The Wallowa Story

This short film, restored from a narrated slide presentation from 1987, tells the history of Wallowa County, Oregon.


This is Wallowa County. This is how the county looks today as it celebrates its centennial year in 1987. What does Wallowa, pronounced Wallowa, mean? It was the word used by the Nez Perce Indians to refer to the tripods made of poles that were set on either side of the stream to hold their fish traps.

This vast county, which is nearly equal in size to the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, comprises 3.3% of the state of Oregon. Here in the northeastern tip of Oregon lies a land of incredible beauty. It’s a land of extremes, having the deepest Gorge in North America, Hells Canyon; the highest lake in Oregon, Legore; and ranging in altitude from 1,000 feet at Dug Bar on the Snake River to 10,000 feet at Sacagawea Mountain.

Due to geographic isolation, surrounded as it is by high mountains and deep canyons, this corner of Oregon was first bypassed by the early whites coming into the Oregon Country. Lewis and Clark passed by it on the north, the Oregon Trail went by it on the south, and for the most part early explorers and fur traders did not penetrate it. Thus, this country was for many years left out of the ferment of white civilization going on all around it.

Even so, this land of winding waters creates an almost instant love in those who come to it, be they Indians, the homesteaders of yesterday, or today’s tourists.

For 10,000 years or more, archaeologists tell us, this country was inhabited by Indians. When the white settlers arrived in the 1870s, they found that it was occupied by the Wallowa or Joseph Band of Nez Perce Indians. This band used it as a homeland, a hunting and fishing ground, and as a pasture for their thousands of horses and cattle.

They were led by Old Chief Joseph (Tuekekas), assisted by his three sons, Sisuqui [sp?], meaning dark or brown; young Chief Joseph; and Ollokot, the latter a family name meaning "little frog." In 1855, all the Nez Perce leaders signed a treaty with the US government which promised the tribe a large part of northern Idaho, a bit of southeastern Washington, and the Wallowa country of northeast Oregon.

In 1863, a new treaty was drawn out by the US government. This treaty cut out all of the Wallowa country, all the part of southeastern Washington which had been included in the 1855 Treaty, and part of that in Idaho. It did give the Nez Perce Tribe a large reservation in northern Idaho. This treaty was not signed by Old Joseph, or by those other Indians whose lands had been excluded. These Indians were called Non-Treaty Nez Perce. Those who had signed were called the Treaty Nez Perce. The Non-Treaty faction of the tribe objected to the injustice of losing land by way of a treaty which they had not signed.

It was expected, correctly, that settlers would soon arrive in this country. The land to the west, Union County, of which the Wallowa was then a part, had been settling up since 1861.

By 1870, a trickle of explorers, one of them A.C. Smith (called the Mountain Man of the Wallowas), as well as cattlemen looking for new grazing land, had gone into the Wallowa and returned to the Grand Ronde valley with glowing reports.

An early cattlemen, James Tulley, one of the three Tulley brothers once described his first impression of the Wallowa. “The beautiful rolling prairie spread out before us in all its primeval loveliness, skirted on every side by hills, and with precipitous rugged mountains projected against the southern and eastern sky. It was covered with a great wealth of luxuriant grass, forming one of the most pleasing pictures that could be hung on memory’s walls.”

Another early settler, Joseph Johnson, who came into the Wallowa in 1872, said as he viewed the valley from what we know today as Smith Mountain, “This is where I want to live. Down there will be my home,” and home it became. Today, Joseph Johnson’s descendants continue to call it home, more than 100 years later.

in 1871, many settlers (some with families; some young, unmarried men) came over the mountains by way of the Minam at the Grand Ronde valley with intention of staking claims for future homesteads. Two of these young men, Bill McCormack and Neil Keith, came in that year, and remained for the winter of 1871-72, thus becoming the Wallowa County’s first permanent white settlers. McCormack’s descendants still live here.

The Indians, now led by young Chief Joseph and Ollokot, were for the most part friendly, and the early settlers equally so.

But conflicts did arise, and early in 1877, the non-treaty bands were ordered by the government to move to the Idaho reservation. The non-treaty bands obeyed, even though they did not acknowledge the validity of the right of the government to enforce a treaty which they had not signed. The Wallowa band crossed the Snake River and joined the other bands camped not far from present-day Grangeville, which was near the southwest boundary of the reservation. It was from this camp that several young rebellious men from the White Bird group broke out and killed some Idaho settlers with whom they had a grudge. The Nez Perce War—or, more accurately, Flight—followed.

