Walla Walla people

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Walla Walla
Total population
(Enrolled members:)
Regions with significant populations
 United States Oregon
English, Sahaptin dialect (endangered)
Christianity (incl. syncretistic forms)
Related ethnic groups
Sahaptin-speaking Umatilla, Cayuse, Yakama
Sahaptin tribal representatives to Washington D.C. (1890)

Walla Walla (/ˌwɒləˈwɒlə/ WOL-ə-WOL) are a Sahaptin indigenous people of the Northwest Plateau. The duplication in their name expresses the diminutive form. The name Walla Walla is translated several ways but most often as "many waters."[1]

Many Walla Wallas live on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The Walla Wallas share land and a governmental structure with the Cayuse and the Umatilla tribes as part of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla. The reservation is located in the area of Pendleton, Oregon, United States, near the Blue Mountains. Some Walla Wallas are also enrolled in the federally recognized Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.


The people are a Sahaptin-speaking tribe that traditionally inhabited the interior Columbia River region of present-day northwestern United States. For centuries before the coming of European settlers, the Walla Wallas occupied the territory along the Walla Walla River and along the confluence of the Snake and Columbia River rivers in a territory that is now part of northern Oregon and southeastern Washington state.

Contact with Europeans

The first encounter with Euro-Americans for the Walla Wallas was the Lewis and Clark Expedition. First meeting in 1805, the Americans promised to Walla Walla chief Yellepit they would visit with the people after seeing the Pacific Ocean. The party returned in April 1806 and stayed at Yellepit's village, located on the Columbia River near the mouth of the Walla Walla River.[2] During a transaction Yellepit presented Clark with a white horse in return for a copper kettle. The Americans had none in supply however, so Clark gave Yellepit his own sword, along with a quantity of gunpowder and musket balls.[3] Lewis and Clark also gave Yellepit a peace medal engraved with a portrait of President Thomas Jefferson, to be worn around the neck, and a small United States flag. Yellepit, Washington was later named after him.

David Thompson of the Canadian-British North West Company (NWC) was the next European in the Walla Walla lands, arriving in 1811. About five miles upriver from Yellepit's village on the confluence of the Snake River and the Columbia, Thompson ordered a pole be placed. An attached letter to the pole claimed the territory for the British Crown, and stated the NWC intended to build a trading post at the site. Thompson's pole and letter were intended for the traders of the Pacific Fur Company, an American rival of the NWC. Continuing downriver, Thompson stopped at Yellepit's village and discovered the flag and medal left by the Americans. Thompson found Yellepit very friendly and intelligent, even encouraging Thompson's plan to set up a nearby trading post.[4] For various reasons the post was not built until 1818, when the NWC established Fort Nez Perces at the mouth of the Walla Walla River. During the summer of 1811, Thompson met also the Walla Walla head chief, Tumatapum, and his equal-ranking Quillquills Tuckapesten, Nimipu head chief, Ollicott, Cayuse head chief, and, probably, Illim-Spokanee, Spokane heade chief.

The Walla Wallas eventually adopted maintaining cattle herds, going as far as New Helvetia in California during 1844 to secure additional livestock. An estimated 40 Walla Wallas, Nez Perce and Cayuse under Walla Walla chief Piupiumaksmaks went on the expedition south. En route the party gathered stray horses, not aware the strays were stolen. Negotiations at New Helvetia were held between one of Piupiumaksmaks' sons, Toayahnu, and an employee of Sutter. The two men entered a dispute, and Toayahnu was killed.[5] Despite fears of retribution among Sutter's staff by the Walla Wallas, Piupiumaksmaks returned with a small band of warriors and families in 1846 and declared peaceable intentions.[6] The returning party had members infectees of measles, which began to spread across the Columbia Plateau, decimating indigenous populations.[7] Smallpox and other diseases were also introduced into the area, increasing the Walla Wallas population decline. Despite this, the Walla Wallas then held extensive herds of horses, being the "principal wealth" of the tribe.[8]

Notable Walla Walla

  • Piupiumaksmaks (Yellow Serpent) (d. 1855), head chieftain of Walla Wallas
  • James Lavadour (b. 1951), painter and printmaker
  • Dan Henderson (b. 1970), Olympic wrestler and mixed martial artist
  • Connor Trinneer (b. 1969), actor (Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III from Star Trek: Enterprise)


  1. "Indian Names Of Places", Native American Glossary. (retrieved 24 March 2011)
  2. "Walla Walla Indians", Lewis and Clark, PBS
  3. "Yelleppit and the Walla Walla", The Oregon History Project
  4. Nisbet, Jack (1994). Sources of the River: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America. Sasquatch Books. pp. 202–203. ISBN 1-57061-522-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Heizer, Robert Fleming. "Walla Walla Indian Expeditions to the Sacramento Valley." California Historical Society Quarterly 21, No. 1 (1942), pp. 1-7
  6. Hussey, John Adam, George Walcott Ames, Jr. Preparations to Meet the Walla Walla Invasion, 1846, California Historical Society Quarterly 21, No. 1 (1942), pp. 9-21.
  7. Paul, Kane. Wanderings of an artist across the Indians of North America, London: Longman, Brown, Green and Roberts, 1859, p. 283
  8. Reports of Explorations and Surveys to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, Volume 1. Washington, D.C. Beverly Tucker. 1855, p. 403.

External links