Friday, July 22, 2016

Army Establishes Fort Lapwai on the Nez Percé Indian Reservation [otd 07/22]

According to Idaho State Historical Society records, a troop of Oregon Volunteer cavalry established Camp – later Fort – Lapwai on July 22, 1862. The location selected was near the mission established by Presbyterian minister Henry Harmon Spalding in 1836 [blog, Nov 29]. Although the church abandoned the mission after the Whitman Massacre in 1847, the Nez Percé Indians continued to occupy the site.

When Elias Pierce discovered gold on Orofino Creek, in 1860, prospectors poured into the region. However, the gold fields lay within the boundary of the Nez Percé Indian Reservation established in 1855. The Indians demanded that white authorities expel the invaders, as stipulated in the 1855 treaty.

White officials met at Lapwai with the Nez Percé in August 1861. The results were inconclusive, so authorities stationed a company of dragoons near the meeting place. They claimed the troop was there to protect the Nez Percé, and keep the miners in line. However, the troopers did absolutely nothing to curb trespassers. There’s no question that their real job was to over-awe the more militant factions within the tribe.

Officials decided they needed a more permanent base, so the Army built Camp Lapwai near the old mission. By the fall of 1862, they had stationed two cavalry companies there. That did not solve the problem, and the local Indian Agent used the turmoil to foist a new treaty on the Nez Percé. The 1863 Treaty drastically reduced the size of the reservation and sowed the seeds of future conflict [blog, June 9].

The Army temporarily vacated Fort Lapwai after the Civil War, when authorities disbanded many Volunteer regiments and there was a delay in replacing them with Regulars. By late 1867, the Department had stationed two cavalry companies at the installation. These troops played a key role when lingering 1863 treaty tensions exploded into the Nez Percé War of 1877. Of course, Nez Percé warriors badly beat the Lapwai soldiers who responded first to the outbreak [blog, June 17]. However, the fort then became a vital staging area for additional troops and supplies to fight the war.

In 1878, the Army established Fort Coeur d'Alene at what soon became the town of Coeur d'Alene City [blog, April 16]. This provided a post from which authorities could observe activities at both the Coeur d'Alene and Nez Percé Indian reservations.
Fort Lapwai, ca 1890. National Park Service.
When civilian steamboats appeared on Lake Coeur d’Alene in 1883-1884 [blog, Apr 4], it became clear that Fort Coeur d'Alene was the more effective location. The War Department decommissioned Fort Lapwai in June 1884. The structures basically reverted to tribal use by default.

The History page of the City of Lapwai says, “The Northern Idaho Indian Agency, originally located at Spalding, was relocated to Fort Lapwai in 1904. Fort Lapwai was later converted into a government Indian school and then into a tuberculosis sanatorium with a hospital, boys' and girls' dormitories, and a school.
"Lapwai remains as the seat of government for the Nez Perce Indian Nation. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Northern Idaho Indian Agency is also still located in Lapwai."
                                                                               
Reference: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Fort Lapwai,” Idaho Museum of Natural History Digital Atlas, Idaho State University, Pocatello.
“Idaho Military Posts and Camps,” Reference Series No. 63, Idaho State Historical Society (May 1971).

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