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Land of Two Rivers

"All The Water for All the Land"

Remaking Community:
McNary Dam

Making Way for
John Day

Umatilla Today and Tomorrow


The Walla Walla Council of 1855

What Shall we do at this council? We want you and ourselves to agree upon tracts of lands where you shall live; in those tracts of land we want each man who will work to have his own land, his own horses, his own cattle, and his home for himself and his children. Isaac Ingalls Stevens, Washington Territorial Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs.

   Two events, a treaty negotiated with Great Britain in 1846 and the Whitman incident, spurred efforts to establish the American presence more firmly in the lands of Oregon. In 1849 the U.S. Army established outposts to protect settlers along the Oregon Trail. The 1850 Land Claim Donation Act allowed couples to claim up to 640 acres. All that blocked northwest settlement was extinguishing Indian title to the lands.

   In 1855, Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Washington Territory, Isaac Ingalls Stevens, and Joel Palmer, Superintendent for the State of Oregon, called a meeting with regional Indians in the Walla Walla Valley. Altogether, approximately 5,000 Indians from the east side of the Cascades, including Umatillas, Cayuses, and Walla Wallas attended the late May through early June, 1855 meetings.

Walla Walla Council. Gustavus Sohon drawing. By permission of Special Collections,
Washington State Historical Society.

. . . the land where my forefathers are buried should be mine. That is the place that I am speaking for. We shall talk about it. . . we shall then know, my brothers, that is what I have to show you, that is what I love - the place we get our roots to live upon - the salmon comes up the stream - That is all. Tauitua, the Young Chief of the Umatilla Valley, quoted in Josephy, 327.

   For days Stevens and Palmer tried to convince the Indians that it was in their best interest to cede land to the United States. White settlers would soon be coming to the region "like grasshoppers on the plains," said Joel Palmer, and no one would be able to stop them. Palmer promised that entering into a treaty would allow the Indians to choose their lands. At the same time, the Indian Agents tried to convince the Cayuse, Walla Walla and Umatilla to move to Nez Perce country.

   After much wrangling, the commissioners changed their tactics, promising the Cayuse, Walla Walla, and Umatilla a reservation in the Umatilla Valley. On June 9, 1855, two Umatilla leaders, Weyatenatemany and Wenap-snoot signed the Walla Walla, Cayuse, and Umatilla Treaty. More than 6.4 million acres of land was ceded in what is now northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington. Schools, housing, health care, and education were promised, and the tribes reserved rights to fish, hunt, and gather traditional foods on the ceded lands.

The Oregon Land Claim Donation Act of 1850

Lieutenant Lawrence Kip describes the Walla Walla Council

Walla Walla, Cayuse, and Umatilla Treaty of 1855


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