The North West Company established a fur trading post at the confluence of the Walla Walla and Columbia Rivers in 1818. In subsequent years, the North West and Hudson’s Bay Companies merged together and the post was active until 1855. People began settling along the Walla Walla River upstream from the post and a long straggling “village” formed which was known as Frenchtown for the number of French Canadians who settled here along with their Native American wives.
The Oregon Trail first came to be located through Frenchtown with Marcus Whitman leading the first wagon train in 1843. After a couple of years, the trail was relocated to the south, though some continued to take the northern route. The Whitmans established their mission a couple of miles to the east from here in 1836 and employed some of the people living in Frenchtown. By 1847, there were some 50 families – Metis or mixed blood – lived along the river and neighboring tributaries. Most were forced to leave during the Yakama War of 1855 but many returned by 1859.
Major Gabriel Rains marched at the head of the Oregon Mounted Volunteers from the Willamette Valley with the onset of troubles with the Yakama. They marched to the Umatilla River where they established Fort Henrietta. The Volunteers proceeded to march up the Walla Walla Valley establishing a camp at the now abandoned Whitman Mission. From 7 to 10 December 1855, some 350 Volunteers engaged over a thousand warriors with the fighting centered on some of the cabins of Frenchtown. Neither side could gain a distinct advantage when finally reinforcements arrived from Fort Henrietta and the Indians withdrew. The war would go on sporadically until its conclusion in 1858 following a campaign by Colonel George Wright.
A sidenote: Major Rains’ son, Sevier, would die in another later war with the local Indians and is buried at the Fort Walla Walla Cemetery.
In 1863, a Catholic church was rebuilt and a cemetery established. The cemetery was removed to atop the hill because of eroding river banks where the cemetery was originally. A wooden chapel of St Rose of Lima Mission was erected dating back to 1876.
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FORT WALLA WALLA CEMETERY: BATTLE OF CLEARWATER
In front of the monuments to the Battles of White Bird Canyon and Cottonwood are three grave markers standing together. After the Nez Perce had brushed past the small army contingent at Cottonwood 3-8 July 1877, they moved further to the east about 25 miles. Making camp along the South Fork of the Clearwater River with a total number of around 800 people – 200 warriors, they were surprised by General O.O. Howard and his force of 440 troops around midday 11 July. The rest of that day and the next saw the soldiers press the Nez Perce backwards, but the Indians were able to escape once again heading north 12 miles to Kamiah and then a further 15 miles to Weippe Prairie slowly followed by Howard. The Nez Perce then decided to push over Lolo Pass into Montana where they thought they would be safe, misunderstanding that while Idaho and Montana were different territories, they were still parts of the same nation. Now would begin the second and most arduous half of the Nez Perce saga.
In the fighting at Clearwater, 15 soldiers and two civilians were killed as well as four Indians. The soldiers were buried in a mass grave back at Fort Lapwai with only two names remembered – Juan Platta and the Swiss-born blacksmith Frederick Sandmier. Their headstones flank another one which simply reads “13 soldiers”.
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FORT WALLA WALLA CEMETERY: LT JAMES PIKE
In the late 1890’s and the early 1900’s, a number of graves were transferred here from other small posts in the Northwest as those posts were closed. One of the largest influxes was when Fort Lapwai was shuttered. Some 80 graves were moved here becoming a big chunk of the known 141 known burials here.
One of those moved here was 1st Lieutenant James Pike. Before the Civil War, Pike had served with the Texas Rangers, but he went North with the secession of Texas, serving as a corporal with the %L4th Ohio Cavalry from the end of 1861 until April 1865. At the end of the war, Pike was given a commission as a 2nd lieutenant with the 1st U.S. Cavalry. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant a year and a half later - 27 September 1867 – while being posted at Fort Logan – near present day Prairie City, Oregon.
In early October 1867, Pike led a successful attack on an Indian village harboring horse thieves. In the process, his men captured arms and ammunition. He was destroying a captured rifle by bashing it against a tree trunk when it went off shooting him through the hip and groin. The wound became infected and he died 14 October. He enjoyed a good reputation in the local area and his funeral was attended by over 400 people. Pike’s former bugler reburied him here at Fort Walla Walla some 34 years after his death.
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FORT WALLA WALLA CEMETERY: STATE VOLUNTEERS
With the onset of the American Civil War in 1861, all regular Federal troops were recalled to the eastern part of the U.S.. The garrisoning of forts in the Pacific Northwest and the protection of the byways fell to the local citizens. The State of Oregon raised a cavalry regiment of some ten companies/troops that were scattered far and wide through the region. Several companies came here to Fort Walla Walla, an important fort especially with the recent Indian wars that had occurred here in East Washington just before the Civil War and the importance of the local mines in nearby Idaho. Several known soldiers from the 1st Oregon Cavalry died on duty and came to be buried here.
