Chief Joseph: Trail of Glory & Sorrow, by Ted Meyers, Hancock House, Blaine, Wash., 2016, $39.95
The Nez Perce Indians, and particularly Chief Joseph, have gotten their due in recent years, but that didn’t keep Ted Meyers from writing 720 pages more. For starters he points out that the chief’s proper Indian name was Heinmot’tooyalakekt (Thunder Traveling to High Places and Then Returning). That’s a mouthful, and Meyers thankfully uses Joseph most of the time, or else the book might run over 800 pages.
Joseph’s legend was larger than life, as he was only a band leader and not a tribal war leader. As Meyers points out, he had no standing as a buffalo hunter, no experience in tribal warfare, and had never participated in a raiding party. His brother, Ollokot, knew more about war and was more of a leader during the 1877 flight/fight of the Nez Perces. Joseph’s main duty was to look after the safety and well-being of the women, children and elders. He did assume the role of primary chief near the end of the trek at Bear’s Paw in Montana Territory, but that was because Ollokot, Looking Class and Toolhool’hool’zote were dead, and White Bird had escaped to Canada. Joseph’s later fame, the author writes, was largely due to the fact he was “the only chief who could relate in detail the execution of the war.”
Regardless, Meyers rates Chief Joseph highly and clearly admires what the Nez Perces accomplished during a war no one really wanted. “The Nez Perce war chiefs clearly emerged the better field generals, and the outnumbered warriors remain unchallenged as the best fighters,” he writes. “There was inordinate overconfidence on the part of Army commanders, notably General Oliver O. Howard.” Meyers does point out mistakes made by the Nez Perce war chiefs, noting, “Joseph further weakened the chain through trust of white men and his belief that an honorable peace could be negotiated.”