Chief Joseph and the 1877 War and Flight of the Nez Perce

By Roger M. Peterson

A Pacific Northwest historic event provided the topic for a recent meeting of the Kittitas County Genealogical Society in Ellensburg, WA. Society member David Storla gave a presentation about the 1877 War and Flight and the famous Nez Perce Chief Joseph who is closely associated with this historic event which occurred 140 years ago.

In his presentation, Mr. Storla told his audience the tragic tale of how the ever increasing encroachment of settlers onto Nez Perce homelands resulted in a series of treaties which substantially reduced the size of land recognized as traditional Nez Perce homeland. The Treaty of 1863 caused the Nez Perce tribe to be divided into “Treaty” and Non-Treaty” groups and eventually the U. S. Army to ordered the “Non-Treaty” group to voluntarily move onto the reservation within 30 days or the Army would move them by force. This led to bloodshed and a journey of 1170 miles by the “Non-Treaty” Nez Perce group closely pursued by the U. S. Army.

 Along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, at the Big Hole National Battlefield near Wisdom, MT. Battle commemoration August 2010. US Forest Service photo, by Roger Peterson

Along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, at the Big Hole National Battlefield near Wisdom, MT. Battle commemoration August 2010. US Forest Service photo, by Roger Peterson

The flight finally ended 40 miles short of Canada in Northern Montana on October 5, 1877. Mr. Storla pointed out to his audience the various events leading up to the war as well as events during and after the war that affected the Nez Perce. He also displayed around the room, several “Show and Tell” items about the conflict further explaining aspects of the war. He told of how he had received many of the materials used in his presentation through the generous help of Sandra Broncheau-McFarland, Administrator of the Nez Perce (Nee-Me- Poo) National Historic Trail (NPNHT) office in Idaho.

Of particular interest to the attendees was information about the NPNHT and the ability to travel a “part of history” and visit sites along the Trail, using information contained in the Auto Tour brochures produced by the NPNHT staff.

 Along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail in SW Montana. Big Hole National Battlefield. US Forest Service photo, by Roger Peterson

Along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail in SW Montana. Big Hole National Battlefield. US Forest Service photo, by Roger Peterson

Near the end of Mr. Storla’s presentation he presented a handout list of resources regarding the war and Chief Joseph for further research by his audience. He also showed a slide of a 6 foot tall bust of Chief Joseph that is displayed at the west edge of Ellensburg, right next to the main road into/out of Ellensburg from Exit 106 on Interstate 90.

As he concluded his presentation Mr. Storla shared a special connection he has with Chief Joseph as he showed the attendees a Chief Joseph handmade doll that his mother made for him several years ago. In addition to the doll, he showed a miniature rifle his dad had made to go along with the doll. These items hold a special place in David’s memory of his parents. Mr. Storla also mentioned that Sandra Broncheau-McFarland told him she was a direct descendant of Chief Joseph so Mr. Storla is especially thankful for all the help she provided him in the preparation of his talk to the genealogical society.

Those who would like to know more about the NPNHT and receive information to plan any upcoming travel can visit the NPNHT website or contact NPNHT staff by e-mail at: npnht@fs.fed.us

Roger M. Peterson is a Public Affairs Specialist with the U.S. Forest Service at Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail