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The magnificent barns that dot this gorgeous, fertile valley hide a darker side of history.

The first peoples to populate this region were the Nez Perce, who lived with the abundance of what the land and the rivers and the mountains provided. During the 1840s, as white families began to settle in the area, the Nez Perce traded peacefully with them. In 1873 the US Government partitioned the valley, granting half the land to the Nez Perce, the other half to white settlers. This concept of land ownership was foreign to the native peoples who had always felt themselves to be a part of the universe, linked forever to the wind, the water, the earth, and the wildlife. True to form, two years after partitioning, the government broke the treaty and banned Nez Perce from the entire valley, an event that lead to the Nez Perce war. That is a story in and of itself. Suffice it to say that much of the country between the Wallowa Mountains and the Montana Bitterroots is steeped in Nez Perce history and blood. To learn more about this stain on American history, I recommend starting with I Will Fight No More Forever by Merrill D. Beal.

A side note: The Wallowa Lake Tramway of which I spoke in a previous post breaches the top of Mt. Howard, which obscenely commemorates General O.O. Howard who chased Joseph and his band out of their homeland in an epic journey of desperation which ended with slaughter by troops under the command of Colonel John Gibbon in a surprise attack at the Big Hole in Montana. Original sin?

Brennan Barn – Joseph, OR; Built 1933. In 1961 the property, known as the Lightning Creek Ranch was purchased by Mike Brennan, son of beloved film actor, Walter Brennan who died in 1974 with 244 credits to his name. The OK Quarter Circle brand was registered to Walter. The Brennan family still owns this property.

I’m not sure what happened here. This post started off as a fluffy little photo essay but it took an unexpected turn. During my visit to the Wallowas I struggled with the incongruities: Mt. Howard looming over Joseph— a village which has clearly grown into a tourist mecca that draws mostly Caucasian “guests” who wallow in the luxury of glamping, mega-motorhome touring, or resort reclining. Maybe they learn something of the tarnished history of the place, maybe they don’t. It bothers me.