American Portraits

Treat All Men Alike: Chief Joseph and Respect

In this lesson, students will review the words and actions of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce people in the Pacific Northwest. They will identify examples of people treating one another with respect and examples of disrespect.

Founding Principles

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Equal Protection

The principle of equal justice under law means that every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law. There are no individuals or groups who are born with the right to rule over others.

Equality image

Equality

Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Narrative

Settlers continued to arrive in the Wallowa Valley, but Chief Joseph refused to force his people to move. The situation was tense when Chief Joseph the Elder died in 1871 and his son, Joseph the Younger, was elected to take his place. In 1873, it seemed that the Nez Perce cause was vindicated when the federal government ordered the white settlers to evacuate and return the land to the Native Americans. However, in 1877 the government reversed the order and General Oliver Howard ordered Chief Joseph the Younger’s band to abandon their homes and move to the reservation. Chief Joseph is said to have responded to the general with an address that focused on respect for human equality. He expressed his disbelief that “the Great Spirit gave one kind of men the right to tell another kind of men what they must do.” Howard threatened a cavalry attack to remove the Wallowa Nez Perce. Joseph sought the counsel of tribal leaders, and decided that they had no feasible chance of successful resistance to U.S. troops. He agreed to begin the journey to Idaho with his people….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can lack of respect lead to tragedy and heartbreak?

Virtue Defined

Respect is civility flowing from personal humility.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will review the words and actions of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce people in the Pacific Northwest. They will identify examples of people treating one another with respect and examples of disrespect. They will achieve the following objectives.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze Chief Joseph’s character as a leader and his commitment to respecting all people.
  • Students will examine Chief Joseph’s understanding of respect as a necessary virtue.
  • Students will understand why cultivating respect affects the future of the United States.
  • Students will demonstrate respect in their own lives to protect freedom.

Background

The Wallowa Valley had been the ancestral home of a band of the Nez Perce for many years before the Lewis and Clark expedition discovered them in 1805. With his men starving and desperate, Lewis described his encounter with this exceptional group of Native Americans, calling them “the most hospitable, honest and sincere people that we have met with in our voyage.” Decades later, under the leadership of Chief Joseph the Elder, the Nez Perce continued to welcome and assist the white visitors who were arriving with increasing frequency. The green valley nestled between mountains in what is now northeastern Oregon was visually stunning, with fish-filled lakes and rivers, and the Nez Perce hoped to share it peacefully with new settlers. In 1855, Chief Joseph and Washington’s territorial governor agreed to establish a large reservation stretching through parts of present-day Washington, Oregon, and Idaho—land that would forever be designated for the Nez Perce.

However, with the discovery of gold in the region, the United States’ government in 1863 reclaimed almost 6 million acres of the reservation. This act left Chief Joseph and his people with some scattered pockets of land in Idaho that amounted to only one-tenth of the land previously set aside for them and did not include the ancestral Wallowa Valley home. To help sweeten the deal, the U.S. promised cash, a hospital, and schools. Some of the Nez Perce people moved to the new smaller reservation, but Chief Joseph called the new treaty invalid and refused to sign it.

Vocabulary

  • Ancestral
  • Nez Perce
  • Lewis and Clark Expedition
  • Reservation
  • Wallowa Valley
  • Joseph the Elder
  • Joseph the Younger
  • Vindicated
  • Evacuate
  • Cavalry
  • Feasible
  • Reprisals
  • Outmaneuvered
  • Skirmishes
  • Scalping
  • Elicited
  • Decimated

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions (unless specified otherwise, students may answer all questions about Chief Joseph with reference to Joseph the Elder, Joseph the Younger, or both.)

  • In what ways did Chief Joseph demonstrate respect for others, seeking to enhance life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for himself and others?
  • What was the identity of Chief Joseph the Younger during the 1870s? To what extent do you see emphasis on the virtue of respect in his words and actions?
  • As he led his people, how did Chief Joseph see his purpose?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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