The 1st Oregon Cavalry members signed up a three year enlistment. When time got close to the expiration date – 1864 – a new regiment – the 1st Oregon Infantry – was raised to take the place of men leaving. The is one known burial from the 1st Oregon Infantry here – the men served here from 1864 until 1866.
Washington Territory got involved, as well. A regiment of infantry was raised with a majority of members being enlisted from California. Four soldiers from the 1st Washington Territorial Infantry are buried here.
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FORT WALLA WALLA CEMETERY: 1ST U.S. DRAGOONS
A dragoon is essentially an infantryman with a horse. They ride their horse to where they are needed and then dismount to fight. Dragoons first came onto the scene in the 16th and 17th Centuries. As time went on there was a movement to change the dragoon into a type of medium cavalrymen where they carried straight swords and did not wear the armor of the cuirassier or heavy cavalry. In the U.S., dragoon regiments were raised during both the Revolution and the War of 1812. The first permanent regiment was raised in 1833 and Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Sumner – future corps commander in the Army of the Potomac known as “Bullhead” for his booming voice and the musket ball that once bounced off his head – was the first commander.
Originally, the 1st U.S. Dragoons were spread out from New York to Missouri though their main concentration was at St Louis. The regiment was served by many officers who went on to become leaders and generals during the Civil War: Jefferson Davis, Philip St George, Theophilus Holmes. David Hunter, John Davidson. Duty for the regiment was mostly centered upon the Missouri frontier until the Mexican War. Regimental commander at that time, Colonel Stephen Kearney took a force –Army of the West – which included five companies of the regiment off to California overland via New Mexico and Arizona. Three other companies saw action in Mexico as a part of Winfield Scott’s expedition while another two were a part of Zachary Taylor’s force in northern Mexico. Following the war, the regiment was spread out between New Mexico, Arizona, California and Oregon.
In 1854, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Steptoe of the 9th U.S. Infantry established Fort Walla Walla on a permanent basis. His infantrymen were soon joined by three companies of the 1st Dragoons. Together these soldiers would garrison the fort until the Civil War’s onset when they were recalled to the East. The soldiers took part in several campaigns in the meantime. After the Civil War, the 1st U.S. Dragoons would return to Walla Walla, but they were now carrying a new unit designation – the 1st U.S. Cavalry – which was bestowed upon them in 1861 by Congress.
A few of the graves here are of soldiers who served in the 1st Dragoons before the Civil War.
- Historical Travel
FORT WALLA WALLA CEMETERY: MONUMENTS
Two generic army monuments have been erected here in memory of men of the 1st U.S. Cavalry dying in the 17 June 1877 action at White Bird Canyon in Idaho against the Nez Perce tribes associated with Chief Joseph and those who died at the ensuing Battle of Cottownwood Canyon on 3 July. A third monument was erected for the dead of Companies H and F of the 1st U.S. Cavalry by the surviving members.
In 1877, the Nez Perce were being forced away from traditional lands near Wallowa Lake in northeastern Oregon onto a reservation east of Lewiston Idaho. Several bands got together with Chief Joseph as one of the overall leaders and they tried to escape from the reservation. What followed was a yearlong flight that covered over a thousand miles and incurred several sharp battles with the Federal army. The initial battles involved soldiers sent out from Fort Walla Walla.
In response to attacks on settlers in the area just south of the Nez Perce reservation, General O.O. Howard began organizing the movement of troops to respond. Positioning themselves at the south end of White Bird Canyon, the Nez Perce – 16 June – waited for the soldiers. Companies F and H of the 1st U.S. Cavalry rode onto the scene with about 100 troopers facing maybe 70 warriors. The soldiers were inexperienced – many could not ride properly and many could not shoot – while the Indians were much better with both the horse and rifle.
After an attempt at talking, fighting broke out. The soldiers of Company F formed a dismounted skirmish line with their left flank covered by a group of civilian volunteers, but several of them fled with the first shots fired. Company H fought mounted but the inexperienced soldiers and their flighty horses made them totally ineffective. Captain David Perry, commanding Company F, had his troopers drop their carbines and make ready to attack with pistols in hand. The bugler who was to announce the attack had lost his instrument and no charge was made.
