The Chief Joseph blanket is the most enduring of the Pendleton blankets today. The Chief Joseph blankets were introduced in the 1920’s and is still being woven today. The blanket pays homage to one of the Northwest’s Nez Perce most famous warriors Chief Joseph.
The Nez Perce occupied 7.7 million acres of US reservation land which spread across the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho. These lands were granted to the Nez Perce by the US government in 1855 and encompassed much of their traditional land including Chief Joseph’s Wallowa Valley.
By 1863 an influx of minors and settlers caused by the gold rush prompted the government to call a new council with the Nez Perce chiefs. At this council the government offered the Nez Perce a much smaller reservation (760,000) acres situated near Lapwi a village in Idaho. In exchange the government would provide schools, hospitals and other necessities. Two of the chiefs accepted these new terms but Chief Joseph and a couple of other chiefs refused to sign the agreement.
The signers of the treaty moved all of their people to the new reservation in Idaho while those that did not sign remained on their traditional lands. A new tension existed between the two groups of Nez Perce, the signers and the non signers.
By 1873 Chief Joseph had negotiated a settlement with the government which granted him and his people the right to stay in Wallowa Valley. Four years later the government rescinded this agreement and sent General Howard to remove Chief Joseph and his people from their homeland. After meeting at Fort Lapwi General Howard gave the Wallowa band 30 days to move to Idaho. Chief Joseph plead for more time but Howard would not budge on his demands.
While his people were preparing to move Chief Joseph held council with the chiefs of the various bands of Nez Perce. Chief Joseph pushed for peace during these councils but many of the chiefs urged for war. During one council it was discovered that four young warriors had killed a group of white settlers and now the future had been cast.
Chief Joseph led his band to the Crow Indians in Montana hoping to find rescue there but the Crow people did not oblige. With General Howard in pursuit he led his people north hoping to find sanctuary with Chief Sitting Bull and his people who had moved to Canada in 1876.
He led Howard on a trek of 1170 miles utilizing tactics which commanded even Howard’s respect. After 3 months and only 40 miles from the Canadian border Chief Joseph surrendered to General Miles but this was only after a 5 day battle. Out of food, blankets and with the major war leaders dead Chief Joseph had no other choice.
During his surrender he is generally credited with what is now this famous quote:
“From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”