Tribal History

Balsamroot sunflowers
Balsamroot sunflowers

Slichter 2009

The Place of the Sunflowers
Source: Confederated Umatilla Journal, May 2016
Excerpts from Chiefs and Chief Traders Vol. 1 by Theodore Stern, 1993

The Walla Walla Valley of southeastern Washington is known by the Cayuse and Walla Walla people of this land as Pašx̣ápa. This translates in the native language to ‘the place of the balsam root sunflower’. Pašx̣ápa was a place where the Walla Walla River and its smaller streams ran wild and horses grazed freely in a warmer climate than in the surrounding environs. The name reflects the convention for naming places in the native language after the natural resource found there. In the spring, the arrowleaf balsamroot sunflower, called páašx̣, is visible in abundance throughout the land.
Before Marcus Whitman encountered the Cayuse village that came to be known as Waiilatpu, before Fort Nez Perces and the ensuing fur trade were established at Wallula Junction on the Columbia River in 1818, before the mixed marriage community of trappers, traders, and native women arose as Frenchtown, before the Treaty Council of 1855 was convened followed by the heart-wrenching Battle of Walla Walla, this Ice Age flood-shaped land was home to family bands and villages tied to this area for millennia.
During the earliest encounters with non-Indians, from the Columbia River to the eastern reaches of the Walla Walla Valley, Indians of this valley negotiated with non-Indians in the region. Prominent tribal leaders such as Tamatapam, Hiyuumtipin, Peopeomoxmox, and many others assisted these new people, following in the footsteps of Yellepit, who encountered Lewis and Clark in 1805-1806, welcoming them inbound to the Pacific and assisting them outbound. Tamatapam, a Walla Walla headman, was instrumental in establishing a fur trade for his people with the Hudson Bay Company. Hiyuumtipin was the headman of the people of the Weyíiletpuu (Cayuse), and it was with his permission that the Whitman Party created their mission among them in 1836. It was agreed that for the exchange of the right to establish the mission on Cayuse soil, the missionaries promised annual presents would be made to Hiyuumtipin’s band. However, these gifts were not forthcoming, according to the Indian people.
In his journal of the 1855 Treaty Council, Lieutenant Lawrence Kipp gave figures for the Indians present, estimating a total of 5000 Indians gathered, Cayuse and Walla Walla among them. In contrast, at that time, there were fewer than a dozen Americans as yet dwelling in the Walla Walla Valley. Peopeomoxmox, Walla Walla headman and son of Tamatapam, was at the Treaty of 1855. Yet, soon after, these newfound rights within the Walla Walla Valley were challenged and the Battle of Walla Walla ensued. Peopeomoxmox began a truce process to end the bloodshed but was captured and brutally slain while a prisoner of war.

Last updated: March 14, 2017

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