Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Nez Perce Trail

During your stay at the Mountain View Motel and RV Park, you may want to check out the Nez Perce National Historical Trail, a portion of which traverses Northeastern Oregon. The trail is part of the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Park which is comprised of thirty-eight various sites of Nez Perce history in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and Montana.

 Nez Perce Trail marks historic flight of the Wallowa Band

The Nez Perce Trail marks the attempted flight in 1877 by the Chief Joseph band of Nez Perces from Wallowa County to British Territory (Canada) where Chief Sitting Bull had sought asylum. This flight became necessary in the wake of broken treaties, skirmishes with settlers, and pursuit by the US Army.

The trail was originally added to the National Park Trail System by Congress in 1986, with fourteen additional historic sites in Oregon, Washington, and Montana included eight years later. Of the 55 miles of trail in Oregon, 40 miles cross private property and 15 are on national forest land. This is not a trail you can follow in the conventional sense -- a line with a fixed starting and ending point. And it can only be toured by vehicle intermittently because it traverses rugged and largely inaccessible country.  

gravesite of elder chief joseph with wallowa mountains in background
The Gravesite of the Elder Chief Joseph Near Wallowa Lake
Chief Joseph's Grave

The Nez Perce Trail starts at the grave of Old Chief Joseph who died in 1870. This site, open to the public, is located along Hwy. 82, one mile south of Joseph, Oregon, on the north end of Wallowa Lake. It is the final resting place of the elder Chief Joseph who was originally buried near the convergence of the Wallowa and Lostine rivers, a traditional Nez Perce camp located about 12 miles northwest of Enterprise, Oregon. The chief's original grave was desecrated so it was moved to this spot near the lake in 1928 for protection. This is a sacred and sensitive place for the Nez Perce people.
Stone wall and gateposts built by the Umatilla Tribal Civilian Conservation Corps at Chief Joseph gravesite
Entrance to the Chief Joseph Gravesite near Joseph, OR
The cemetery is separated from the highway by a cobble wall and gateposts built by the Umatilla Tribal Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938-40.  The younger Chief Joseph is buried near Nespelem, Washington, where he died in 1904 on the Colville Indian Reservation after trying unsuccessfully to return to the Wallowas with his people.
Dug Bar

The trail heads northeast and crosses the Snake River at Dug Bar, the traditional crossing site where the Chief Joseph band forded before the 1877 Nez Perce War. They were intending to settle on the reservation near Lapwai, Idaho, but some young warriors were accused of killing settlers before they got there and the Army retaliated, so the Chief Joseph and the band headed to Montana until things cooled down but they escalated instead.

 Joseph Canyon

Another historical site along the trail is the dramatic Joseph Canyon Overlook along Oregon Hwy 3 between Enterprise and the Washington border. It was named after Chief Joseph who is traditionally thought to have been born in a cave on the east bank of Joseph Creek in Asotin County. Joseph Canyon contains Joseph Creek, a tributary of the Grande Ronde River, which flows into the Snake River. Prior to European settlement, the Nez Perce used the canyon bottomlands as a travel corridor from summer camp sites in the Wallowa valley to winter camps along the Grande Ronde and Snake rivers where wildlife and plant foods were plentiful. In later centuries, the Nez Perce grazed horses on the canyon grasslands. The Nez Perce Tribe lost the canyon land because of broken treaties but the tribe has since repurchased it. 
Tipi in foreground at Joseph Canyon Overlook in NE Oregon
Joseph Canyon Overlook in Northeastern Oregon
The Nez Perce Trail goes from Joseph, Oregon, to Northern Montana
The Nez Perce trail enters Idaho at Lewiston and cuts across north-central Idaho, entering Montana near Lolo Pass. It then travels through the Bitterroot Valley, after which it re-enters Idaho at Bannock Pass and travels east back into Montana at Targhee Pass to cross the Continental Divide. It bisects Yellowstone National Park, and then follows the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone out of Wyoming into Montana. The trail heads north to the Bear's Paw Mountains, ending 40 miles from the Canadian border, where the decimated band surrendered to federal authorities.

Driving from LaGrande, Oregon

If you are coming to Joseph from LaGrande on the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway you will pass Minam Hill, which marked the westernmost boundary of the Wallowa band's traditional territory, as well as that of the entire Nez Perce people. As the highway crosses the river, Bear Creek flows into the Wallowa River on the south side of the bridge. This excellent hay country supported the Nez Perce herds of thousands of horses and cattle.

About a mile east are the remnants of a marker old Chief Joseph made from poles set in the ground, originally about 10 feet tall. They mark the Wallowa reservation boundary of the 1863 treaty, which Joseph did not sign (and eventually led to the running battle from Wallowa to northern Montana). These poles were maintained by the Indians until 1877. They have diminished markedly since then. 

Hasotino Village Site

Another Nez Perce historical site is the Hasotino Village Site or Hesutiin, one of the largest ancient villages on the Snake River. An exhibit in the visitor center at Hell’s Gate State Park over the border in Idaho provides information.

Pictographs and petroglyphs along the Snake River at Buffalo Eddy, south of Lewiston, Idaho, can be seen by boat.

Interactive Map of the National Historic Nez Perce Trail

FAQs about the National Historic Nez Perce Trail

Here is a good web page about the Nez Perce National Historic Park