No part of the Wallowa country was involved in this war, nor has there ever been any Indian-White war in this area. As a result of both the 1877 Nez Perce War and the 1878 Bannock-Paiute uprising, Wallowa settlers became alarmed and built stockades against attacks which never materialized. Later, Nez Perce from the Umatilla reservation near Pendleton and the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho came into the Wallowa each year to fish and hunt.

Later still, a few came to settle. One such person was the well-loved Cy Wilkinson.

As a tribe, they no longer lived here, but they left their names behind. Wallowa, Imnaha, Chesnimnus, Powwatka, Wenaha; and their numerous interlacing trails were left as another permanent heritage. Many of these are now improved Forest Service trails that wind through the mountains and canyons, and on hot summer days when the great thunderheads spilled over the mountains, and the thunder echoes over the Wallowa country, Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt (Thunder Rolling in the Mountains, the Nez Perce name given to young Chief Joseph) speaks to his people and to all of us from high places.

A new era began as settlers of all types came to the Wallowa. The lower valley around the present town of Wallowa was already fairly well settled. The deep black soil of Alder Slope, near present-day Enterprise, was soon claimed.

A few homesteaders had chosen land on Prairie Creek, east of the lake. Here the Wallowa country’s first homestead was granted to James Hutchinson in 1875.

These first families brought with them their own way of life. They soon organized schools for their children, and gathered for Sunday worship in their homes. They formed a voting district and established post offices.

In 1872, the Union County Assessor had arrived to assess the value of their property.

Most of the Northwest had been affected by the unsettled Indian conditions in the 1870s, and therefore the growth of towns in the Wallowa Valley had been delayed. After an influx of new people in 1878, small communities began to evolve in order to serve the settlers’ needs. A trip to a store, post office, or blacksmith shop took far longer than it does today, and was traveled over muddy, dusty or snow-filled roads.

It was only natural that these first small communities would spring up along the length of the 40-mile long Wallowa Valley. Gradually these small communities became towns.

One of the first was Alder. Another, Joseph, earlier known as Lake City. Each town, as well as each section of this country, has its own story.

in 1879, a 20 year old man came to the Wallowa country. His name was F. D. McCully. He came to work on his brother-in-law’s cattle outfit. McCully was full of frontier energy and decided to build a store on an old homestead site he had purchased. He platted the homestead into lots, which he sold to other businesses. He had ambitious plans for his proposed town. He would call it Lake City, since it was near Silver Lake, now called Wallowa Lake.

He gave his town 100-foot wide streets like his hometown of Salem, Oregon. The town’s name was later changed because there was already a Lake City, Oregon. It was renamed Joseph after a man who McCully admired: young Chief Joseph.

The town grew rapidly with the post office and McCully’s mercantile in 1882, a hotel in 1883, and the county’s first newspaper, The Wallowa Chieftain. McCully started this newspaper, which celebrated its 100th year of continuous business in 1984. McCully built this bank in 1888.

Lostine and Wallowa Town, earlier known as Gate City, began to emerge as trading centers before they became towns. A latecomer was Enterprise, now the county seat. Enterprise, first called Bennett Flat, later Franklin, then Wallowa City, was at first nothing but an alkali flat where wandering cattle and horses came to look the salt-like soil and drink from the Wallowa River, which flows at its southern edge.

It was just a barren place between the hills and the mountains, but the area appealed to a homesteader named Stubblefield. One day, he wandered thoughtfully over this flat, accompanied by his wife. “Here’s where a town will grow,” he said. His wife pointed out that there were already the beginnings of towns at both Alder and Joseph. He replied stubbornly, “But this is a better location.” Stubblefield descendants continue to live in Wallowa County. Shown here is Robert Stubblefield, who is a grandson. Stubblefield and another homesteader, John Zurcher, soon became the founders of Enterprise.

In 1887, wealthy Island City Mercantile & Milling investors were seeking a place to establish their business in the valley. Stubblefield and Zurcher donated lots to them, and the ICM&M company became an important trading center.

At once this new business began to vie with McCully Mercantile in this rapidly growing country.

