"Hear Me, My Chiefs" - Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce

Chief Joseph

Reading Comprehension for September 23

It was a time of joy. A baby had been born! The year was 1840. The new baby was the son of a Nimiipu (NEE Mee Poo) tribal leader. We know this tribe by the French name of Nez Perce (NEZ Purs). The baby's father was an elder of one band (branch) of the tribe. The lush Wallowa Valley in Oregon was their home.

The boy was named Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt. (It means Thunder from the Mountain.) Later, the boy and his father were taught by white missionaries. The Nez Perce leader then took the name "Joseph," a Bible name. His son became known by this name, too.

The young Joseph grew up. He learned the ways of his people. He became skilled at hunting game and fishing for salmon. He learned the old crafts-making knives, arrows, and other gear. He learned the story of The People, as the Nimiipu called themselves.

The Nez Perce had long been at peace with white people. Their friendship had helped Lewis and Clark survive the harsh mountains. But whites were moving into Nez Perce lands. The U.S. government made treaties with the tribes. The treaties limited the natives to certain areas. The older Joseph would not agree to a treaty to limit tribal land. He and his band became known as "non-treaty Indians."

As time passed, more white people came. U.S. agents visited the non-treaty tribes. The agents insisted that all tribes must stay on certain parcels of land, or reservations. One treaty said that the Wallowa Valley had been sold to the whites. Joseph had never agreed to the treaty. He refused to move his people from their beautiful valley. "No man owns any part of the earth," he said. "A man cannot sell what he does not own."

The Nez Perce leader was growing old. He knew he wouldn't live much longer. He told his son to stand firm. The people must never agree to give up the land, Joseph instructed his son. The old leader died in 1871. The younger Joseph became leader of the band. He was determined to follow the wishes of his father.

Finally, the U.S. sent soldiers to move the Nez Perce. The young native leader wanted peace. Above all, he didn't want his people killed. Chief Joseph gathered his people. They began the move to the reservation. The young men of the band were angry. They wanted to fight the white men who were taking them from their homes.

A group of young warriors broke away. They raided a white settlement. Several white people were killed. The U.S. army began to pursue the band. Whether he wanted it or not, Joseph found himself at war. He tried to warn his people of what was to come. He said:

. . . Print Entire Reading Comprehension with Questions