There are many different ways that you will see Chief Joseph's Nez Perce name written and translated: Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, or “Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain." In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat, “Thunder coming up over the land from the water." Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it, "Thunder Rolling to Loftier Heights"
Born in 1840, just two years after Christian missionaries had moved into the area of the Nez Perce, and stepping into the role of Chief when his father passed away in 1871 - Chief Joseph inherited the immense responsibility of leading his people through what is arguably the most painful chapter of their recorded history. "I have carried a heavy load on my back ever since I was a boy. I learned then that we were but few while the white men were many, and that we could not hold our own with them. We were like deer. They were like grizzly bears. We had a small country. Their country was large. We were contented to let things remain as the Great Spirit Chief made them. They were not; and would change the mountains and rivers if they did not suit them." Chief Joseph was greatly beloved by his people, and his strength of character, eloquence, and wisdom continues to leave a lasting impression on people from around the world today.
Reading articles and historical accounts, you find that Chief Joseph was greatly respected and he gained the attention of many public figures during his life. Due to the skill in battle that the Nez Perce showed during the war of 1877, settlers and townspeople came to fear him and many newspaper articles after the war reflect this sentiment. Modern studies and analysis produce a much less biased representation of who Chief Joseph was - he was not a war chief, but a man who went to great lengths to keep the peace; he was intelligent, eloquent and fair. During the final battle of the war, with freedom in Canada just 40 miles away, he didn't run - he stayed with the weak, the young, and the elderly to protect them.
Chief Joseph saw much sadness and injustice in his life. Of the nine children born to him, not one lived into full adulthood. He saw many of his people die during the war, and many more die from disease while in exile in Kansas and Oklahoma. He spent the last years of his life fighting for his people to be allowed to return to their Wallowa home, ultimately dying of a broken heart 300 miles away from the land that he loved.
"... Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."