I Will Fight No More Forever (1975)



Director: Richard T. Heffron

Starring:  James Whitmore (General Oliver O. Howard), Ned Romero (Chief Joseph), Sam Elliott (Captain Wood), John Kauffman (Wahlitits), Emilio Delgado (Olloket), Nick Ramus (Rainbow), Linda Redfearn (Toma), Frank Salsedo (White Bird), Vince St. Cyr (Chief Looking Glass), Delroy White (Colonel Gibbon)

TV movie


This movie covers the story of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe and their 1,700 mile fighting retreat in an attempt to reach Canada while being attacked by the US Army under Generals Oliver O. Howard and Nelson A. Miles.  The Nez Perce did not want to fight, but were attacked while moving to their new reservation and they then made one of the most famous strategic retreats in military history.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 


White men capture a father and son of the Nez Perce tribe.  Mr. Grant accuses them of stealing his horses.  The Nez Perce tell him that they did not steal any of his horses, but Grants kills the father anyway, while his aide rifle butts the son.   Grant tells the son to go back and tell the others of his tribe that "this is what happens to horse thieves".

The son carries the body of his father back to his tribe.  He tells Chief Joseph that he wants to avenge his father, but the chief counsels peace.  The young man demands to know "when do we fight".  Chief Joseph's brother, Olloket, the leader of the young warriors, wants revenge too.  But Chief Joseph insists on peace.  He says that they will go see the one-armed general, Oliver Otis Howard. 

Wallowa Valley, Oregon, May 14, 1877.   General Howard is very sympathetic to the Indian cause and admits that they have become exiles in their own country.  The Nez Perce are about the last free group of Indians in the United States.  Howard founded Howard University in Washington, D.C. and he organized the sending of food to feed the hungry of the American south following the Civil War. 

Eight Nez Perce arrive to talk with Howard.  The general gives Chief Joseph a buffalo stuffed toy made by his wife for the Chief's wife. Chief Joseph thanks him, but complains that the whites go free, while only the Nez Perce are punished.  Howard tells Joseph that "I will take responsibility for the arrest of Grant".  But Howard has bad news for the Nez Perce. The Secretary of the Interior has ordered the Nez Perce out to settle on the reservation.  Olloket replies that he will not go on the reservation.  Howard tells them he will give them four days to give him their reply.   

General Sherman of Civil War fame is in charge of the campaigns against the Indians.  Captain Wood complains about the treatment of the Nez Perce.  Howard says "Yes, it's wrong, but we are soldiers and we have our orders."

Chief Joseph's wife gives birth to a baby girl.  He tells his people that to fight a war means death to us and advises them to go on the reservation.  The young Nez Perce whose father was killed by Mr. Grant gets his revenge.  He corners Grant in a bar and kills him.  When the young warrior tells Chief Joseph, his reply is that the war is here.  But Joseph still says:  "I will talk to Howard if he will listen."

A meeting is arranged between Captain Perry and Chief Joseph.  Both men come to the meeting with their forces.  Captain Perry tells citizen Chapin to take himself and his men to the rear.  Chapin takes his men toward the rear, but not that far back.  He then shoots one of the men with Chief Joseph as they approach Captain Perry.  In the fight that follows Captain Perry looses 34 of his men, one-third of his command.  General Howards fumes when he learns what happened and he scolds Captain Perry for not controlling the civilians accompanying his troops.  Now Howard will have to pursue the Nez-Perce.

June 28, 1877.  Salmon River, Idaho Territory.  Chief Joseph has about 700 people in his village, but only around 100 warriors.  General Howard has a group of his men feign an frontal assault on the Nez-Perce by the river while the rest of the army crosses the river and strikes at the Nez Perce at first light.  Howard attacks at dawn but finds that the Nez Perce are gone.  Chef Joseph re-crossed the Salmon River to avoid Howard.  But the chase is on. 

Chief Joseph takes the Lola trail through the Bitteroot Mountains.  They win skirmishes at White Bird Canyon and Clearwater.  From an old Indian man Howard learns that Joseph is headed for Canada.  Howard sends ahead a group of his men to block the Lolo trail so Joseph cannot get into Montana.  The Nez Perce, however, get around the army by going over a mountain that no one thought was passable. 

Howard counters this move by telegraphing Gibbon at Ft. Missoula to attack the Nez Perce.  The Nez Perce stop to rest in Montana partly because they know the army is far behind them.  But Olloket is afraid of the peace.  And he was right to be afraid.  Gibbon finds the Nez Perce and attacks them.  The native Americans are able to push them back, but then the army uses their howitzer on the encampment killing a number of women and children.  With the army pushed back at this  battle of Big Hole, Chief Joseph takes his people into Crow territory.  They are in the area of Yellowstone Park.  Little do they know, however, that they are in the area where many soldier columns are converging. 

News correspondents complain to General Howard that in June he promised them that it would be a short campaign against the Nez Perce, but now it is September and they have still not been caught.  The Nez Perce have traveled some 900 miles and many of their readers are starting to be sympathetic to the Nez Perce.  Howard is not pleased with the criticism.  He is even less pleased to receive a telegram from General Sherman:  "If you are tired, give the assignment to a more energetic officer."  Howard complains that he has been rebuked, threatened, mocked and now Sherman questions his competence.  But he is not giving up.  Merritt is on the south; Heart is east at the Shoshone; Dawn is blocking the north; and Stan Sturgis holds the mouth of the Clark Fork River at the Yellowstone. 

