Wallowa County History

Map of the state of Oregon with Wallowa county in the northeast corner blacked out. Wallowa County was established on Feb. 11, 1887, out of the eastern portion of Union County. It is the northeastern most county of Oregon. Subsequent boundary changes occurred in 1890, 1900, and 1915 when land was acquired from or transferred to Union County. Wallowa County is now bounded on the north by the State of Washington, on the east by the Snake River which is the boundary with the State of Idaho, on the south by Baker County, and on the west by Union County. The county's area is 3,153 square miles. Its 2013 population of 7,045 was an increase of 0.5% over 2010. 

In 1877 the younger Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, incensed at the government's attempt to deprive his people of the Wallowa Valley, refused to be moved to an Idaho reservation. Several regiments of United States troops were dispatched to force him onto the reservation. After a number of battles and a thousand-mile retreat, Chief Joseph was compelled to surrender. He and the remnants of his band were removed to Oklahoma and later relocated to a reservation in Washington State. 

The Wallowa Mountains are an important geographical feature of the county. They are unlike other mountain ranges in the state due to their granitic rather than volcanic origin. They take their name from the Wallowa River that is formed by the confluence of the east and west forks about a mile south of Wallowa Lake and eventually flows into the Grande Ronde River. Wallowa is a Nez Perce word for "fish trap." 

The City of Enterprise serves as the county seat. The City of Joseph was named the interim county seat until a general election chose Enterprise as the county seat in 1888. A proposition to contribute to the building of a county courthouse by 60 citizens was turned down by the county court in 1899. It was not until 1909 that a courthouse was built. Constructed of native stone the building continues to house county offices. Enterprise, in addition to being the county seat, is the Wallowa Valley's trade center for ranchers and has local offices for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. 

County government is led by a board of commissioners made up of one chairman and two commissioners. Other offices include clerk, sheriff, assessor, and treasurer. The surveyor is appointed by the board of commissioners. Principal industries in Wallowa County are agriculture, livestock, tourism, and recreation. 

Wallowa county courthouse
The Wallowa County Courthouse in Enterprise was built of native stone in 1909. (Oregon State Archives Scenic Image 20040712-0044​)

Wallowa County Courthouse

101 S. River Street
Enterprise, OR 97828
Clerk: 541-426-4543 Ext. 3
Courts: 541-426-4991
Visit Wallowa County website >​

Whiskey Creek​​​

An Oregon trademark label for G. Arata and Co. Two Globes Whiskey (#645), 1901. (Oregon State Archives
While many streams in Wallowa County run dry in the summer, Whiskey Creek was decidedly "wet" in the summer of 1872. Enterprising traders ran a pack train with a considerable supply of whiskey from Walla Walla, Washington Territory to a camp near Wallowa.
Residents of Wallowa were hopping mad after the traders began to barter the whiskey for goods with local Indians. They entered the camp and engaged in a three-cornered fight with the traders and the Indians. Emerging victorious, the Wallowa residents finished their work by busting open the kegs of whiskey, which then flowed freely into what has been known as Whiskey Creek ever since. (Source: Oregon Geographic Names)