1875 Wallowa Valley Report
"Report of the General of the Army," pp. 33-137 In U.S. House. 44th Congress, 1st Session. Report of the Secretary of the War, 1875 (H.Ex.Doc.1, Pt. 2, Vol. 1). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1876. (Serial Set 1674)

From: 5 A., Report of Brigadier General O. O. Howard, pp. 124-127.

. . . The field movements of troops are as follows:

Early in July, the Indian agent at Lapwai reported the receipt of "Executive Order" opening Wallowa Valley, In Northeastern Oregon, to settlement by whites, and expressed fears of trouble between the whites and Indians—Joseph's band of the Nez PercÚs, claimants of this valley—in their annual visit to the valley for purposes of fishing and grazing their ponies, of which they have large herds, wherein consists their principal wealth.

In compliance with the request of the agent, the commanding officer, Fort Walla Walla, was instructed to detach two companies of cavalry, under command of Capt. Stephen G. Whipple, First Cavalry, for the mutual protection of the citizens and Indians in the valley, and for the preservation of the peace. The troops are now returning to Fort Walla Walla.

Small detachments of troops have also been sent at various times, under instructions from the War Department, from Fort Lapwai to the Nez PercÚ (Lapwai) Indian agency, to preserve the peace, and secure the Government in the possession of its interests, as against forcible action with a view to the ejectment of the Indian agent by a claimant to a portion of the Indian reservation and agency buildings, which action was alleged to be based on certain decisions of the civil courts.

With these exceptions, the troops have habitually been employed in the ordinary routine duties of the service.

. . . The troubles at Lapwai and at Wallowa Valley have not thus far resulted in bloodshed, but it has been prevented by great carefulness and prevision on the part of Government agents. The courts will have to settle the former, and Congress the latter, trouble. I think it a great mistake to take from Joseph and his band of Nez PercÚs Indians that valley. The white people really do not want it. They wished to be bought out. I think gradually this valley will be abandoned by the white people, and possibly Congress can be induced to let these really peaceable Indians have this poor valley for their own. I send an extract from a letter received from Capt. Stephen G. Whipple, First Cavalry, . . . which gives his views. I indorse Captain Whipple's opinions herein expressed. I attach to this report also the report of the governor of Oregon, marking ht passages that relate to this subject. . .

Letter of Captain Stephen G. Whipple, First Cavalry, to Brigadier-General O. O. Howard, pp. 128-129.


August 28, 1875.

* * * * * *

While Joseph and those who acknowledge him as their leader are for the most part (perhaps all) Nez PercÚs, my opinion is they have for many years formed a somewhat separate and independent community, claiming this valley as their peculiar possession and permanent home; though they have probably not resided here in the winter months of late years, if ever. "Old Joseph," as he is spoken of by white men, father of the present family by that name, was, undoubtedly, a man of great force of character, judging from the respect paid to his memory by the members of the band he once governed. A rumor prevails that in 1856 he agreed with agents of the Government to give up and vacate this valley at the expiration of twenty years; but that subsequently he claimed that he did not understand what was said to him, and repudiated presents or favors from Government agents, lest by so doing it might appear to be in consideration of a title to a home here. A few years since he died; but uniformly and with vehemence, to his last hour, asserted to his children and friends that he had never surrendered claim to this valley, but that he left it to them as their inheritance, with the injunction never to barter it away.

About two years ago, agents of the Indian Department took the preliminary steps to reserve the valley to the Indians, appraising the improvements of the few settlers who had come in the previous year, &c. For more than eighteen months both white settlers and Indians believed the question disposed of in that way, and were satisfied.

During the last session of Congress, however, confirmation was refused, and the valley again thrown open to settlement. I can but think it a pity that this action was had, nor can I think the case was fully understood by the gentlemen who influenced the legislation. The people living in the valley, or who are familiar with its location, extent, and adaptation to the wants of the white settlers made no complaint that it was about to be taken for the use of Indians. The average American is not, as a rule, slow to take advantage of eligible openings to secure land "claims" which may probably become valuable, but none seem anxious to locate them in Wallowa Valley. The white population is less than it was a year ago. Since the valley was restored to settlement, three families have disposed of their improvements for a trifle, and moved away; nor do I believe any others have come in. Not a man has taken a claim in the valley since that time.

