Chief Joseph’s Lament

28 Dec

“It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and broken promises.” –Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph lived in a difficult and treacherous time. While the US government was pressuring the Nez Perce to relocate Joseph secured a peace treaty to remain on their own land in an effort to keep a promise made to his father, the former Chief.

My son, my body is returning to my mother earth, and my spirit is going very soon to see the Great Spirit Chief. When I am gone, think of your country. You are the chief of these people. They look to you to guide them. Always remember that your father never sold his country. You must stop your ears whenever you are asked to sign a treaty selling your home. A few years more and white men will be all around you. They have their eyes on this land. My son, never forget my dying words. This country holds your father’s body. Never sell the bones of your father and your mother.”

In a few short years the US government recanted on the treaty and sent General Oliver Howard to negotiate and remove them to another agreed upon reservation. This attempt failed so General Miles threatened to move them, by force if necessary, to an Idaho reservation where some of the Nez Perce had already been moved to.

They went North to Canada pursued by General Miles and 2000 soldiers as their 800 warriors fought valiantly for over three months, defeating and outmaneuvering General Mile’s army. Finally in the late Fall as Winter moved in early the Nez Perce surrender.

Over 200 of Chief Joseph’s followers had died and although he negotiated a safe return to Idaho for most his people, he and 400 followers were taken to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. They were held as prisoners of war for eight months–then moved to a reservation in Oklahoma. Over ten years later, after many died from disease while there, they were finally returned to the Idaho Reservation.

It was in 1879 when Chief Joseph testified before the US President and Congress and plead the case for his people. It wasn’t until 1885 that he was allowed to return to the Northwest, not to his homeland, but to the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State.

He spent his last years leading a small band on the Colville Reservation and became a spokesperson for Native American people everywhere.

He died in 1904, in exile from his homeland, from what the doctor reported as “a broken heart”.

Chief Joseph’s Lament

by Terry M. Wildman

I will fight no more forever

We are tired we are old

Too many wounded sick and broken

Too many left out in the cold

Creator send your rain to wash the earth

To wash the blood from our hands

That we would be one people

That you would smile on the land

That you would smile on the land

On the trail of desperation

Driven from our fathers’ graves

Empty words—broken promises

Will there be any left to save

My heart is heavy for my people

For I know that we must change

A way of life is gone forever

O Great Spirit feel our pain

Copyright 2009 Terry M. Wildman

1 Comment

Posted by on December 28, 2011 in No Catagory


One response to “Chief Joseph’s Lament

  1. Ken Brandes

    December 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Terry, You already know how I feel about Chief Joseph. I have that same picture as my Screen on my Computer. I also love the song. Chief Joseph was one of the wisest Natives to have his words recorded in history, He was a leader who loved his people and only wanted a better life for them, until he could run no longer, or fight no longer.



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