Oregon Indian Tribes tell a rich and diversified story! It started in the Wallowa Mountains. A leader named Chief Joseph. In a town now called Joseph Oregon.
From here, Chief Joseph, among other leaders, led 700 Nez Perce across Idaho and into Montana to escape the army in 1877. The town of Joseph Oregon in Eastern Oregon is where he ultimately came to rest. The Wallowas Mountains are often compared to the Alps, and are the most stunning range you’ve never heard of.
Coming from the west, they rise out of the sage plain. Most of the region is protected as part of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Wallowa Lake is “cited by geologists as one of the most perfect glacial moraines in the world.”
This place, the landscape and the way of seeing the world, is what Chief Joseph and other Oregon Indian tribes tried to preserve for his people.
His band did not accept the government’s order to leave, and a couple of young hotheads raided a white settlement. “What followed was one of the most brilliant military retreats in American history…Civil War General William Techumseh Sherman [stated] 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 Oregon Indian tribe auxiliaries in four major battles and numerous skirmishes.” Joseph formally surrendered on October 5, 1877. In 1986, Congress established 1170 miles of the arduous journey as a National Historic Trail – the only trail established to telling the story of a native people; of the Oregon Indian tribes.
Joseph Oregon is at the heart of a rich Oregon Indian Tribes Culture that helps support numerouss outdoor and festive year round activities!
The town of Joseph is the heart of the area. Much of the surrounding landscape is agricultural, with its local products contributing to great restaurants, an award winning distillery, using local grain and berries, and brewery (in Enterprise).
I had arrived in time for Joseph Days (This year, the dates were July 25-28, 2012). Sorry if you missed it. Mark down this festival for next summer! It is high energy and a LOT of fun! The annual Rodeo and Parade, begun in 1946. features riding stars and Native tribal courts.
Many, Nez Perce among other neighboring Oregon Indian tribes, travel long distances to attend. I chatted with an excited Umatilla mom whose daughter had been selected as a court princess! The twenty-year-old university student honorably represents her tribe. Joseph’s population swells many times over during the four-day event. I had to stay in La Grande – an hour away!
The music is Country AND Western, with great musicians performing evening concerts.
There are about 500 miles of hiking in these magnificent mountains. The wilderness can be approached from the Wallowa mountain loop to the east or from the west via unpaved forest roads.
This trip, I chose the most accessible. The tramway, at the base of Wallowa Lake, climbs 4000 feet to the top of Mount Howard.
Well maintained, and in July crowded, trails crisscross the 8200’ peak for views in every direction – it’s only about three miles to walk all of it.
I have hiked the western interior, and it is one of the most remote (and to my composer’s ears, quietest) areas I have ever visited. Virtually no signs – a wilderness is not a national park – and virtually no other people. Outfitters offer a variety of options, from hiker drop-offs, to guided luxury adventures. Horseback tours are very popular, allowing people to travel deeper into the wilderness area. It doesn’t take much to transcend time here.
Afterward, I relaxed on the lawn of the Wallowa Lake Lodge, built in 1923. I felt like I was transported into the 1950’s as I watched people splashing, and laughing, on the shore and on the floating decks. WE instead of Wii. I met a cute couple who told me they’ve been coming here, first as honeymooners – now as grandparents, for over 50 years!
Over the past 30 years, Joseph has morphed into a well supported arts center, with four bronze foundries, many visual artists and a large art festival each June.
Joseph hosts the Blues and Brews festival ( August 10-11, 2012) attracting top blues artists and celebrating regional brews. This just completed and a huge success. All this in a community of 450 households!! Some places are thought of as sacred by its native people; perhaps this place really is.
Christina S. Rusnak
Christina Rusnak is a cultural explorer who focuses on how Landscape shapes our culture. Wandering Scholars published her article about photographer Brent Phelps’ On the Trail of Lewis & Clark in 2009. In addition, she is a multifaceted composer who actively seeks to integrate geographic, visual and spatial elements into her work.
Topics on this page include Oregon Indian Tribes, Wallowa Mountains, Chief Joseph, Joseph Oregon