On February 11, 1887, the Wallowa country became a county after a bill had been introduced at Salem by F.D. McCully, who was by this time a legislator. Joseph had been the county seat for a few months until, in 1888, flourishing Enterprise had enough businesses and people to swing the vote. The county courthouse was built in 1909 and enterprise remains the county seat today.

A man named Bowlby quarried rock on his Swamp Creek property, and thanks to him, many buildings in the county remain to remind us of the past.

During the 1890s, more people came in, spreading out over the land, new post offices, and creating small towns like Flora and Paradise.

Over the years, a total of 45 post offices were established. Beginning in the early 1860s, mining for fine flour gold and gold nuggets had been taking place along both the Oregon and Idaho banks of the Snake River. But it wasn’t until the early 1880s, when gold was discovered at the Cornucopia mines in Baker County, that the mining fever swept the Wallowa country. This gold strike on the southern side of the Wallowa Mountains brought almost everyone out to hunt for gold, silver, copper, or molybdenite, in his spare time. Intense mining fever continued for some twenty years, and the colorful era of the country’s early history was written by the miners.

Many ventures like the Wallowa Silver Mining and Tunneling Company took place in what is now known as Chief Joseph Mountain; the Eureka and Fargo Copper Mining Company and the well-organized hoax of the Salted Tenderfoot Gold Mine gradually ran their course.

In the 1880s, it was discovered that lime for plaster could be obtained by burning Wallowa Mountain limestone. Small kilns were built between Hurricane Creek and the Lostine River, which furnished lime needed for walls and brick chimneys. After these kilns were abandoned, a type of marble was discovered above Alder Slope that would produce fine black marble slabs, as well as a superior quality of lime.

In 1918, the Black Marble Lime Company was formed. At its plant at the base of the mountains above Alder Slope, a new draw kiln was built. Barrels in which to ship the lime were also made there in a cooperage shop. The kiln stood 40 feet high and was made of fire brick encased in a sheet steel cylinder. The black marble was dumped in at the top and was drawn out as pure white lime at the bottom after burning. It was stored in bulk at a warehouse until it was shipped.

From the time the hard marble left the quarry until it reached the railroad cars, every movement was downhill. The old lime quarry road, as it is known today, can still be seen, as well as the kilns which are familiar landmarks west of Enterprise. Through the mid 1920s, the sale of this lime contributed significantly to the economy of the county.

Nearby Wallowa Lake, which had been carved by glacial action and was bordered by two perfect lateral and one terminal moraine, began attracting tourists in increasing numbers.

Since the road from one end of the lake to the other was still not much more than a trail, F.D. McCully built a boat called the Alpha in which people could make the trip. Thus new industry, one which would succeed, began during these vigorous years. This was tourism.

Two resort hotels were built at Wallowa Lake. The first, the Hudson House, stood at the northern edge of the lake. The other, the Ellis House, was located on the east bank near the southern end. The Ellis House operated as a resort hotel until it burned in the 1920s. The Hudson House was purchased by Frank Reel who had run a sawmill in the area for many years. He and his family used it as a home since there wasn’t enough tourist trade to support two resort hotels at the lake. Reel’s son owned thousands of sheep in the Imnaha region, but Frank put another relative to work and entered the tourist trade in a different way.

In 1908, he purchased for $50 the Lavina, a large capacity tour boat for making excursions to the head of the lake. As Frank Reel pulled the Lavina up to the lake from Joseph with an eight-horse team and slid it into the lake, a new energetic venture in tourism was being launched at the other end. This project was called the Wallowa Lake amusement park. On the west bank of the Wallowa River, not far from the head of the lake, the owners built a general store, lunch room, bowling alley, dance hall, horse rental corrals, rental cabins and restaurant. The restaurant boasted an original Tiffany lamp and linen tablecloths. This family-owned business soon added laundry, outdoor motion picture theater, rental boats, and a horse-drawn merry-go-round. This merry-go-round had been built by Walter A. Carper of Promise, which was a small town north of Wallowa. Carper built a merry-go-round to help celebrate a Promise Fourth of July. It was sold to the amusement park in 1909.

And 80-passenger motorized tour boat, the Aneroid, picked up local holiday makers and tourists at the north end of the lake and took them to the other end within a short walk of the dance hall. When the boat’s horn sounded, the passengers had to leave the dance to catch the boat. If the boat was full, they would go back to the dance until the next trip. For years this amusement park was a roaring success.

