Compiled by Jerry Smith
In the town of Nespelem, is a memorial to Chief Joseph who was sent to the reservation in 1884 with 150 of his band of Nez Perce Indians.
Historic Park Includes Nespelem Grave site.
The final site of the future Nez Perce National Historic Park is located on the Colville Indian Reservation in Nespelem, northwest of Grand Coulee Dam.
The historical park, awaiting final congressional approval, consists of 38 geographically separate sites located on the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.
The Trail begins in Oregon at the Old Chief Joseph grave site, located near Joseph, Oregon.
The Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail is followed by many visitors from all over the world, who honor and respect Chief Joseph and his band of people.
Chief Joseph's band of Nez Perce is part of the Colville Confederated Tribes, whose reservation is in Okanogan and Ferry counties.
Some Frequently visited sites are:
1. Old Chief Joseph grave site. Final resting place of Chief Joseph's father is in a cemetery that is a national historic landmark. His grave site is sacred and sensitive for the Nez Perce people.
Old Chief Joseph's grave is marked by a tall stone marker bearing the legend, "To the Memory of Old Chief Joseph, Died 1870." The cemetery is separated from the highway by a cobble wall and gateposts built by the Umatilla Tribal Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938-40.
The site is located on Oregon Highway 82, one mile south of Joseph, Oregon.
2. Dug Bar. This was the traditional crossing site where the Chief Joseph band forded immediately before the 1877 Nez Perce War. Although they did not know it at the time, this treacherous crossing was the band's final farewell to its homeland.
3. The Lostine Campsite. Lostine is a traditional Nez Perce campsite at the historic junction of the Lostine and Wallowa Rivers. It is about 12 miles northwest of Enterprise, Oregon, just off Oregon Highway 82.
Old Chief Joseph died in this area in 1871 and his original grave site is nearby.
This campsite exemplifies the Nez Perce's long-term habitation in the Wallowa Valley.
4. The Nez Perce Cemetery. The cemetery located in Nespelem, is an active, traditional Nez Perce cemetery. It occupies about five acres.
The cemetery contains the remains of many participants of the Nez Perce War of 1877, including younger Chief Joseph and Yellow Wolf. It has an association with the return of the Joseph Band from exile in Oklahoma.
The site is administered by the Colville Confederated Tribes.
The cemetery is on a grassy knoll with a few trees. It is bordered on two sides by a residential area.
Those wishing to pay their respects are asked by members of the Nez Perce band to visit the roadside historic marker in Nespelem, and seek permission from the band to visit any other site in this sensitive area. Visitors are asked not to visit the grave site.
The cemetery holds the remains of many Nez Perce, including members of the Joseph Band and members allotted/enrolled on the Umatilla and Nez Perce reservations. A 1905 monument has been placed on Chief Joseph's grave site.
A number of historic grave markers date from throughout the 20th century. There also are many unmarked graves.
Only the Joseph Band, through the Colville Confederated Tribes, can decide what if anything should be done at this sacred and sensitive site.
Among the Nez Perce a great respect is attributed to the deceased and every effort is extended to insure protection of Chief Joseph's grave.
In 1928, the descendents of the Wallowa Band and Joseph's descendents got together to talk over the matter of protecting Chief Joseph's grave. It was decided that it should be moved to the edge of Wallowa Lake. When the family had exhumed the body, they had discovered Joseph's skull had been removed. They had suspected as much because of some rumored reports about it having been on display somehwere.
To this day, no one seems to know where it is. Several family members remember some names and people and it may yet be possible to find out where the skull is and who took it.
While I was working at the Wallowa-Whitman Nat Forest, a group of people were wanting to purchase land immediately adjacent to Old Joseph's grave site. The intent was to develop condos and such as the area next to the lake is the most prime land anywhere in northeast Oregon. Since that time, many others have joined in and want to cash in on the development.
It is certainly an understatement on my part to say that the Wallowa is sacred to my family and descendents of the Wallowa Band Nez Perce. That land contains the spirit of our people. Now it seems everybody wants to cash in on the Nez Perce history. When I think about it, I just get angry and I want to bite my tongue off for fear of saying bad things!
If people knew the true reasons why the whites wanted the Wallowa and pressured the government for the removal of the Nez Perce then they would understand the greed that now grips them.