Oregon Trail pioneers in the 1840s dropped off worn-out cattle that over the years the Nez Perce nourished with the fine hay crops of the Wallowa. Indian wealth was measured by stock, and the Nez Perce were now considered to be a rich, Soon they were selling their stock to pioneers and doing even better.

When a dry season hit the LaGrande area in 1871 farmers ran out of hay and headed into the Wallowa where it was plentiful. Once they arrived in this beautiful valley, they reasoned they could put the land to better use. After all, the Indians were only using the area for their summer camp near the town of Wallowa and when they arrived their horse herds would stomp down their fields and inter-breed with farmers "superior"stock. Tensions started to run high.

On the 14th [of August] a council was held between the whites, numbering about forty, and the Nez Perce Indians to the number of forty or fifty, being those who are dissatisfied with the settlement of that section.... The whites were requested to leave the valley and take their hay with them.... The settlers did not understand that the valley belonged to the Indians and that they [the settlers] had permission to settle upon the lands, and also asked if the Indians intended to drive the settlers from the valley The Indians stated that they had no such hostile intentions, but were friends of the white men, and wished to remain so, but insisted they should leave the valley.

Grande Ronde Mountain Sentinel August 24, 1872

The problem in a nutshell — Both sides considered the land theirs and wanted the others to leave.

You say your people are too well settled to be disturbed, and / say the Indians are too well settled to be disturbed. So it is better to leave the Indians alone.

Chief Joseph

The settlers believed the area was theirs. After all, the government had bought the land from the Nez Perce by the Treaty of 1863, and the land had been surveyed in the late 1860s. The fact that the Wallowa band had not signed the treaty was a legal detail unknown to the settlers and ignored by elected officials and military men.




The Nez Perce Flight to Canada - An Introduction

 How do I participate in the student Sketchbook Project?

Back to Our Heritage Home Page