On October 5, 1877, Chief Joseph, exhausted and disheartened, surrendered in the Bears Paw Mountains of Montana, forty miles south of Canada. Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain was born in 1840 in the Wallowa Valley of what is now northeastern Oregon. He took the name of his father, (Old) Chief Joseph, or Joseph the Elder. When his father died in 1871, Joseph, or Joseph the Younger, was elected his father's successor. He continued his father's efforts to secure the Nez Percé claim to their land while remaining peaceful towards the whites.
In 1873, Chief Joseph negotiated with the federal government to ensure that his people could stay on their land in the Wallowa Valley as stipulated in 1855 and 1863 land treaties with the U.S. government. But, in a reversal of policy in 1877, General Oliver Otis Howard threatened to attack if the Indians did not relocate to an Idaho reservation. Chief Joseph reluctantly agreed.
As they began their journey to Idaho, Chief Joseph learned that a group of Nez Percé men, enraged at the loss of their homeland, had killed some white settlers in the Salmon River area. Fearing U.S. Army retaliation, the chief began a retreat. With 2,000 soldiers in pursuit, Chief Joseph led a band of about 700 Nez Percé Indians—fewer than 200 of whom were warriors, towards freedom—nearly reaching the Canadian border. For over three months, the Nez Percé had outmaneuvered and battled their pursuers traveling some 1,000 miles across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.