Wallowa Lake, Oregon, located in NE Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness, is known as the 'Little Switzerland of America'. Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Perce Indians, who made the Wallowa Valley their home, traditionally gathered fish, game, and wild plants around Wallowa and in the surrounding hills. They followed changing seasons to headwaters of rivers and high mountains of the Wallowas in the summer and returned to deep canyons of the Snake River and its tributaries in winter.
At Walla Walla (WA) in 1855, Indians from many Northwest tribes, including almost all Nez Perce chiefs and sub-chiefs, signed a treaty leaving the Wallowas and large chunks of land in the present states of Idaho and Washington to the Nez Perce. In 1863, with the discovery of gold and increased settler pressure, a new meeting of Nez Perce bands was convened. The government asked the Indians to reduce their lands by almost six million acres, accepting a reservation approximately one-tenth of what they agreed to in 1855. With good reason, Chief Joseph chose not to sign the new treaty, standing up to the US government instead. In the long run, he lost, but he fought as a brave warrior chief for the rights of his people. I get a chill every time I hear his final words of battle fatigue: "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" Ok, so we won the battles, but the Wallowas and Eagle Cap Wilderness still belong to Chief Joseph and his family of brave Nez Perce in my heart.
Several chiefs, including Old Chief Joseph, father of the famous Young Chief Joseph, Heinmot Tookyalakekt, walked out, and from that time on became known as non-treaty' Nez Perce. After this walkout, an Idaho Nez Perce chief named Lawyer and other chiefs were browbeaten into signing a treaty on behalf of all Nez Perce. Government folks reported
to Washington the job was done.'
Young Chief Joseph never accepted the 1863 treaty. He did continue to befriend Wallowa settlers and government officials. But he also looked for a way for his people to remain in the Wallowas of Oregon. In fact, in 1873, the government briefly decided that Wallowa lands had not been legally ceded and ordered the removal of white settlers. Howls from settlers and Oregon politicians caused a quick reversal of that decision.
Following the defeat of Custer in 1876 a new discipline was imposed on Indians by the US Army. Young Chief Joseph's band of Nez Perce and all others must constrain themselves to the boundaries of the 1863 reservation. But after searching the confines of a greatly reduced territory, Young Chief Joseph found no land suitable for his people that was not already occupied.
After discussions in May 1877 General Howard incarcerated the Nez Perce spokesman, Toohoolhooltzote. Young Chief Joseph then decided his people would have to resettle away from the reservation lands in Idaho to preserve their culture and religion. As a result of this some dissension broke out. Some Nez Perce preferred to settle in Lapwai to avoid retaliation by the U.S. government, while others prepared to travel to buffalo country or Canada for freedom. In June 1877 near the reservation young warriors killed some white settlers. One of the warriors was the son of a man killed by a settler. The Nez Perce War' - really a 1200 mile retreat ending 40 miles short of Canada - ensued.
wallowa lake oregon