October 5

This Day in History

General Interest

Oct 5, 1877:

Chief Joseph surrenders

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians surrenders to U.S. General Nelson A. Miles in the Bear Paw mountains of Montana, declaring, "Hear me, my chiefs: My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."

Earlier in the year, the U.S. government broke a land treaty with the Nez Perce, forcing the group out of their homeland in Wallowa Valley in the Northwest for relocation in Idaho. In the midst of their journey, Chief Joseph learned that three young Nez Perce warriors, enraged at the loss of their homeland, had massacred a band of white settlers. Fearing retaliation by the U.S. Army, the chief began one of the great retreats in American military history.

For more than three months, Chief Joseph led fewer than 300 Nez Perce Indians toward the Canadian border, covering a distance of more than 1,000 miles as the Nez Perce outmaneuvered and battled more than 2,000 pursuing U.S. soldiers. During the long retreat, he treated prisoners humanely and won the admiration of whites by purchasing supplies along the way rather than stealing them. Finally, only 40 miles short of his Canadian goal, Chief Joseph was cornered by the U.S. Army, and his people were forcibly relocated to a barren reservation in Indian Territory.

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