One of the most enterprising, reliable, and best citizens in the settlement, has told me within the past week, that he thought the people of the valley were disappointed to learn it was not to be taken for an Indian reservation; that he regretted it for one; that he should sell out at first opportunity, and settle in a more promising locality.

This shows how the white people who reside here regard this valley. On the other hand, the Indians love it. They desire ardently to make it their abiding place. This refers particularly to the Joseph Nez PercÚ band; but I have little doubt that many of the Umatillas and other Nez PercÚ Indians would gladly join them, were this valley set aside for their permanent use. The valley is only fit for stock-raising, as a business, and not desirable for that in consequence of the long winters; but the Indian horses would live through where the white man’s cattle would perish. These Indians sell every year hundreds of horses, and with a better chance than they are apt to have, would soon derive a large income from that source.

The papers, I see, begin to clamor for the abolishment or reduction of the Umatilla reservation, and in case either is done, it might be very well that this were secured as a resting place for the Indians now occupying those lands which their white neighbors apparently covet.

This band of Indians are by no means a vagabond set. They are proud-spirited, self-supporting, and intelligent; and if it be possible that Indians can rise in the social scale, I know of none who give better promise of rewarding an effort in that direction. Experience shows that the two races may not dwell together in a friendly way, especially on the borders, nor can an exception be looked for here. At the present moment there are no evidences of enmity between the whites and Indians in this valley, but the truth is each party wishes the other were away. So, of course, before very long the Indians will be forbidden the valley and ordered on to a reservation away from here. They may go without physical resistance, but it is by no means certain they will do so. I have no idea that they have any intention at this time of warring against the United States authorities, but such possibly might be the case in certain events. But it is not upon grounds of expedience alone, nor principally, I would urge consideration for these Indians. The United States Government can afford to try, in some instances, to redeem the Indian from his savagery. As yet the Nez PercÚ Indians have not been hostile toward the whites, nor do I believe, as before stated, that they can easily be made so, but surely they are no less deserving for that reason.

I have said but little general of what might be said upon this topic, and I fear that little has not been very well said, but if it calls your attention to the question, my object will have been accomplished.

At the time Joseph visited me with his associates, and I had disposed of the little matters for which I had invited the conference, he asked earnestly if I had nothing more to say, to which I replied in the negative. He looked disappointed, and after a short silence he said he hoped I could tell something of a possible doubt of their being obliged to relinquish this valley to the settlers. I told him the case was decided against the Indians by higher authority than that of any Army officer. This declaration did not make the countenances of the Indians more cheerful.

They all realize that after they go to Lapwai reservation, or one similar, they will be obliged to give up their horses, which constitute their main wealth, and that as a community they will cease to exist.



Official Communication from the Governor of Oregon to the Secretary of the Interior, relative to the Indian title and rights of settlers in Wallowa Valley, Oregon., pp. 129-131.


Salem, July 21, 1873.

SIR: I beg leave to call your attention to the very grave and important question now pending before your Department, touching the subject of vacating the Wallowa Valley, Union County, Oregon, for the purpose of securing the same to Joseph’s band of Nez PercÚ Indians, and to submit the following views thereon for your consideration:

On and prior to the 11th day of June, 1855, the Nez PercÚ tribe of Indians occupied lands lying partly in Oregon and partly in Washington Territory, between the Cascade and Bitter Root Mountains. On said 11th day of June, 1855, the said tribe, by their chief, headmen, and delegates, numbering fifty-eight officials, made and concluded a treaty of peace and boundaries with the United States, Isaac I. Stevens acting on behalf of the United States for Washington Territory, and Joel Palmer for Oregon. By said treaty, the Nez PercÚs ceded and relinquished to the United States all their right, title, and interest in and to all territory before that time claimed and occupied by them, except a certain tract described therein, specifically reserved from the ceded lands as a general reservation for the use and occupancy of said tribe, and for friendly tribes and bands of Indians in Washington Territory. This general reservation embraced lands lying in part in Oregon, including Wallowa (Wall-low-how) Valley.