All this activity occurred near the entrance to the present state park. A vacation land had been emerging and, as a result, the road from the foot of the lake to its head was gradually improved. Activities at the lake had always been popular with local people.

Soon a new road from the Grand Ronde valley into the Wallowa brought even more tourists.

A new lodge called the Wallowa Wonderland, now known as the Wallowa Lake Lodge, was built. It was situated across the river from the Wallowa Lake amusement park. Soon after this, Wallowa County’s first dude ranch, the M.J.G. Ranch, was established in what we know today is the Edelweiss Inn. The structure which still stands has also been known as the White Elephant Chalet.

In other parts of the county, people created their own recreation, such as golfing and skiing.

As was the case with similarly remote areas in the West, agriculture began as a way of life, a means by which to survive. The early settlers of necessity grew their own food and raised their livestock. The first homesteaders, who were also stockmen, were drawn to this country because of its lush grass and running water. They paid no heed to those who said nothing could be raised in this poor, cold valley.

Using pioneer ingenuity, those first homesteaders built their cabins, planted gardens, kept a few pigs, chickens and milk cows. They ran their stock as the Indians had in the vast plateau or hill country which bordered the valley to the north. Here the grass grew stirrup-high. Grass, the number one ingredient in stock raising.

These first settlers built adequate log cabins chinked with mud and moss, and so were enabled to endure the deep snows and cold winds of winter, unlike the Indians before them. The Nez Perce did not live in the higher elevations during the winter or early spring, but returned to the warmer canyons of the Imnaha, the Grand Ronde, Joseph Creek and the Snake. The severe winter of 1887 was a terrible blow to the stockmen, and livestock died by the score. The lesson was learned, and all over the county, large barns were built to store hay.

Many of these fine old barns can be seen today and remain as an example of the splendid craftsmanship of our early pioneers.

The Wallowa Story will continue in a moment.

The advantages of wintering stock in the warmer Imnaha valley were discovered early, and by 1878 and ’79, settlement had begun there by Jack Johnson and the Findley family.

To the east, the Snake River Canyon had enticed a few men to hunt for gold and run a few cattle. Dad Somers was probably the first white man to settle in the canyon. He was soon followed by the Markses and the Warnocks. The extreme northern and eastern boundaries of Wallowa County are made up of some of the most rugged land in the United States. The eastern side of the Snake in Idaho is of the same terrain.

In those early years, well-organized gangs of cattle and horse thieves operated in those rugged canyons. In 1887, one of these gangs murdered 31 Chinese miners along the Snake River. The killers believed the Chinese had found a rich strike. They thought a treasure of nuggets in coarse gold lay buried somewhere near the massacre site. The murderers scattered and real justice was never meted out. This incident faded into history along with many others that occurred long the rugged Snake and its tributaries. No monument or sign marks the location of the massacre, but it is said somewhere, carefully hidden, lies a fortune in raw gold—gold that has lain undisturbed for many years.

In the 1890s, the overall picture of land use in the Wallowa began to change. New homesteaders with a few head of cattle and sheep, rather than herds, began to seek their homes in the Wallowa. Since cash had always been in short supply, men and boys went to the wheat fields near Walla Walla, Washington, to work in the harvest. Later, another solution was to work in the Baker County gold mines.

As stores were established in the valley, they became good outlets for butter, which could be exchanged for staples. This butter was stored in cold springs or streams, and later packed into wooden firkins for safe transportation. It was taken to outside towns like La Grande or Walla Walla, as well as nearby towns.

Because of a surplus of skim milk, Wallowa County was to become the largest hog-producing county in the state of Oregon. The skim milk left from separating the cream to make butter made excellent hog feed when mixed with grain.

The early stockmen of the West had to face and cope with the most drastic changes have any other kind of operation in order to survive. To begin with, the new homesteaders built the first fences and sometimes challenged the right to precious watering holes. The stockman at one time had almost unlimited credit at the bank, so he either bought out the homesteader or hired him. Since the first stockmen had also been homesteaders, violence over these problems was rare.

The Imnaha Valley became the fruit basket of the county, and for years provided the valley towns with fruit and vegetables. This produce was of such high quality that some of the bounty was taken out and proudly shown at a fair in the Grand Ronde Valley.

