Missing Section Of Nez Perce Trail Holds Little-Known Part Of History

 

By Jessica Robinson, NW News Network

 

The story most people learn about the Nez Perce Tribe and the capture of Chief Joseph doesn’t tell the whole history.

 

Ruth Wapato of Spokane is the granddaughter of one of the members of the Nez Perce Tribe who fought alongside Chief Joseph in 1877.
Credit Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

 

Now the federal government and Northwest Tribes are trying to fix that with a new historic site.

You may have heard about the Nez Perce’s epic 1,200-mile flight through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana in 1877. The U.S. Army caught up with them before they could reach Canada. And in history books and documentaries, the story usually ends with the tribe being forced to surrender just 42 miles from the border — and freedom.

But in fact, for about a third of the Nez Perce, it didn’t end there. Nearly 300 people escaped the battlefield and did cross into Canada.

Ruth Wapato’s grandfather was one of them. Wapato is part of a group that’s been working to get the federal government to recognize the final leg in the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

 

Map of the current Nez Perce National Historic Trail.
Credit U.S. Forest Service

 

“They weren’t all off together, some up front, some way behind,” Wapato said. “Their moccasins torn and worn out, you know. And it was cold — in October. But they were on their way.”

Some stayed and their descendants remain in Canada. Wapato’s grandfather returned to the U.S. and was arrested and sent to Oklahoma.

The Forest Service is holding a series of public meetings in Oregon, Idaho and Washington through early October. They’re asking for public comment on adding an extra section and making other updates to the trail.

Meetings in the Northwest:

    • Kamiah, Idaho – September 22, 2014, 7-9 p.m. PDT
      Kamiah Emergency Services Bldg. (Fire Hall)

 

    • Spalding, Idaho – September 23, 2014, 7-9 p.m. PDT
      Nez Perce National Historical Park

 

    • Enterprise, Oregon – September 24, 2014, 7-9 p.m. PDT
      Wallowa Valley Chamber

 

    • Pendleton, Oregon – September 25, 2014, 7-9 p.m. PDT
      Umatilla National Forest Headquarters

 

  • Grand Coulee, Washington – October 9, 2014, 7-9 p.m. PDT
    Grand Coulee Senior Center

Search for Native American remains and historic sites in Hillsboro, OR

Crews with SWCA Environmental Consultants dig in a field east of Northwest 253rd Avenue in search of Native American remains or remnants of the historic Methodist Meeting House. The contract is now significantly more expensive, according to city officials (Andrew Theen/The Oregonian)

Crews with SWCA Environmental Consultants dig in a field east of Northwest 253rd Avenue in search of Native American remains or remnants of the historic Methodist Meeting House. The contract is now significantly more expensive, according to city officials (Andrew Theen/The Oregonian)

By Andrew Theen, The Oregonian 
July 24, 2013

Hillsboro’s ongoing search for human remains and historic sites in a field and along a gravel road earmarked for development has thus far turned up “two indistinguishable pieces of metal” and nearly $140,000 in unforeseen costs, according to public works officials.

The city hired SWCA Environmental Consultants to use ground-penetrating radar along Northwest 253rd Avenue in May to survey for historic sites. The initial contract was for $38,215. The new contract estimate is $177,813, according to a staff report presented to the Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

Local historians and some nearby residents believe one of Washington County’s oldest buildings, the Methodist Meeting House, used to be in that area. Descendants of Joseph and Virginia Meek, the famous Oregon frontiersman and his Nez Perce wife, are believed to have been buried near the meeting house too.

The ground-penetrating radar survey identified more than 600 anomalies that necessitated excavation to determine their historical significance, according to a staff report. So far  crews haven’t started to analyze the anomalies deemed of “highest interest,” due to permitting delays. That’s where the additional costs come into play.

“So far, we haven’t found anything,” Bob Sanders, assistant public works director, said on Tuesday. “But we still have to go through that process.”

That process, Sanders said, has been frustrating.

It will also likely push back Hillsboro’s schedule for widening and paving 253rd Avenue, a road that city officials call key to opening up the 330-acre North Industrial Areafor development.

The road, Sanders said, also has a more immediate need, as an escape route for residents on nearby Northwest Meek Road, who will lose access to Northwest Brookwood Parkway once a $45 million interchange project is scheduled to begin later this fall. Hillsboro initially hopes to break ground on the road project this summer, using $6.3 million from the interchange project and another $1.8 million in traffic impact fees to fund the road work.

Beyond analyzing the cultural resources along Northwest 253rd, which includes an 1890Queen Anne-style home built by John W. Shute, the city is going through a concurrent natural resources permitting process related to two creek crossings on the rural property.

Sanders said he’s now planning for a situation where the entirety of 253rd can’t move forward in time for Meek residents. He said the city is looking at another options, the extension of Northwest Huffman Street from 253rd east to Brookwood, as another route for Meek Road residents.

— Andrew Theen