OTCC Interpretive Kiosk


Indians of the Grande Ronde

The Grand Ronde valley was the domain of the Nez Perce, Cayuse, Walla Walla and Umatilla Indian tribes long before the first emigrants trekked westward on the Oregon Trail. Emigrants were duly impressed by the lifestyle of the local tribes, Indians of the Grande Rondeand many like Abigail Jane scott, emigrant of 1852, noted "The Indians at this place are very wealthy, they have numerous herds of horsee, and possess many of the luxuries of life in abundance."

"Thousands of horses - many of them curiously spotted feed upon the mountain side. Hundreds of Indians...are camped here, & lazily greet us with invitations to swap...The women are all dressed in native costume of dressed antelope skins - fringed & ornamented with moccasins on their dainty little feet. they came to see us mounted astride of great sleek horses, & laugh & chatter among themselves like so many school girls. Their long black hair is braided into two long plaits that hang down & on top of the head is a gay little hat shaped like a flower pot - made of woven grass - it serves to pick berries in or to drink out of, as it holds water it being so closely woven. The men are all fine specimens of physical develoment...and the whole tribe are very superior to any we have yet seen. One pretty squaw took my knitting & very proudly took a few stitchs"
Harriet Talcott Buckingham; September 8, 1851

Eager to Trade Eager to Trade

The trek westward on the Oregon Trail was arduous: wagons broke down, animals died of exhaustion, and supplies were depleted. Although emigrants could re-provision at trading posts along the trail, trade with Indians was vital to survival. the Indians of the Grande Ronde Valley were eager to barter with emigrants. In 1845 Joel Palmer noted "They brought wheat, corn, potatoes, peas, pumpkins, fish, &c. which they were anxious to dispose of for cloths, calico, nankins and other articles of wearing apparel." Emigrants also bartered exhausted livestock, which the Indians restored to health for future trades.

"Saw quite a number of the Nez Perce tribe of Indians here...They have some good horses, as good as I ever saw in any country, and are eager to trade them for cattle. I traded off a couple of cows which were about to give out, to them and got two very good ponies for them and five dollars in money." John Tully Kearns; September 1, 1852

Skinning PostSkinning Post

      Most emigrants traded with Indians along the Oregon Trail; they also hired them as guides and often employed their services at dangerous river crossings. During the 1850s entrepeneurs and itinerant traders from the Willamette Valley established themselves along the emigrant route and competed with the Indians.  Although emigrants were always wary of Indians, they often considered white speculators dishonest. Henry Allyn, emigrant of 1853, noted that "Oregon emigrants are in ten times the danger from speculators, ferrymen and traders than the Indians."

"Here we come to another skinning post in the edge of the Grande ronde Valley.  Sunday as it was he deliberately walked out to skin.  so he made for mules and offer to sell Indian poines, and as he could not skin there he walked in an got a beef leg cut off at the knee and offered it to us at the low price of two dollars. as we did not see fit to be skinned with a cow's leg we pushed on to noon at the other edge of the valley." Henry Allyn; August 14, 1853

Powerful RockeyPowerful Rockey

Oregon Trail emigrants crested the mountains east of the Grande Ronde Valley after an arduous trek over what Jared Fox, emigrant of 1852, considered, "the worst possible road, too much for man or beast."  Although the watershed of the Powder River tested both emigrants and livestock, the descent to the valley floor from Ladd Hill was no mean feat.  Charles A. Brandt, emigrant of 1851,considered this "the worst hill we have had on the trip."  In 1850, Samuel James noted that "Most drivers quaked in getting their wagons down."  Absalom B. Harden, emigrant of 1847, described this descent as "a very Steep lonng hill...and powerful rockey."

"The first 5 miles was composed of a long ascent and a long descent which was steep, crooked, sideling and the road literally covered with rock from the size of your fist to any size not quite big enough to turn a wagon over, if you drive very careful.  By locking both hind wheels and getting back in the wagons and placing your feet against the bows the drivers all escaped being thrown out." Henry Allyn; August 14, 1853

Enchanted ValleyEnchanted Valley

      The Grande Ronde Valley was known to local Indians as Cop Copi, for its abundant cottonwood trees, and it received its current name in the 1820s from French-Canadian fur trappers for its shape--a great circle.  Oregon Trail emigrants entered this valley after traveling through what Riley Root, in1848 called, "one thousand miles of naked rocks," and for many along with Lucia Loraine Williams in 1851, "It resembled and enchanted valley."  Most emigrants recognized the valley's beauty, but some like John Dinwiddie in 1853 foretold the future: "this is a place to please the eye of a farmer the soil is an excellent quality...."

"At last we arrived in the middle of this famous plateau called "Le Grand Rond."  It is really one of the loveliest places  in the whole world.  Just imagine an enormous arena measuring about fifteen miles wide by twenty-five miles long, entirely surrounded by the most beautiful wooded mountains and watered by two lovely rivers.  the extremely fertile soil supports a luxuriant vegetation and to the south there are some lovely rolling hills that seem to beg to be put under cultivation, being fatigued by producing nothing but trees whose branches fall to the ground from old age."   Honore-Timothee Lempfrit; September 6, 1848

Rough PassageRough Passage   

 Emigrants descended Ladd Hill, traveled along the southern perimeter of the Grande Ronde Valley, and often camped at the base of Table Mountain. At the site of today's Birney Park, emigrants rested, traded with Indians, and many like George N. Taylor, emigrant of 1852, simply "layed to let the cattle rest," before entering the Blue Mountains.  the ascent of Table Mountain was "steep and difficult" for explorer John C. Fremont in 1843 and in 1852, John G. Glenn noted that "nine yoke of oxen brought our wagon up."  Table Mountain, however was only an introduction to the rigors ahead in the Blue Mountains.

"Leaving the Grande Ronde valley, we ascended a very hiigh mountain and traveled eight miles over a stony road, and then descended antother steep, long hill to the Grande Ronde river where we nooned.  After dinner we ascended another high hill or mountain and traveled two miles and came to a good spring, where we camped for the night.  this day's travel has been in the Blue mountains, and so far they have given us a rough passage." John Tully Kerns; September 3, 1852


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