Steptoe Battlefield State Park Heritage Site

Steptoe Battlefield State Park Heritage Site is a four-acre day-use park in Rosalia. The site commemorates a battle between U.S. Army forces led by Colonel Edward Steptoe and several Native American tribes from eastern Washington that occurred in 1858.

Steptoe Battlefied web

In the years preceding the battle, tensions between Native Americans and the U.S. Government grew quickly as Euro-American settlers moved into tribal territory in eastern Washington (then part of the Territory of Washington). On May 6, 1858 Colonel Steptoe led a group of 160 soldiers north from Fort Walla Walla across the Snake River and into the Palouse region. The intent was to march all the way to Fort Colville. The move was intended as a show of force.

On May 15, the troops camped along Pine Creek, just south of the present-day town of Rosalia. The next day, as the troops continued northward, increasing numbers of hostile Native Americans appeared in the surrounding hillsides including members of the Spokane, Palouse, Coeur d’Alene, and Yakama tribes. Ultimately, Steptoe concluded that his troops were outnumbered and decided to retreat. The full retreat began on May 17. Battles broke out during the retreat and several casualties resulted on both sides (numbers vary between accounts). As the sun set, Steptoe’s troops found themselves surrounded and nearly out of ammunition. Under cover of night, the troops managed to slip past their enemies and made a run for the Snake River crossing.

The battle was considered a significant victory for the eastern Washington tribes. Later that summer, however, Colonel George Wright returned to the area with nearly 700 heavily-armed soldiers and defeated the tribes, effectively ending their resistance in that region of the territory.

In 1914, the Esther Reed Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a stone monument commemorating the battle on the present-day park site. The monument’s location is where Steptoe’s troops made their final stand. The monument repeats an account of Steptoe’s retreat that is now widely discounted in which Chief Timothy of the Nez Perce was said to have aided the U.S. Army soldiers in their escape. Although the soldiers were aided by Nez Perce scouts, there is no evidence to suggest that Chief Timothy was involved.

In 1950 the site became a state park and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.