Steptoe Butte stands tall in Washington history

Published on May 17, 2012 with No Comments

To today’s passersby it might just seem like one of the random buttes that juts out of the Palouse between Pullman and Spokane but Steptoe Butte had a major role in Northwest history.

Now a state park Steptoe Butte is a 150-acre, 3,612-foot-tall quartzite butte named after Col. Edward Steptoe whose troops came under the fire of the Palouse Indians at 8 a.m. on this day in 1858 near the site of present day Plaza, Wash.

At 6:30 tonight Mahlon Kriebel of Garfield, will take audiences back to the Battle of Steptoe in the Norma McGregor Room at the Colfax Library. His multi-media presentation falls on the 154th anniversary of the historic and often misunderstood event.

Steptoe’s troops, the Dragoons, held fire as they retreated south until the valley narrowed between a hill and basalt mesa. The colonel ordered Lt. Gregg to secure the hilltop to the south. Gregg barely beat the Indians to the top. The ensuing Battle of To-ho-to-nim-me took the lives of two officers, five enlisted men, and three Nez Perce scouts employed by the U.S. Army. On the other side Palouse and Couer d’Alene Indians suffered at least 12 dead but won the battle. The defeat embarrassed the U. S. Army and Congress demanded a punitive expedition against the Plateau Indian Tribes. This came four months later under the command of Col. Wright.

In his presentation, Kriebel will describe the white-Indian tensions that led to this first battle on the Palouse Prairie. He’ll also address one of the big questions historians have asked: Why did the peaceful Coeur d’ Alene and Spokane Indians attack Steptoe’s Command of 156 men?

Kriebel, the president of the Whitman County Historical Society, studied documents in the National Archives to gain insight into the events.

What: The Battle of Steptoe 1858
When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. tonight
Where: Colfax Library, 102 S. Main St., Colfax
Cost: Free
Of Note: Steptoe Butte State Park, 32 miles north of Pullman off Highway 195, is open from 6 a.m. to dusk daily.

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About Jennifer Bauer

Jennifer Bauer

Inland 360 reporter | 208.848.2263


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