Confusion begat confusion. With the flanks evaporating, Perry tried to rally his men at higher ground several hundred yards behind. Misunderstanding what the captain wanted, the men decided a general retreat had been ordered and they – quickly joined by Company H – left the field with 34 dead soldiers behind. The Nez Perce suffered only three wounded and enjoyed a bevy of new carbines, pistols and ammunition that would come in very useful over the next year of fighting.
General Howard arrived a few days after the battle and the Nez Perce taunted him and his 400+ troopers from the opposite bank of the Salmon River. When Howard’s men managed to cross the river, the Indians switched back over and gained a head start in their attempt to cross over the mountains to Montana.
The only troops in the way were some 65 soldiers and 25 civilians under Captain Stephen Whipple at Norton’s Ranch – today, Cottonwood. Scouts informed Whipple of the oncoming approach of the Nez Perce and he had his men dig in. He also sent out a reconnaissance team of ten soldiers and two civilians under 2nd lieutenant Sevier Rains to better find the Indians. They were ambushed and all killed on 3 July. Captain David Perry brought in an additional 20 men and 6 civilians on 4 July with Perry taking command. For the next two days both sides fired away at each other from a distance. The Nez Perce kept the soldiers pinned down while the most of their party and the livestock passed around the soldiers’ position heading eastwards. Three more volunteers and one Nez Perce died in the fight as the Indians made their escape.
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FORT WALLA WALLA CEMETERY: 2ND LT SEVIER RAINS
Sevier Rains as a newly graduated 2nd lieutenant out of West Point – class of 1876 – was posted to the 1st US Cavalry here at Fort Walla Walla. His father - Gabriel Rains – was also a West Pointer graduating in 1827. Gabriel had also served out in the Oregon Territory commanding militia during the early stages of the Cayuse War which followed the death of the Whitmans. He had joined the Confederate army during the Civil War – he was a North Carolinian – becoming a colonel and later a brigadier general. Wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines where he also ran afoul of his superior, General D.H. Hill, Rains would not return to field command afterwards. He is best known for inventing mines for use on land and in the water, a device that was condemned by both sides.
Sevier led a group of ten cavalrymen and one civilian scout out on a reconnaissance patrol from Norton’s Ranch where they were part of a small group under the command of Captain Stephen Whipple who had been trying to find the whereabouts of Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce band. The Nez Perce had broken away from a Federal troop cordon after the Battle of White Bird Canyon leaving General O.O. Howard’s pursuing column literally on the wrong side of the Salmon River. Whipple’s small detachment had moved itself directly in the way of the Nez Perce band – 150 warriors with 600 people in total and over 2000 livestock.
Rains was warned to keep to the high ground when searching for the Indians but for whatever reason, his party ended up in the bottom of a canyon. The Nez Perce ambushed the search party and killed all of them ending Rains’ career just as he was getting started.
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FORT WALLA WALLA CEMETERY: MAJOR EUGENE M. BAKER
Eugene M. Baker was an 1859 graduate of West Point. Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 1st US Dragoons, that unit became the 1st US Cavalry with the onset of the American Civil War. By 1862, Baker was a captain gaining brevets to major – for gallantry during the Peninsular Campaign – and lieutenant colonel – for gallantry at the Battle of Winchester, 19 September 1864. As a result of his service in the Shenandoah Valley, Philip Sheridan, the Federal commander, took notice of Baker and liked what he saw/
After the Civil War, Baker was sent west with the rest of the 1st US Cavalry. In Montana, he led 150 soldiers against a winter camp of Piegan Blackfeet whom were suspected of harboring an individual accused of murdering a white settler. Sheridan gave Baker leeway to punish the murderer and any others he thought might be responsible. The camp along the Marais River Baker came upon was actually not the one the murderer belonged to but another peaceful Piegan band. The chief of that band had been given a paper signed by Colonel Alfred Sully identifying this particular band as peaceful. The chief, Heavy Runner, came out of the camp holding his paper high in the air to meet with Baker’s men. One of Baker’s guides recognized Heavy Runner and tried to convince Baker that this was the wrong camp. Supposedly, Baker and some of his officers had been drinking – even though it was -40 F – and he and his men were there to kill and teach the Indians a lesson. Heavy Runner was the first to go down. Some 200 others soon joined their chief with 140 others captured. They were later turned loose without food or adequate clothing and many died. The camp was burnt.
By 11 am, Baker headed downstream for the correct camp – it had been specified exactly in Sheridan’s orders – but by the time he arrived, the band had disappeared towards Canada. Even though the wrong camp had been destroyed, Sheridan had been looking for a pre-emptive winter strike against the Blackfeet who had been showing signs of unrest. He stood by Baker after the massacre, just as he stood by with George Custer after his similar affair at Washita against the Southern Cheyenne.
