id your tree

Pinus contorta  ‘Chief Joseph”

photo l. fowler

I seem to be on a Brilliant Gold kick! But can you blame me? This time of year we have few opportunities to enjoy the warm sunny color of summer with the exception of gold conifers like the Chief Joseph Lodgepole Pines. Its new growth in the spring and summer is lime green – then when the frost of late fall and winter arrive – the exceptional gold color is revealed and stands out against the winter garden. Hardy to USDA Zone 5.

Once the dwarf conifer establishes it is drought tolerant. Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ is a slow growing dwarf perfect for ornamental gardens. With a mature height of 10 to 12 feet depending on the site, and a width of 4 to 10 feet, 4 to 6 inches of growth per year, It has a compact tight shape bearing needles in bundles of two. During the summer months its foliage is lime green, but in early fall it morphs to a glowing yellow color that adds vibrancy and texture to a gardens winter interest. It retains the gold color until the following spring, when it once again reverts to green.

The Pacific Northwest native, or naturalized, cultivar was discovered and later introduced, by Doug Will of Sandy, Oregon. ‘Legend’ tells of its discovery in late 1970’s when Mr. Will was elk hunting in the Wallowa Mountains. He came across the bright pine seedling and being a conifer aficionado, recognized a gem, cutting out from the frozen soil and bringing it to the Willamette Valley – home to some of the best U.S. conifer propagators.

photo – Seattle Times
all in a name:
Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt (1840 – 1904)
Chief Joseph – PBS.org

PBS New Perspectives on the West “Chief Joseph” https://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/a_c/chiefjoseph.htm

Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt -Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain – was known widely as Joseph the Younger because his father, one of the first Nez Percé to convert to Christianity was baptised Joseph. In 1855, Joseph the Elder, assisted the Washington territorial governor in developing the Nez Percé reservation that stretched from Oregon into Idaho, and was a supporter of the longstanding peace with the white man. However in 1863, Joseph the Elder felt betrayed when the federal government took six million acres of land and restricted the Nez Percé to a reservation in Idaho one tenth of its prior size, following a Gold Rush into the former reservation. He denounced the United States ad destroyed his American flag and his Bible – refused to move his people from the Wallowa Valley or sign the treaty that would make the new reservation boundaries official.

Upon Joseph the Elder’s death in 1871, Joseph the Younger was elected to succeed him, inheriting a name and a situation that was increasingly volatile as more white settlers arrived in the Valley. He resisted all efforts to force his band onto the small Idaho reservation, and in 1873 a federal order to remove the white settlers and let his people remain made it appear that he might have been successful. But the federal government soon reversed itself, and in 1877 General Oliver Otis Howard threatened a cavalry attack to force Joseph’s band of 1000 men, women, and children, of which less than a quarter were fighting men, and other hold-outs onto the reservation. Believing military resistance futile, Joseph reluctantly led his people toward Idaho.

Unfortunately, they never got there. About twenty young Nez Percé warriors, enraged at the loss of their homeland, staged a raid on nearby settlements and killed several whites. Immediately, the army began to pursue Joseph’s band and the others who had not moved onto the reservation. Although he had opposed war, Joseph cast his lot with the war leaders.

What followed was one of the most brilliant military retreats in American history. Even the unsympathetic General William Tecumseh Sherman could not help but be impressed with the 1,400 mile march, stating that “the Indians throughout displayed a courage and skill that elicited universal praise… [they] fought with almost scientific skill, using advance and rear guards, skirmish lines, and field fortifications.” In over three months, the band of about 700, fewer than 200 of whom were warriors, fought 2,000 U.S. soldiers and Indian auxiliaries in four major battles and numerous skirmishes.

By the time he formally surrendered on October 5, 1877, Joseph was widely referred to in the American press as “the Red Napoleon.” It is unlikely, however, that he played as critical a role in the Nez Percé’s military feat as his legend suggests. He was never considered a war chief by his people, and even within the Wallowa band, it was Joseph’s younger brother, Olikut, who led the warriors, while Joseph was responsible for guarding the camp. It appears, in fact, that Joseph opposed the decision to flee into Montana and seek aid from the Crows and that other chiefs –Looking Glass and some who had been killed before the surrender — were the true strategists of the campaign.

I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, “Yes” or “No.” He who led the young men [Olikut] is dead. 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 — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.

Joseph’s widely reprinted surrender speech has immortalized him as a military leader in American popular culture:

Joseph’s fame did him little good. Although he had surrendered with the understanding that he would be allowed to return home, Joseph and his people were instead taken first to eastern Kansas and then to a reservation in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) where many of them died of epidemic diseases. Although he was allowed to visit Washington, D.C., in 1879 to plead his case to U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes, it was not until 1885 that Joseph and the other refugees were returned to the Pacific Northwest. Even then, half, including Joseph, were taken to a non-Nez Percé reservation in northern Washington, separated from the rest of their people in Idaho and their homeland in the Wallowa Valley.

In his last years, Joseph spoke eloquently against the injustice of United States policy toward his people and held out the hope that America’s promise of freedom and equality might one day be fulfilled for Native Americans as well. An indomitable voice of conscience for the West, he died in 1904, still in exile from his homeland, according to his doctor “of a broken heart.”

PBS New Perspectives on the West “Chief Joseph”

For more information on conifers and their care visit:

American Conifer Society database. Founded in 1983, the ACS is a 501(c)3 organization whose purpose is to promote the use of conifers in the garden and landscape and to educate the public about their care and conservation.

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