On the 9th of June, 1864 (3?) a supplementary and amendatory treaty was concluded between the said Nez PercÚ tribe and the United States; the former being represented by fifty-one chiefs, headmen, and delegates, and the latter by Calvin H. Hale, Charles Hutchins, and S. D. Howe, as commissioners specially delegated.

By the latter treaty, the Nez PercÚ tribe agreed to relinquish, and did relinquish, to the United States all the lands reserved by the treaty of 1855, excepting a certain specified tract designated as "a home, and for the sole use and occupancy of said tribe." By this amendatory treaty the Nez PercÚ tribe relinquished to the United States all the territory embraced in the reservation created by the treaty of 1855 which lay within the boundaries of the State of Oregon, including the said Wallowa Valley; so that, on and after said 9th of June, 1863, (4?) the Nez PercÚ tribe did not lawfully hold or occupy any lands within the State of Oregon. Joseph’s band of Nez PercÚ Indians were in the treaty-council of 1855, and Joseph signed the treaty. Their action recognized the tribal relations of their band, and bound all the persons and territory described therein. The reservation named became the common property of the whole tribe. Joseph and his band acknowledged these conclusions also by accepting the benefits of the treaty of 1855. But Joseph refused to acknowledge the treaty of 1863, while a large majority of the chiefs and headmen of the Nez PercÚ tribe signed the same. Joseph died in 1871, and his sons claim the land which was relinquished to the United States in 1863, including Wallowa Valley. This claim is based on the idea that the band which they represent was not bound by the treaty of 1863.

The United States had established the policy of treating with the Indians as tribes and nations. This policy was predicated on the necessary fact that organized action by the tribe or nation binds the whole body and all of its members. The treaty of 1855 is the organized action of the Nez PercÚ tribe in relation to land in which the whole tribe had a common interest. If the Government shall admit that one subchief, out of more than fifty joined in council, can, by refusing his signature or by absenting himself, defeat the operation of a treaty, the policy of making treaties would be valueless, and but few treaties would be binding; for there exists hardly a treaty with Indians west of the Rocky Mountains in which all the subchiefs and headmen joined, and against which they have not positively protested. If we draw our conclusions from the former practice of the Government, or from assimilated cases of foreign treaties, it must be admitted that the treaty of 1863 bound all the Nez PercÚ and extinguished the Indian title to all lands previously occupied by that tribe lying within the State of Oregon.

Acting upon this conclusions, by order of the General Land-Office, bearing date May 28, 1867, the public lands in Wallowa Valley and vicinity were directed to be surveyed and opened for settlement. The surveys made under this order amounted to eleven townships, which were approved May 9, 1868. From time to time, since that period, citizens of this State have become settlers upon these lands to such an extent, as I am now informed, that eighty-seven farms have been located and pre-emption and homestead claims have been filed thereto in the United States land-office at La Grande.

Upon this statement of facts I urge that the Indian title to the lands occupied by these settlers has been doubly extinguished, first, by treaty, and second, by force of law. As the Indians have only a right of occupancy, and the United States have the legal title, subject to occupancy, and with an absolute and exclusive right to extinguish the Indian title of occupancy, either by purchase, conquest, or by legal enactment, it would follow that if the treaty of 1863 did not completely extinguish the Wallowa Valley and opening the same for settlement and the consequent occupancy of the same by settlers under the provisions of the several acts of Congress affecting such lands, and the recognition of these claims by the local land-office of the United States, would work a complete extinguishment of the Indian title by operation of law, as far as the occupied lands are concerned.

There are other chiefs and headmen of the Nez PercÚs who did not sign the treaty of 1863, and who have refused, and still do refuse, to acknowledge its binding force. If the Government shall, in this instance, accede to the demand of Joseph’s band and create a new reservation for them, or shall admit in their favor the nullity of the treaty of 1863, as far as they are concerned, a score of like demands from other discontented bands connected with other neighboring tribes living under treaties negotiated in a similar way will be immediately pressed upon the attention of the Indian Bureau. I am thoroughly persuaded that if the proposed surrender of the Wallowa Valley and the adjacent region to these Indians be now consummated as demanded, the measure, if it works as a special pacification in this instance, will cause a general dissatisfaction not only with the Nez PercÚs, but with all neighboring tribes living under treaty relations, and this character of work will have to be entered upon and car[r]ied out as to all.

