Chief Joseph Guardian of the People

American Heroes

Candy Moulton

Forge Books



Trade Paperback

240 Pages



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The Nez Percé people lived in peace with white intruders in their homelands from the time of Lewis & Clark until 1863 when a treaty called for the tribe's removal to a reservation in Idaho. Chief Joseph (1840-1904), headman of the Nez Percé band in northeastern Oregon's Wallowa Valley, became the greatest diplomat, philosopher, and—from necessity rather than choice—war leader of his people and among the most respected Indian leaders of American history.

In this meticulous and moving new study of Joseph's life, Candy Moulton—who has traveled over all the trails he and his people blazed—emphasizes the pivotal year of 1877, when the frontier military tried to force Joseph and his people onto the reservation. Instead of meekly following these outrageous orders, he led 750 Nez Percés on a 1,500-mile, four-month flight from western Idaho across Montana and through the Yellowstone country and northwest Wyoming toward safety in Canada. After many battles, the flight ended at the Bear Paws mountains in north-central Montana, just forty miles from the Canadian border and potential refuge. There the U.S. Army surrounded the Nez Percés, captured their horse herd, killed all but two of their primary chiefs, and forced capitulation. When Joseph surrendered to military leaders he told them, "From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."


Praise for Chief Joseph

"This is a carefully researched and lovingly written account of the leader of the Nez Percé in the latter part of the 19th century. Joseph is famous for his "I will fight no more forever" speech, but not famous enough for the leadership and guidance he gave his people as he tried desperately to save their land for them. Not a war chief but a leader responsible for the safety of the families under his care, Joseph sought peace and fair treatment from the American army and the American government. He found neither. After the military surrender in 1877, Joseph worked for the 27 remaining years of his life to return his people to their land and their land to his people. He did not succeed. Not until 1997 was some of their original territory returned to them. Moulton's smoothly written prose leads the reader through the tragedy of this tribe and leaves the reader with nothing but respect for the strength and nobility of its leader."—KLIATT

"Moulton has written extensively on western expansion. Here, she focuses on Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé tribe, who, after trying for years to accommodate encroaching white men on his tribal lands, gave up and attempted, in the fall of 1877, to lead his people to safety in Canada. Born in 1840, Joseph was present at the signing of the 1855 treaty, which allowed the tribe to hold on to a 5,000-square-mile region in Idaho and Oregon, including their beloved Wallowa Valley. By 1877, a year after the Battle of Little Bighorn, word came from Washington that they had to move to a small reservation instead. Joseph, now chief, decides to take his people through Yellowstone and Montana, hoping to join Sitting Bull and his followers 300 miles north in Saskatchewan. They are caught by U.S. army troops just 40 miles short of their goal, in the Battle of the Bear's Paw. Moving and well documented, this is a superb addition to the American Heroes series."—Deborah Donovan, Booklist

"The story of Chief Joseph is reflective of the forebearance and determination of the Nez Percé people. Candy Moulton has crafted a moving account of a major player in an epic chapter of American Indian history."—Jerome A. Greene, author of Nez Perce Summer, 1877

"Our written history goes from the 700 page history by Alvin Josephy to other shorter works, but none is more comprehensive than Chief Joseph . . . I appreciate Candy Moulton including details about our stay in and return from Oklahoma Territory."—Charlie Moses, Jr. Chief Joseph Band, Nez Perce Colville Reservation, Nespelem, Washington Treasurer, Nez Perce National Historical Trail Foundation

"A strong study of a brave man and his people, as only a writer such as Moulton can express."—True West

"Moulton writes with exquisite passion about one of America's greatest freedom fighters. Impeccably researched, Chief Joseph: Guardian of the People, will stand for generations as a testament to one man's heroic struggle to find a sanctuary for his people."—W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear, Authors of People of the Raven

"Chief Joseph by Candy Moulton combines good history with deep emotion. It's a book that will live in every reader's mind."—Thomas Fleming, author of Dreams of Glory

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

He Had Sharper Eyes

The old man's eyes were clouded with age, but his vision had not failed. "My son," he told the strong young man who held his feeble hand, "my body is returning to my Mother Earth. My spirit is going...

Read the full excerpt


  • Candy Moulton

  • Candy Moulton is the author of twelve Western history books including Everyday Life Among American Indians from 1800 to 1900, Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840 to 1900, Roadside History of Wyoming, and Roadside History of Nebraska. Moulton makes her home near Encampment, Wyoming, where she edits the Western Writers of America Roundup Magazine, writes regularly for several magazines including True West, Wild West, Persimmon Hill, and American Cowboy. She is a member of the Nez Percé Trail Foundation, Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail Foundation, Oregon-California Trails Association, and Western Writers of America.