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Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce

There are numerous Native American blankets created by Pendleton which honor certain aspects of American Indian history. One collection which does this is that honoring Chief Joseph, who was renowned for his strength of purpose, counsel, and commitment to his peoples’ old ways.

Who Was Chief Joseph?

Chief Joseph was a member of the Nez Perce Tribe of American Indians and a leader of the Wallowa band.

The Nez Perce (“walking people”) were known as skilled warriors who lived on the Columbia River Plateau in the Pacific Northwest of what is now the USA. They are renowned for breeding the appaloosa horse in the 1700s and for their later support of Lewis and Clark. The Nez Perce today govern their reservation in Idaho and are among five federally recognized Tribes in that state.

Chief Joseph (Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt = “Thunder Rolling Down Hill”), born in 1840, was called Young Joseph by Reverend Henry Spalding, a Presbyterian minister who had established a mission among the Nez Perce in 1836. Joseph and his father, Chief Tuekakas (“Old Joseph”), lived away from the main Nez Perce population (who were across Snake River in Idaho) however they socialised and hunted with them. Tuekakas was intrigued by the white religion and allowed himself to be baptised.

Chief Joseph with his Family

After Tuekakas had a later conflict with Spalding, the family returned to the traditional tribal ways of living in their Wallowa homelands in Oregon. This was difficult to maintain, due to white settlement and miners encroaching on the traditional lands. Other Tribes were involved in uprisings and the US Army intervened, however Tuekakas was able to maintain peace for the Nez Perce.

In 1855, Tuekakas and Joseph attended a treaty council and signed a reservation treaty to preserve their homelands; it later proved to be unenforceable and future efforts called for giving up almost the entire tribal lands. This was not suited to the ancient nomadic ways of the Nez Perce. The tribe became divided as a result between those who were for and those who were against being limited to small reservations.

When Joseph assumed chieftainship in 1871, he was pressured by the US government to abandon his traditional lands and return to the Lapwai, Idaho reservation. He refused to do so, based on promises he had made his dying father.

These disputes came to a head in 1877 and Joseph’s band, alongside other Nez Perce, fled into Montana across the Bitterroot Mountains. Federal troops pursued them, and Joseph eventually surrendered close to the Canadian border. The tribe was taken to a reservation in what is now Oklahoma, where they remained until 1885. Thereafter, they were removed to Colville Reservation in Washington State.

Chief Joseph visited Washington DC several times over the ensuing years, pleading in vain to be allowed to return the Nez Perce to their traditional lands in Wallowa country.

Joseph died of what his doctor referred to as “a broken heart” in 1904. His grave lies in Nespelem, Washington.

Chief Joseph Pendleton Blankets

The Chief Joseph blanket is the oldest on-going blanket design that is produced by Pendleton Woolen Mills. Its design, to this day, remains among Pendleton's most popular Native American blankets. Designed in the 1920s, it commemorates Chief Joseph’s heroism and is balanced with arrowheads symbolizing bravery. They point in all directions of Mother Earth.

Here at Indian Traders, we offer a large and beautiful range of Pendleton blankets and throws. Among these are thirty-four blankets in our Chief Joseph Collection. These blankets are available in a range of colors and sizes and feature the famous Chief Joseph design.

Browse our full range of today and shop with us for the finest authentic Pendleton blankets to keep you warm in winter, cool in summer, and provide a stunning décor focus in your home. Get in touch with us here.