The declaration made by Congress March 3, 1871, that "hereafter no Indian nation or tribe within the territory of the United States shall be acknowledged or recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power, with whom the United States may contract by treaty," appears to me to relieve the Department from entangling itself with an effort to reform past treaties, as such, and to leave the Indian Office unembarrassed to adopt such policy as will subserve the best interests of both whites and Indians, without submitting its judgment to the caprices of untutored savages.

In addition to what I have urged against re-establishing any part of the Nez PercÚ Indians in Oregon, on grounds growing out of this particular case, I would respectfully press upon your consideration the general policy of the Government, heretofore steadily pursued, of removing as expeditiously as circumstances would permit of all Indians from the confines of the new States, in order to give them the opportunity of early settlement and development, and to make way for civilization. This State has already much of its best soil withheld from being occupied by an industrial population in favor of Indians.

The region of country in Eastern Oregon not now settled, and to which the Wallowa Valley is the key, is greater in area than the State of Massachusetts. If this section of our State, which is now occupied by enterprising white families, should be remanded to its aboriginal character, and the families should be removed to make roaming-ground for nomadic savages, a very serious check will have been given to the growth of our frontier settlements, and to the spirit of our frontier people in their efforts to redeem the wilderness and make it fruitful of civilized life.

There is abundant room for Joseph’s band on the present Nez PercÚ reservation, and the tribe desire to have this band observe the treaty of 1863. I learn that young Joseph does not object to going on the reservation at this time, but that certain leading spirits of his band do object, for the reason that by so doing they would have to abandon some of their nomadic habits and haunts. The very objection which they make is a strong reason why they should be required to do so; for no beneficial influence can be exerted by agents and missionaries among the Indians while they maintain their aboriginal habits. Joseph’s band do not desire Wallowa Valley for a reservation and for a home. I understand that they will not accept it on condition that they shall occupy it as such. The reason of this is obvious; they can have better land and a more congenial climate at a location which has been tendered them upon the Nez PercÚ reservation. This small band wish the possession of this large section of Oregon simply for room to gratify a wild, roaming disposition, and not for a home. There are but seventy-two warriors of this band. The white settlers in the Wallow country number eighty-seven. There are also in the Wallowa Valley two incorporated companies, the Wallowa Road and Bridge Company and the Prairie Creek Ditch Company. The improvements of these settlers and companies have been assessed, as I am informed, by a commissioner appointed under the direction of your Department, to the amount of $67,860.

Considering that the demands of Joseph’s band were made during the period of the apparently successful resistance of the Modoc outlaws against the treaty stipulations with the Klamaths, and that now the Modocs are subdued, it will doubtless be much less expensive to the Government and much more consistent with its general Indian policy, to induce Joseph’s band by peaceable means to make their home on the Nez PercÚ reservation than to purchase the rights of white settlers now in the Wallowa Valley. The people of this State have uniformly recognized the boundaries of legally-defined Indian reservations, and have abstained from attempting to establish settlements thereon. In all instances of various difficulties between settlers and Indians on our frontier, since the reservation system has been extended to Oregon, hostilities have resulted rather from Indians refusing to confine themselves to their treaty-limits than from any attempt of the settlers to encroach upon reservations. This was the case with the Yakimas, in 1855, who killed three miners outside of their treaty-limits, and then murdered Indian Agent Boland, who visited them to remonstrate against their perfidy. This was the case last autumn with the Modocs, and is now the case with Joseph’s band, in the light in which the treaty of 1863 has heretofore been held by the General Government and by the people of Oregon.

I believe the facts will sustain me in saying that at all times and under all circumstances our frontier settlers have been as well disposed toward the Indians, and as moderate and forebearing as those of any other frontier, and as much so as the people of any other State would be under like circumstances.

Urgently pressing upon your careful consideration the peculiar features of this subject, and, on behalf of the interest of this State and of the settlers in Wallowa Valley and vicinity, asking that the preliminary steps taken for the vacation of said valley for the purpose of creating a reservation for Indians, may be rescinded.

I have the honor to be your obedient servant,


Governor of Oregon.


Secretary of the Interior.