By Ellen Morris Bishop for The Wallowa County Chieftain
LAPWAI, Idaho – Nez Perce National Historical Park recently restored the Old Chief Joseph’s Gravesite and Cemetery rock wall, located outside Joseph, Oregon. The month long masonry project, led by members of the National Park Service Historic Preservation Training Center (HPTC), was finished Sept 20, 2019.
National Park Service employees and Idaho Conservation Corps interns replaced and repointed stones in the wall. “The project was unique because we had to match three different colors of historic mortar in the wall,” said Trent Martinez, Acting Chief of Facilities for the park. The work on the wall will stabilize the historic structure and preserve it for future generations.
Funding for the project was provided by the Federal Highway Administration and Oregon Department of Transportation in partnership with the National Park Service, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and the Nez Perce Tribe.
The wall was originally constructed by a Civilian Conservation Corps crew comprised of Umatilla Tribal members in 1939.
In 1926, 2,500 people lined up to see the remains of tıwi·teq̉ıs or Old Chief Joseph reinterred at a new gravesite at the base of Lake Wallowa, overlooking the lands he once called home. Located in northeastern Oregon in the nimí·pu· or Nez Perce homeland, tıwi·teq̉ıs is the father of Chief Joseph, a leader during the conflict of 1877.
Tıwi·teq̉ıs was born between 1785 and 1790 and grew to be a leader of the groups of nimí·pu· living in the Wallowa’s. He signed the Treaty of 1855 but refused to put his mark to the Treaty of 1863. He died in 1871 but not before compelling his son to hold fast and defend his home land and people, “My son, never forget my dying words, This country holds your father’s body. Never sell the bones of your father and mother.” Unfortunately, under the threat of being evicted by the U.S. Army, Young Joseph and the Wallowa Band of nimí·pu· left the Wallowas in the spring of 1877 for the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. When tıwi·teq̉ıs died, he was buried farther down the valley but his grave was desecrated.
Several prominent community leaders lobbied for tıwi·teq̉ıs to be reburied. In 1926 that happened. The grave is part of a place that is home, and very special to the Nez Perce.
The Old Chief Joseph’s Gravesite and Cemetery was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985.