In 1904, a fair was organized in Wallowa County. An annual event, which still takes place in mid-summer.

In 1901, federal land examiners began looking at Wallowa County lands to select areas for the new Federal Reserve System, later to be known as the Forest Service. Conservationist Teddy Roosevelt had set out to protect and manage public lands for the benefit of the nation. Forest management was only the first example of government participation in this county’s affairs.

By 1905, much of Chief Joseph’s cherished Wallowa homeland would be put into the federally administered Forest Reserve. Over 1.5 million acres of timber and grassland were now in the public domain.

Now there was organization in place for the first-come, first-serve range use. The land had been heavily over-grazed on the Wallowa district alone, not including Chesnimnus or Wenaha. There were 252,000 sheep and 19,000 cattle and horses. Stock prices were hitting record highs. Lambs sold for 350 ahead, when just a few years before a lamb with the ewe sold for $1.20. Cattle had advanced from $30 to $45 per head.

Wool was an important commodity. Shown here are loaded sacks of wool being hauled on wagons. At shearing time, many extra hands were hired to accomplish this task. After sheep were shorn, men tromped the wool into large wool sacks.

The foresters set up the first permit system to monitor range use, and charged 40 cents a year to graze a cow, and 16 cents per sheep. Grazing burdens were shifted around to prevent even worse over-grazing. Gradually, the government began to influence every aspect of agriculture, helping on one hand and hindering on the other. Most agriculturalists had been able to make the necessary adjustments and survive.

In the early days, hay was stacked using a swing pole derrick shown here.

Slowly, the old methods gave way to modern farming practices, and today many of the ranches are being worked by the children and grandchildren of those who developed them.

Over the years the Wallowa has been a host to a variety of agricultural experiments, such as turkey racing and the growing of field corn. The most successful experiment has been the raising of seed potatoes. Many bushels of wheat and other grains are also raised successfully.

Piles of rocks remain all over the farming areas to remind us of the struggle that farmers had to deal with while clearing their land.

Grist mills were built in the early days to grind flour and animal feed.

From Wallowa County’s beginning, all of its building needs were filled by small sawmills scattered around the county.

Soon, large lumber companies began to be interested in the fine Wallowa forests. In 1901, the Nibley-Mimnaugh company in Salt Lake City bought huge tracts of virgin timberland north of Wallowa town. Then in 1908, the railroad was extended from Elgin into the county, forever changing the way of life here. Wallowa County was now connected to the outside markets.

Other lumber companies became interested in Wallowa timber, and when Enterprise offered the East Oregon Lumber Company of Kansas City 80 acres of land on the west side of town, the company accepted. It already had purchased 42,000 acres of forest north of Enterprise. In 1915, the company built a mill with a capacity of 100,000 board feet per day and put down miles of railroad tracks that led into the timber at the north end of the county. These logging trains were powered by 60-ton geared locomotives, which could pull a 10% grade with a load of 111 tons.

Men sawed the trees by hand. Teams of horses pulled the logs to the loading docks of the railroad, and then to the mills in Wallowa.

Finished lumber was shipped out on the major railroad. The presence of the mill in Enterprise did more for the fast development of the town than any other influence. In 1915, an extensive sewer system was established and is still in place. By 1919, Enterprise had paved many of its streets.

By 1918, there were at least 80 miles of logging railroad tracks lacing the land north of Enterprise and Wallowa, which connected these mill towns to some twenty camps in the forests.

The largest of these was Maxville, twelve miles from Wallowa. This is the site of Maxville as it looks today. The population of this camp grew, and the town had its own hotel, school, electricity and plumbing system.

In 1924, there was a drastic slump in lumber prices. Wages were slashed. There were a few strikes. Eighty blacks were brought in from the south to Maxville to break a strike there. Some of the black families stayed on in the county.

With the advent of logging trucks and modern techniques, logging along this vast network of wilderness track came to an end in 1936.

For many years there had been logging in the hills above Minam. When the railroad was extended into the county, this activity increased and a mill was built at the junction of the Minam and Wallowa rivers. Logs were shot down the steep hillsides at the edge of these rivers and floated to the mill at Minam. Today there are three mills which ship their products out of the county by truck and rail.