Sherman squashed the protests of the Montana Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendant Colonel Sully – who, himself, had acting rather vigorously in Minnesota during the Sioux War of 1864-1865 – preferring to believe his officers who told him that most of the dead on the Marais were warriors and that all that had asked for quarter had been granted it.
The brief outrage in Congress led President Grant to choose a “Peace Policy” in his actions towards Indian relations, keeping control within the Interior Department – BIA – as opposed to the efforts being undertaken to transfer them to the Army.
Two years later, the night of 14-15 August 1872, Baker was in command of some 400 men who were tasked to guard a railroad surveying party for the Northern Pacific. That night, they were attacked by a Sioux-Cheyenne raiding party of some 1000 warriors. They were on their way to raid their traditional Crow enemies but decided they could also do some damage here. Baker had been up late drinking again, but his subordinates handled themselves well fighting off the attack killing up to 100 warriors with the loss of only two of their own. Both Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull had been a part of the raiding party.
The attack had taken place at Pryor’s Creek – a site just east of present-day Billings. Baker’s party was supposed to link up with another party moving downstream along the Yellowstone at the Powder River confluence, but Baker decided to return to Fort Ellis – Bozeman – blaming the surveyors for his retreat. The bad publicity from Pryor’s Creek led to a plunge in stock price for the Northern Pacific and financial collapse in 1873.
Baker was court-martialed shortly after the battle for arresting an officer while Baker was drunk. Convicted and sentenced to dismissal from the service, General Sherman – similar to what happened with Custer, again – intervened and reduced the penalty to six months at half pay.
The years of 1873 to 1877 saw Baker commanding small forts in Wyoming. He went on extended sick leave from February 1876 to the end of October as his liver was probably beginning to shut down. Late in 1877 through 1879, Baker was at Fort Keogh commanding troops under Colonel Nelson Miles in the field. Most of 1880, he was back on sick leave before returning to duty for a short time at the end of the year at Fort Custer. He was court-martialed once again and this time out of duty for the better part of a year before returning to command again two companies of cavalry stationed at Fort Maginnis – the last Army post that was created in Montana. A year later, Baker returned to the sick list for another nine months before a final posting to Fort Walla Walla after 24 May 1884. He lasted only until 19 December before his liver finally gave out and he died at the age of 47. The Army buried him at his post not paying for repatriation to his hometown in New York State – a practice commonly done with officers. The West Point alumni magazine noted in his obituary that he was an example of the wrong road a young officer could take with regards to their personal well-being in life.
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FORT WALLA WALLA CEMETERY
The cemetery was established soon after Lieutenant Edward Steptoe organized the first Fort Walla Walla, a few miles east of downtown, in 1856. The fort was moved two times in the immediate years following and the cemetery ended up presently just to the west of the last fort – the present-day Veterans Administration Medical Center. The cemetery holds graves from the different eras of the fort’s existence – 1856-1910. Civilian graves are separated from the soldiers by about thirty yards. Three monuments reflect some of the major battles during the 1877-1878 Nez Perce War in which soldiers who spent some time in Fort Walla Walla lost their lives.
A majority of the graves were transferred here in the 1890’s and early 1900’s as other small forts scattered about Oregon, Washington and Idaho were closed down with the end of the Indian Wars. Fort Lapwai in Idaho – near where the heaviest fighting during the Nez Perce War took place – alone contributed some 80 graves. The cemetery today is the responsibility of the Veterans Administration. There were 141 identified burials at the time of the turnover of the fort and cemetery – 1922 – though Army records noted more than 150.
- Historical Travel
Take a hike in the Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains are a small mountain range to the east and southeast of Walla Walla and include the Umatilla National Forest. This range isn't large or high (peaks are only around 6,000 feet) like the Cascades to the west or the Rockies further east, but it is a scenic range nonetheless with some pretty hikes with some sweeping views and trails through meadows and old growth forests.
From Walla Walla, there are two primary ways to get to the hiking trails. Drive east along Mill Creek to the end of the road to the trailhead. Alternatively, drive south to Oregon and exit near Weston, go to Tollgate, drive south for 8 miles, take the Summit Road to the trailhead.
From there, the elevation change is minimal, so it is more like a beautiful walk in the park. If you want to make it more strenuous, drive south into Oregon to Gibbon (lower elevation than Summit Road). The trailhead is 1900 feet lower and you can hike up to the upper trailhead on Summit.
We chose to be lazy and went through Tollgate. We found a nice trail and hiked for 2 hours (about 6 miles).
- Hiking and Walking
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