The Nez Pierce Indians inhabited the Southwest United States and today was the largest ethnic group in the Columbian Plateau. The Nez Pierce Indians are related to the Cayuse, Tenina, and Umatilla. Like all Plains Indians, the Nez Pierce Indians were skillful at herding and using horses. What set the Nez Pierce Indians apart from others tribes was their unusually peaceful relationship with Americans.
There were few wars and conflicts between the Nez Pierce and Americans, and they often engaged in trade and shared views. One Nez Pierce chief, Chief Joseph allowed himself to be baptized, which is the reason he took the name Joseph. He passed the name on to his son who realized that the relationship with the Nez Pierce Indians and the Americans would not end peacefully. The second Chief Joseph became embroiled in a lengthy war with the American as they fought to force his tribe onto an Idaho reservation.
This long, dramatic battle lasted from 1870 until 1877. General William Tecumseh Sherman, an enemy of the Nez Pierce Indians admired their endurance in battle and their resilience. The Nez Pierce were forced to retreat without supplies, and it was after the numbers of Nez Pierce Indians began to fall through starvation and freezing temperatures, Chief Joseph finally surrendered to the Americans in 1877.
The courage demonstrated by the Nez Pierce Indians transcends their defeat, and is one of the most outstanding demonstrations of resistance in Native American history. When Chief Joseph surrendered, he was referred to as “The Red Napoleon” partly out of respect, since he was such a formidable force among the Indians and because he held out for such along time before he was eventually defeated. The Nez Pierce war is remembered as one of the last major Indian wars and the courage with which the Nez Pierce fought is remembered with admiration for those who gave up everything to defend their territory.