With the advent of World War 1, agricultural prices began to soar and during 1914, ’15 and ’16, Mother Nature conspired to help inflate the boom that followed. There was an above average rainfall and no summer frost. Bumper crops of dryland wheat were grown in the hills, and men with little or no farming experience rushed to take advantage of the prosperity. The boom subsided, the weather returned to normal, and the farms were abandoned.

By 1917, the population of the county reached its all-time peak of 12,000. During the intervening years, it would decrease until today, there are 7,500 persons.

When the US went to war in 1917, patriotism swept the county. One year, every boy in Joseph High School’s graduating class enlisted.

Prohibition came here just as it came to the rest of the US. This law resulted in home-constructed stills that were scattered all over the county. Their owners were very popular. The law enforcement took a different view and they became rather unpopular. A certain independence of thought has always led the way in this corner of Oregon.

Despite a 1909 law prohibiting elk hunting, the Wallowa County herds dwindled. So in 1912, a renewal herd of elk was brought into the county: two bulls, seven cows and six yearlings were shipped by rail to Enterprise from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. From here, they were hauled northward by wagon and sled to Billy Meadows. They were maintained in a pasture until they became acclimated, then turned loose. They have multiplied and are an important part of the annual elk hunt here.

A few elk were once taken to Wallowa Lake as a tourist attraction. Now deer have taken their place and are loved and fed by all. There is no hunting allowed in all of the area at the head of the lake.

Elk as well as the newly-planted mountain sheep entice hunters from all over the U.S. Deer hunting, regulated by law since 1900, also brings many hunters to the county. Many hunting regulations are in effect now, but the most liberal were the first ones. Five deer per hunter, fifty ducks a day, and fifty trout per day. All licenses were $1.

In 1917, a large concrete dam was completed at the north end of Wallowa Lake.

This was an important step for the farmers of the valley, because it held back the waters so that five irrigation ditches could be regulated. This put an end to the annual sockeye salmon run from the ocean to the lake. In the old days, these fish only came to two Oregon lakes to spawn in their feeder streams. These two lakes, Wallowa and Suttle in the Cascades, provided the conditions for these fish to spawn. When the fish could not leave the lake, they became landlocked sockeye salmon, now known as Kokanee. Wallowa Countians have always had their own name for them, “yanks”, because of the nibbling way they take a hook.

During the years of change and expansion, schools were extremely important. Some ninety school districts have been formed in the county in widely scattered areas. The problem of high school education for those who wanted it was thought to have been solved by the building of the county school in Enterprise in 1907. This proved unpopular since it meant that most pupils would have to live away from home during the winter. Several high school districts formed, of which three remain: Joseph, Enterprise, and Wallowa.

The teachers were an important part of each community. Many of them taught in one-room schools with as many as 30 or 40 pupils of all ages. Many teachers were young, unmarried women who usually didn’t stay single for long. The early teachers lived with first one family, then another, often riding miles to school each day, as well as chopping wood and hauling water.

In 1926, old Chief Joseph was reburied with much ceremony in the Nez Perce cemetery at the foot of Wallowa Lake. Over 1,000 people, both Indian and white, were there to watch. All the schoolchildren in the county contributed one penny to help defray the expense of the ceremony, as well as the barbecue put on by the Indians that followed.

Beginning in 1929, the Great Depression began to touch every branch of life in the Wallowas. The Wallowa Wonderland sat vacant in the 1930s. The amusement park began to falter in spite of road improvements to the head of the lake. Many businesses failed, and many young men and women were deprived of the college education their parents had wished for them. But there were no bread lines in Wallowa County. Those who stayed lived close to the land and scraped by.

In 1933, the same year that elk hunting was opened again, the county reaped the benefit of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program, including the CCC Civilian Conservation Corps. Camp Imnaha was the 13th camp to be activated in the United States, and many local men were hired for the work of this camp, which included a road to Hat Point, an Imnaha River campground, trail building, and forest firefighting.

World War II found Wallowa County inhabitants as patriotic as ever. In a land of scattered farms and towns, gas rationing created a serious problem, as did sugar rationing. The Red Cross was very active. When the war was over, life picked up with renewed vigor. Tourism became more and more important.

In 1946, a rodeo was held in a natural bowl high on the east moraine above Wallowa Lake, where whites and Indians onced raced their horses in friendly competition. The event, the forerunner of now popular Chief Joseph Days, was staged to celebrate the building of the Joseph Airport. Many famous people attended Chief Joseph Days celebration and rodeo.

