanks to Ted Meyers who has indeed written a monumental book.
Jane Candia Coleman and Ted Meyers will be guests on an upcoming Voices of the West program heard at voicesofthewest.net.