Chief Joseph’s Retreat 1877


Map Code: Ax01525

In 1855, the Governor of Washington Territory agreed a reservation of almost 8 million acres (3.2 million hectares) with the Nez Perce tribe. Eight years later, gold was discovered, and the federal government unilaterally subtracted three-quarters of the allocated land. By 1877, the Indian Commissioners determined even this provision was too lavish, and ordered the Nez Perce to leave their traditional heartland of the Wallowa valley for a small reservation at Lapwai. This was the final straw for Chief Joseph, who took flight for Canada with 800 of his tribe, only 200 of whom were braves. General Howard of the US Army set off in pursuit. Heavily outnumbered, the Nez Perce beat a fighting retreat, matching their opponents at several pitched battles, including an emphatic victory at White Bird Canyon. Reinforcements were sent under General Miles, who managed to intercept Chief Joseph and his depleted following in the Bear Paw Mountains, just 40 miles (65 km) from safety.

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