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~ Chief Joseph ~
The land of Winding Waters
In the place known as Oregon -
Sacred land deeded to them
At the first rising of the sun -
These Nez Perce, people of Joseph
Were the heart of their homeland -
Where the great eagle soared the sky
Above treetops of forests, grand -
Where ponies grazed the green glade
And naked boys, mounted bareback
Laughing and shouting happily
Raced to some certain place and back -
Young bodies glistening with droplets
Of crystal, cool water that cools -
Bronze skin drying in bright sunlight
On sandbars of eddying pools -
A land of peace and contentment
Where man could walk, proud and free -
Where his roots grew deep into the Earth -
Where heart and soul would always be -
They would fish for the great Salmon
On their homeward river run
Bound, with great determination
To where their life had first begun -
Something in their blood akin to mans'
When he has long been on the roam -
Some compelling force within
That leads him back to his home -
They seemed insurmountable -
Those obstacles to be leapt -
But only death would stop his trek
To where heart and soul were kept.
The Salmon jumped high from the water -
Buried 'neath the Earth the Camas roots -
Herds of Buffalo across the mountains
Known as the Bitterroots
It truly was a land of plenty -
Blessed by the Great Chief in the sky
And loved by the Nez Perce people
Born there to live until they'd die -
It was home, their heritage -
Where their forefathers' wisdom
Echoed from the Burial Grounds
Which was listened to and done -
Around campfires Chiefs told stories
Of the paleface searching for the sea -
How, Chief Twisted Hair drew a map
To show them where it might be -
They returned with tales of conquests
Which still live until this day -
Of how this Indian Nation helped
Lewis and Clark find their way.
A peaceful tribe like most
Who tried to share with the white man -
Until the forked-tongued ones
Tried to force them from their land -
Under the flag of truce -
Fired on by those in blue -
Chief Joseph gave the war cry
Of the battle that ensued -
Nearly three months of fighting
As the Nez Perce tried to flee
To the safety of Canada
Where they hoped they could be free -
But the bluecoats kept on coming -
And despite their valiant fight
Joseph bowed in surrender
On one cold September night.
He said, "Most of our Chiefs are killed
And too many Braves lay dead."
As he cast down his rifle
He raised his blanket o'er his head -
He said, "My heart is sick and sad.
Our children freeze in the weather.
From where the sun now stands,
I will fight no more, forever."
Placed on far-off reservations
And finally back to the Northwest -
Never to return to Wallowa
The land they loved, the best -
One hundred-fifty of them left
Sent to the Colville Reservation -
Sentenced to a life of poverty
Was another Great Indian Nation.
In the year of nineteen hundred-four
Chief Josephs' Spirit did depart -
And a doctor who examined him
Said, "He died of a broken heart."
In this story lies a moral
And a shameful legacy
That to this day defiles the words,
"The Land Of The Free!"

Del "Abe" Jones 2004
used with permission

This was inspired by the book with the same title, by Robert Penn Warren.
 Mr. Warren was kind enough to critique it for me before his death.

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