I’ve shared a few other photos of Chief Joseph’s grave, most of which made the location look remote and lonely. But that’s not the case. While he holds a prominent and easy-to-find plot, he is surrounded by many of the people who followed him on the Nez Perces’ own Trail of Tears.
In 1877, Chief Joseph’s band, after refusing to be sequestered onto a reservation away from their tribal lands, attempted to escape into Canada where their friend Sitting Bull had also fled. Their hope was to avoid slaughter and to buy time for something better to be worked out. They numbered nearly 800, though only about a third of them were warriors.
From eastern Oregon, they fled across the Snake River, fighting – and winning – several battles along the way. But still, these victories were short-lived, and they were certain to lose this war. As summer turned to autumn, their march too them to the Rocky Mountains.
After a hard crossing, they turned north. In one final battle, they were defeated and with their war chiefs, such as Looking Glass, killed, Joseph wished to surrender – only forty miles away from the border.
But another war chief, White Bird, wanted to break through the thin enemy line and dash for Canada. Chief Joseph agreed that it could be done, but only by leaving behind the elderly, children and injured. “We had never heard of a wounded Indian recovering while in the hands of white men,” he later said in defense of his decision.
When the United States military leader, Oliver Otis Howard, assured him that none of his number would be executed, Chief Joseph consented.