Morton Kunstler (American, B. 1931)

Morton Kunstler (American, B. 1931) “Chief Joseph Surrenders” Signed and dated lower right. Original Oil painting on Illustration Board. Provenance: Collection of James A. Helzer (1946-2008), Founder of Unicover Corporation.

This painting was published on the Fleetwood Commemorative Cover for Epic Events in American History series issued in 1985.

From the first landings at Jamestown and Plymouth, Americans had been at war with the Indians. One of the most tragic chapters in this perpetual warfare was the expulsion of the Nez Perce (the Pierced Noses) from their ancestral lands in Idaho. These Indians had welcomed Lewis and Clark as early as 1804, and later on American missionaries. But when settlers of the 1870s invaded the Nez Perce lands looking for gold, and the U.S. Government attempted to drive the Nez Perce out of their reservation, they fought back under the leadership of the remarkable Chief Joseph. The Nez Perce fought in vain. Hoping to find refuge in Canada, Chief Joseph led his tribe on a trek of nearly two thousand miles through the Rockies. Thirty miles from his goal, General Nelson Niles caught up with him in the Bear Paw Mountains. Vastly outnumbered, Chief Joseph fought bravely but was forced to surrender against overwhelming odds. Exiled to Oklahoma, his farewell speech to his people is one of the most moving in the history of American eloquence: I am tired. Our chiefs are killed … The old men are all dead. It is the young men now who say “yes” or “no.” … It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run … away to the hills and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find … My heart is sick and sad. I am tired.”

Image Size: 12 x 14 in.
Overall Size: 18.25 x 20 in.