The Crow are scared of the consequences of sheltering the Nez Perce, so Canada is the last hope for the Nez Perce.  They capture a stage coach.  They ask a prospector traveling with the stage coach how they would best cross the mountains.  They threaten the man that they will kill him if he does not tell the truth.  The prospector suggests that they go to the Shoshone River and then from there follow it into Montana.  Chief Joseph believes him and lets them and the stage coach go.  The Chief knows the prospector will tell Howard that the Nez Perce are heading for the Shoshone River, so they will head for the Clark Fork River.

Howard, thinking ahead, figures that the report about the Shoshone River destination is a ruse and he figures Chief Joseph will head to Clark Fork Canyon.  But Stan Sturgis and the Seventh Cavalry will attack him there.  But Sturgis at Clark Fork thinks he is missing out on the action and heads for Shoshone for a shot at the Nez Perce.  Howard is furious when Sturgis follows a false trail and ends up at the General's encampment.  Now what should they do?  The Nez Perce are 50 miles ahead of them.  Howard knows that Colonel Miles is located to the northeast with the Second Cavalry.  He suggests that they slow down and the Indians would also slow down.  And if the Indians slow down, then Colonel Miles will have the time to get in front of Chief Joseph.  A message is sent to Colonel Miles.

A scout heads back to the Nez Perce encampment to yell: "Canada!"   Some urge Chief Joseph to continue on and get into Canada before the soldiers catch up with them.  Canada is only 40 miles away.  But others counsel that the non-warriors are in desperate need of rest.  So they decide to head out early the next morning.  They have traveled 1,600 miles in 11 weeks and have fought 10 separate army units to victory or standstill. 

The next morning the Nez Perce village is awakened with a howitzer blast from Colonel Miles's forces.  General Howard's scout hears noise of the battle and tells Howard who hurries toward the battle.  Chief Joseph says that he won't be able to make it to Canada. During the night, quite a few of the braves head out for Canada.  Chief Joseph's wife and child goes with them. 

The next morning, General Howard, Captain Wood and Colonel Miles ride their horses over to meet with Chief Joseph and his exhausted people.  There he gives his famous speech including the phrase:  "I will fight no more forever." 

Chief Joseph died in 1904 on the Coleville Reservation, Washington. 


Pretty good movie.  It is the story of the amazing running battle between Chief Joseph and General Howard for some 1,600 miles north to 40 miles short of safety for the Nez Perce in Canada.  This is even more amazing knowing that the Nez Perce only had around 100 warriors and 600 older men, women and children.  James Whitmore is very good as General Howard. Ned Romero is good as Chief Joseph.  The film quality is not the greatest, but the story is interesting. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1805  --  at the time of the Lewis and Clarke Expedition, the Nez Perce Indian tribe was living in the Pacific Northwest in parts of Washington, Oregon and Idaho around the Snake and Clearwater Rivers.  Their language was part of the Sahaptian language family. 

Probably the best known of the Nez Perce leaders was Chief Joseph who resisted the onslaught of settlers onto their lands.

1840  --  the future Chief Joseph born in the Wallowa Valley, northeastern Oregon.  His father was a chief who always counseled peace with the whites. 

1855  --  Isaac Stevens, the governor of Washington Territory, organized a council to designate separate areas for Natives and settlers.  Chief Joseph the Elder refused to participate.  He claimed that "no man owned any part of the earth, and a man could not sell what was not his own."   This led to "treaty" and "non-Treaty" bands of Nez Perce.

1863  --  another council meeting resulted in the seizure of six million acres of Nez Perce land by a chief named Lawyer.  Chief Joseph the Elder also boycotted this council.  The "non-treaty" Nez Perce remained where they were, while the "treaty" band  moved to the Indian Reservation in Idaho.

1871  --  Joseph succeeded his father as chief.

1873  --  Chief Joseph negotiated with the federal government so his people could stay on their land in the Wallowa Valley.

1876  --  the American Centennial; Custer massacred at the Battle of Little Big Horn. 

1877  --   the government reversed itself and demanded that the Nez Perce relocate Lapwai.  General Howard threatened to attack the tribe if they did not relocate.  Chief Joseph reluctantly agreed.

General Howard offered Joseph, White Bird and Looking Glass a plot of land that was inhabited by Whites and Indians (saying he would move the then current inhabitants out of the area).  Joseph and his chieftains refused, saying they would not take what did not belong to them.  Howard responded by saying that the Indians had just 30 days to move to the new location.  He added that if they did not meet the dead-line, the US would consider this an act of war. 

Joseph argued for peace, while others in the tribe argued for war.  While at a conference discussing the matter, a young brave whose father had been killed by the whites rode up to the council,  declaring that he and other braves  had just killed four Whites.

Still hoping for peace, Joseph and 800 Nez Perce began to move to the new reservation.  But 16 miles from home, he was attacked by 2000 soldiers.  Joseph now headed for the Canadian border, beginning a 108-day fighting retreat that would prove to be one of the greatest in military history.  (Chief Joseph, who was not a war chief, did not actually lead the retreat.)

The tribe traveled 1,700 miles crossing Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. 

A five-day battle during freezing weather with no food or blankets, the Nez Perce suffered a devastating loss.

1877 (October 5)  --  Chief Joseph surrendered to General Nelson Appleton Miles in the Bear Paw mountains in Blaine County, Montana, only 40 miles south of Canada. It was here he made his famous statement: "from where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."  The retreat and his speech earned Chief Joseph the nickname "The Red Napoleon" in the press.

The Nez Perce ended up not in Oregon, but in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). 

1879  --  Chief Joseph met with President Rutherford B. Hayes in Washington, D.C. to plead for a return to part of their old homeland. 

1885  --  Chief Joseph and his followers were allowed to return to the Pacific Northwest, but not to the Wallowa Valley.  They moved to the Colville Indian Reservation in eastern Washington State.  There were 11 other tribes living on the reservation.  The Nez Perce still live there today. 


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