Currently in Rocky Point, cloudy breezy and 57 degrees F
For thousands of years, this land has been home to the Nez Perce, “Nimiipuu”. It is a magical place, tucked away in the remote northwest corner of Oregon, off the beaten track. For the past several days, I have been writing about the things to see and do, but in the midst of all the natural beauty, the scenic drive, the magnificent mountains, there is more to this place.
The Nez Perce National Historic Trail begins in this spot, home to Old Chief Joseph, father of the famous Chief Joseph who led his people on a sad but epic journey that ended just 24 miles from the Canadian border, where his band of hungry men, women and children would have found refuge. Old Joseph refused to sell his native lands, fought and signed a treaty that gave the Nez Perce 8 million acres “forever”. Later, when gold was found here, the US Government decided that he should sign a new treaty, giving up his ancestral homeland and 7 million of the original 8 million acres. He refused, and thus began the story that ended with Young Joseph’s famous words, “I will fight no more forever”.
I have traveled through Nez Perce lands ever since I decided back in 1972 that Idaho would be my soul home. Then again in the 80’s I learned much about the people and their land as I worked the Weippe Prairie, the terraces along the Clearwater River, the Camas Prairie, once ancestral grounds covered with gorgeous blue camas that provided rich nutrition for the people.
There is a special site just south of town called Iwetemlaykin, and no, I can’t pronounce it either. Just a small parcel of rolling grassland, near the grave of Old Chief Joseph, 62 acres honoring the ‘place by the lake’ where you can walk the trails in silence and contemplate the land that was taken from the tribe. This land is familiar to me, the Nez Perce story is important to me. I sat for quite some time in Nez Perce photo exhibit on Main Street in Joseph, looking at historic and present day photos of the people. I have danced and sweated with Nez Perce teachers dear to my heart. My old Nez Perce hand drum still sits in a place of honor on my shelf. Maybe that is why it feels so good to be in this part of the world.
Or maybe I am just a sucker for fresh air, clean water, gorgeous mountains, and really cute little shops and restaurants. Yeah, I know, I am a romantic, and Joseph is the perfect place for someone like me.
In addition to the Nez Perce story, however, there is another story from Wallowa County that captured our interest. We read about the Maxville Heritage Center on our way to Joseph, and spent quite a bit of time looking for it. Once located in the town of Wallowa, it is now at a new location in Joseph, next to the Art Center on the north side of town.
Big surprise, the Logger’s Daughter was right there, and met us at the door to share her story and the PBS film that featured her search for the people and history of Maxville. When the Bowman-Hicks Lumber Company from Missouri founded the logging town, it brought African-American families with logging experience from the south to work and live in Maxville.
At that time, Oregon was almost entirely white, and segregation laws were strict. In spite of that, the people worked side by side until the town died and disappeared. Gwen was a delight, and her work and the story of Maxville are a great Oregon treasure.
So many things about Joseph are a surprise. The beautification projects that began more than a decade ago have created a lovely place to walk and enjoy really nice little shops. Almost every restaurant has outdoor seating and is dog friendly. The galleries are gorgeous, and I especially loved the restored bank building that houses the Stewart Jones Designs gallery. There is a chocolate shop with fine artisan chocolate makers, and I tasted a salted caramel right from the melter and had to buy a bunch, at a whopping buck and a quarter each. Worth every penny.
I had a great birthday breakfast in the Old Town Cafe, enjoying every tasty morsel and the view of the mountains was gorgeous, even under cloudy skies. We visited the gallery housing more of the magnificent bronze sculptures that decorate every corner, with prices ranging from a mere $3,000 to more that $50,000. Who buys this stuff anyway?! The owner said that people come from all over the world to buy bronze in Joseph. In fact, the bronze medallions that decorate the World War II monument in Washington DC came from Valley Bronze in Joseph, Oregon.
The day before, on Saturday, we spent some time at the wonderful farmer’s market, small but still filled with fresh, organic food and local honey and jams. Perfect greens, heirloom tomatoes, fresh flowers, easter egg radishes, tiny little squashes, it was all there to tempt me into filling the small RV fridge to overflowing.
The town itself would be delightful even without the magical setting of the Wallowas and the Zumwalt Prairie to the northeast, the clear Wallowa Lake to the south. I kept looking around wondering why we couldn’t manage somehow to do for Klamath Falls and our lovely old downtown what progressive folks have managed to do for tiny Joseph. I spent a lot of time talking to the shopkeepers about this, asking what was their magical formula.
Sadly, some told me it was their ability to run a business that didn’t have to make a profit that made it work. Most of them had supplemental income and lived and ran a business in Joseph specifically because it was worth it to them to live in such a magical place. The most repeated phrase was, “Everyone here is here because Joseph called to them”. Not many of the shopkeepers were historically local, with the surrounding area populated with ranchers who didn’t actually shop much in town, according to one woman I spoke with.
Still, whatever they have done, we get to reap the benefits of a sweet little place to rest, relax, eat great food, see beautiful art and sculpture, drink in the skies and the views and the history, and leave refreshed and restored in so many ways.
Then again, there is always the story of OR7, or Journey, as he was named by the schoolkids of Oregon.
OR7 was part of the famous Imnaha wolf pack and was for a time the only wolf in the state of California as he journeyed far from home trying to find a mate. OR7 spent some time in the Wood River Valley, in the Cascades near our home, and one dark night, out in the hot tub, Mo and I heard him howl. Last I read, Journey is somewhere nearby in Western Klamath County or Jackson County. Like me, he left his homeland, wandered thousands of miles, and ended up back in Oregon. Gotta love that wolf.