May 9, 2012
Experience the Battle of Steptoe on
Join Mahlon Kriebel as he takes you on a journey back in time to the Battle of Steptoe on Thursday, May 17 at 6:30 in the Norma McGregor Room at the Colfax Library. This multi-media presentation falls on the 154th anniversary of the historic and often misunderstood event.
At 8:00 AM on May 17th, 1858, the Palouse Indians began firing on the Command of Edward Steptoe as they turned onto the Washington Territorial Road, today the site of Plaza. Steptoe’s troops, the Dragoons held fire as they retreated south along the North Fork of Pine Creek until the valley narrowed where it was pinched between a hill and basalt mesa.
Because the Indians were close enough to be effective and the Dragoons were obligated to return fire. Col. Steptoe ordered Lt. Gregg’s Company to secure the hilltop to the south. Gregg’s Company rode hard and beat the Indians to the top of the hill. The rest of the command followed. Captain Winder fired several rounds with his mountain howitzers. Lt. Gregg secured the next hill to the south. It was at this point in the Battle of To-ho-to-nim-me that the Coeur d’ Alene Indians charged between the two hills occupied by the U.S. Army. Lt. Gaston, just out of West Point, and Lt. Gregg, an officer of the Mexican-American War, executed a right angle scissor maneuver to trap the Indians against a basalt embankment.
This was the beginning of a running battle that took the lives of two officers, five enlisted men, and three Nez Perce scouts employed by the Army. The Indians suffered at least twelve dead and many more wounded. The defeat embarrassed the U. S. Army. Congress demanded an immediate and punitive expedition against the Plateau Indian Tribes.
In his presentation, Kriebel will describe the white-Indian tensions that led to this first battle on the Palouse Prairie, the route that the Steptoe Command used for their ride from Fort Walla Walla to the Hudson’s Bay Company at Colville.
Why did Steptoe turn back from his camp on May 16? Who demanded that
Steptoe return? A major question that historians have asked is why had the peaceful Coeur d’ Alene and Spokane Indians attack Steptoe’s Command of 156 men?
Kriebel believes the answer lies in the original Field Note Maps made by Theodor Kolecki. Kriebel located these maps in the National Archives where they had been “lost” for 145 years. Col. Wright led the punitive expedition four months after the defeat of Steptoe. The field note maps had been made four months after Steptoe’s defeat when the Army revisited the battlefield. Original details of the Steptoe expedition and the health of Steptoe were left out of the 35th Congressional Records. The official reconnaissance map is incomplete. Was there an attempt to cover up the reason for the attack on Steptoe? Was the health of Steptoe questionable?
These questions will be discussed as well as the Wright Campaign and the impact that both the Steptoe and the Wright Campaigns had on the development of Washington Territory.
For more information about this presentation, contact Mahlon Kriebel or Kristie at Whitman County Library.