I Will Fight No More Forever

Image: Chief Joseph, photographed by Edward Sheriff Curtis, 1903. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.78.68.
What were Chief Joseph’s reasons for surrendering to the Army? Put yourself in his position. How must he have felt? How would you have felt?
Like Standing Bear and Geronimo, Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce left their reservation because they wanted to be left alone. In all these cases they did no harm to the United States. Why was the United States determined to keep them on the reservation?

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The Nez Perce leader popularly known as Chief Joseph (1840–1904) is an iconic figure of the Indian Wars. The Nez Perce were forcibly dispossessed of their ancestral lands in the Wallowa Valley of eastern Oregon and relocated to a reservation in Idaho. In 1877, after a series of violent clashes with white settlers, the Nez Perce left the reservation in an attempt to reach Canada, where Lakota under Sitting Bull had taken refuge following the defeat of George Armstrong Custer (1839–1876) at the Little Bighorn (1876).

Pursued by the U.S. Army, the Nez Perce under Joseph and other chiefs staged an almost 1,200-mile fighting retreat that captured national attention and widespread sympathy among whites. The Indians were cornered by the Army only forty miles short of the Canadian border and forced to surrender. This brief speech, delivered by Joseph to Gen. Oliver O. Howard (1830–1909), is best remembered for its last sentence: “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

Joseph surrendered on the understanding that his people would be permitted to return to their reservation in Idaho. Instead, they were relocated yet again to the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington.

—Jace Weaver

The Century magazine, new series, vol. 6 (May–October 1884), 141, Hathi Trust, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/coo.31924079630343.

Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote1 is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes and no. He who led on 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.

  1. 1. Toohoolhoolzote (c.1820s–1877) was a Nez Perce chief.
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