The Wallowa Wonderland was purchased by the Wiggins family, who renamed it the Wallowa Lake Lodge. In 1946, Wallowa Lake State Park was started on the west side of the Wallowa River and now welcomes over 50,000 campers each year.

In 1969, a community and government project permitted more visitors to see the local mountaintops. This was the High Wallowas gondola. It has the steepest vertical rise of any four passenger gondola in North America.

The border of the Eagle Cap Wilderness reaches nearly to the south shore of Wallowa Lake. Each year, more people wanted to hike, ride, and camp in the mountains, so protective restrictions on the area’s use became tighter. The Forest Service also began keeping more trails in shape, and published more and more information about what could be found there.

Many events crowd the county’s short summer and fall seasons. Alpenfest, put on by the Wallowa Lake tourist committee, has featured a three-day Swiss-Bavarian style festival since 1973. Other communities have contributed their own annual events. Hell’s Canyon Mule Days, held an Enterprise, began in 1980.

Wallowa’s Old-Time Fourth of July.

Lostine’s gigantic flea market.

Tourism was extended to include the Forest Service’s National Recreation Area, which takes up thousands of acres along what is known as the Hells Canyon section of the Snake River. This area includes practically all of the eastern border of Wallowa County. For over 100 years, prospectors and ranchers made their living in this remote area. Many of the sheep and cattle ranches have been in the same families for generations. Like the Nez Perce before them, they were displaced from their homes and their way of life. Now, as before, the Snake River area is accessible only by treacherous roads, remote airfields, long trails, and by drift or jetboat. Boat tours are popular among those who wish to visit the Hells Canyon of the Snake.

In the 1980s, a cultural and artistic movement began sweeping the Wallowa. Writers and artists were attracted to the country. The nationally-recognized Valley Bronze foundry was built in 1982. Here, local craftsmen transform artists’ original wax sculptures into finished masterworks of bronze and silver.

Every spring there is a week-long Festival of the Arts, which runs the gamut from cowboy poetry to dance troops.

In the beginning, the first settlers gave many names to their newfound land. These names hold a fascination that remains to this day. Promise, Eden, Paradise, and (shown here) Troy. Such names give us an insight into how they must have felt about Wallowa County.

Many of the terms used long ago to describe areas in the county are still in use today. You go “on top” when you live in the canyon. “On the river” or “on the crick” when when you go to the Imnaha or Snake.

Other phrases, used and understood by all, are “to the hills”, “on the Divide”. These terms oftentimes bewilder the outsider.

And in all the old pioneer cemeteries scattered throughout the Wallowa country, sleep the real heroes of this story. Some are buried on lonely windswept knolls, their grave markers falling down, while others repose in fields with small ornate fences around them. Others have vanished. Some of the names have been obliterated by wind, weather and time. Many of these were children who died during the late 1800s diptheria epidemics. And so they sleep, and their story is written on the wind.

Perhaps the greatest men, women and children are those who will never be written of. It is to them that this presentation is dedicated.

The following quote is from an early Wallowa County historian. “To the brave men and devoted women, those who have gone and those who remain, the pioneers of Wallowa County. Yet never a doubt, nay never appear a fear of old or now, knew the Pioneer.”

Wallowa County’s future will be decided by determined men and women, the same breed that settled the country in the beginning. Many continued to be lured to the county because of its indescribable beauty, but the country is rugged and it weeds out all but the hearty, the survivors, the ones who don’t fight the harshness but live in harmony with its seasons. Those who accept with the calm spirit the long winters and look forward to spring.

There is a new generation here. They are descendants of the first settlers, and modern-day pioneers. They are adapting, making homes here, and staying. Visiting writers are now referring to these people as the new pioneers, and indeed they are.

Perhaps here in this corner of their beautiful world where time in some instances seems to have stood still, they have a purpose for being. Perhaps that purpose is to convey a message to the outside world, a simple message that is being written in each of their daily lives in Wallowa County.

This program was made possible in part by a grant from the Oregon Committee for the Humanities, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional funding was provided by the Wallowa County Centennial Committee. This program is copyright 1987 and no portion of it may be reproduced without written permission of the copyright holder.