~ Chief Old Joseph and the Wallowa Valley, Oregon ~



Another of my road trips in 2011 took me to Oregon to visit the gravesite of Chief Old Joseph in the Wallowa Valley. The weather was beautiful as was the scenery on the 130 mile trip from Clarkston, Washington.

Since visiting Chief Joseph in Nespelem, Washington, and reading several histories of the Nez Perce, I had the desire to visit his father's gravesite. As I am building these pages for your enjoyment, I am reading yet another history of the Nez Perce.

To get there I had to drive on Washington State Route 129 and Oregon State Route 3, two roads in places where roads should never go. It was another roller coaster ride nearly all the way. But it was worth the effort.




Washington State Route 129



When I came out of the Snake River Canyon, to get to Oregon I had to drive Washington SR 129 continuing on Oregon SR 3. That road goes high into the mountains west of the Snake River.

As I was driving up I saw a wide spot in the road to take the two shots above. The left photo shows the Snake heading north toward Clarkston, WA and Lewiston, ID. The right photo shows that I still had a climb ahead of me.


When I reached the top, I was on a high, flat plateau. It was so flat and devoid of anything worth photographing and the road was so straight, I didn't stop. It only lasted a short while though, as I was soon, once again, in Canyonland. This part of the Lower Forty-eight is rife with mountains and river canyons. It's hard to turn around and not see one. It's hard country.




That is the road I was traveling in the left side of the right photo. Imagine what it took to get there from where the photo was taken.


The Grande Rondo River Canyon


The Grande Rondo River

How did I get from there to here?




Shortly after crossing the Grande Rondo River, I was in Oergon

Old Chief Joseph




The first significant thing I saw in Oregon was the Joseph Canyon Overlook. During the winter months, Joseph's Band would leave the high Wallowa Valley for the warmer climate in Joseph Canyon along Joseph Creek. As it warmed in the spring, they would return to the high valley on the same routes established thousands of years before. Each year the cycle was repeated and life continued, without beginning, without end.

Until the settlers came.

At first there was little trouble with white settlers on Nez Perce lands. Old Joseph had formed and maintained a strong friendship with the whites, since the arrival of Lewis and Clark. A friendship carried on by his son, Joseph. But one spring, they returned to the valley to find several new settlers had staked claims on their summer campsites. The Nez Perce could not figure out why the white man didn't move to the warmer climate of the river valleys in winter and stayed on the cold plateau. While the white settlers had figured the Nez Perce were nomadic and called no place home. Through a series of compromises tensions diminished.

That lasted for about six years after the death of Old Joseph, when the United States government reneged on the treaty that gave the Wallowa Valley to Joseph's people forever, "for all time to come." the Treaty of 1855, for which Old Joseph was a key negotiator. He even re-drew one boundary to include all of the Wallowa Valley. Later he would refused to sign the "Steal Treaty" of 1863, which reduced the 1855 reservation by 90% and ceded all of the Wallowa country to the United States. That was the treaty signed by Chief Lawyer, who through a deception or a misunderstanding, indicated that he spoke for all Nez Perce. Never in their thousands of years of their history had any one man spoken for all.


The Joseph Canyon Overlook site is under the joint management of the Department of Interior's National Parks Service and the Department of Agriculture's United States Forest Service.

This is what the USFS says about this area. "Here you will embark on a journey through the 'life zones.'" Traveling from river bottom to snowcapped peaks, you will explore a variety of living conditions for people, plants and animals. The 8,600 foot gain in elevation is like a journey from Arizona to Alaska.

"Consider the route you just traveled, the time you spent following winding roads, trails, and rivers; the changing temperatures and elevations, the spectacular scenery."

It was all of that.

Joseph Canyon is one site of the Nez Perce National Historical Park. "The park links a series of widely separated sites of deep significance to the Nez Perce, historic villages, battlefields, and legend sites. The park experience involves a journey across both time and territory. Although firmly connected to homeland, the Nez Perce are a dynamic people who for thousands of years migrated seasonally between upper plains and river valleys."

The Wallowa Mountains




On the side of the road I spotted these Mallards and Canadian geese enjoying the sun and water. A short time later, I was entering Joseph, Oregon.




Joseph, Oregon, is home to several bronze work companies. Their works are on display throughout the city.


The sign reads:

Wallowa Lake fills a depression that was formerly occupied by a great river of ice that flowed out of the Wallowa Mountains to the south. This glacier reached it greatest size in the late Pliestocene Age, about 12 to 40 thousand years ago. As it flowed out onto the valley floor, the glacier built great piles of rock debris around its edges, called moraines. When the ice melted away, the mmoraines remained as the high straight ridges we see today. The lake is 283 feet deep, but the glacier was over 1500 feet thick. These moraines are some of the best-preserved examples to be found anywhere in North America.

The photo on the right is from Joseph canyon, but because of its vertical format wouldn't fit up there.

Joseph, Oregon

Wallowa Lake
Old Joseph, tiwi-teqis or Tuekakas, was born between 1785 and 1790 and came to become the principal leader of the Wallowa Nez Perce. In 1839, he was baptized and christened Joseph, a name he carried for the rest of his life, despite later renouncing Christianity. His reasoning was that if Christianity was the religion of men who cheated, lied and stole, then it was not the religion for him or the Nez Perce.

He died in 1871 at the traditional summer camp near the confluence of the Wallowa and Lostine Rivers. Leadership of the Wallowa Band passed to his eldest son, Young Joseph.

After Old Joseph's original grave near the town of Wallowa was robbed twice, he was reburied at this cemetery on September 26. 1926.


The reason for the trip


You can see on his marker the many gift offerings left by visitors over the years. Items left are to be of a personal nature. I left the hair tie I was wearing that day. The prayer cloths and ribbons on the tree are mostly left by members of Indian tribes, who come to visit.


Music is "Dreamin' Out Loud"

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