By William Compton Brown
By William Compton Brown
According to stories told by the Indians of seventy to eighty years ago, Tonasket already a chief of some importance, sought to quiet the fighting after the McLoughlin Canyon battle, in 1858, when a party of miners had been ambushed just south of the present town of Tonasket. Chief Tonasket tried to persuade the Indians to return to the miners the land they had captured.
The first Colville Reservation was created April 6, 1872, an irregular shaped tract of land east of the Columbia River, and it was planned to move and locate the following tribes, the Methows, Okanogans, San Poils, Lakes, Colvilles, Colispells, Spokanes, and the Coeur d'Alenes and scattered tribes.
It was immediately seen however, that someone had blundered, and that such a move was out of the question, and on July 2, 1872 President Grant signed an order canceling this reservation and creating a second one, the present Colville Reservation as it still exists with headquarters at Nespelen, and which included all lands west and north of the Columbia river, and bounded on the west by the Okanogan River, and on the north by the Canadian Boundary.
It is known that in 1883 and four many years prior to that date the home ranch and wintering place of Chief Tonasket was on the east side of the Okanogan River directly across from where the town of Oroville is today. It was on this large level expanse of open country that Father DeSmet, in May 1842, held his famous meeting with an large concourse of Indians and recorded in his journal that he baptized 106 children and several older people and named the place " the Plain of Prayer." This land is now all irrigated orchards.
It is known that Chief Tonasket sold this land to Hiram F. Smith (Okanogan Smith) and his common-law Indian wife, Mary Manuel, and that "Old Mary" (as she was commonly called) and several of her close relatives made this property their regular home thereafter, till that part of the Colville Reservation was allotted to Indians and later to white settlement in 1900.
In 1885 Chief Tonasket moved with his people and stock over to Curlew Creek, just south of Midway, B.C. It is safe to assume he had noticed the increasing number of stockman running cattle around the lower Similkameen Valley and Osyoos Lake while there was little if any stock along the Kettle River and Curlew Creek, and also there were extensive meadows of wild hay at the headwaters on the San Poil River.
His efforts at putting up hay were apparently very successful and increased his stock-raising activities for he got through the very severe winter of 1889-90 with very little loss. The same winter took a terrific toll from all the stockman all over Eastern Washington.
Chief Tonasket's home ranch was on the left bank of the Kettle River about a mile from the present town of Curlew. In 1978 his two-story log house was still standing. Here, also at the time of his death, he had a small general store that carried considerable stock of goods, while on the bench land above the river and across from the mouth of Curlew Creek, Chief Tonasket maintained a mile-long race track.
Chief Tonasket had been in his new location less than ten years and had accomplished much. One of his eyes had become infected, and he went to Spokane, where it was found necessary to remove the ailing eye. The operation was not a success. By that time the Corbin Railway had been extended north of Spokane into Colville region. He was taken off the train at Marcus, where he died a couple of days later. This was in the spring of 1891, and Chief Tonasket was about 71. His body was taken to his old home at Curlew and laid to rest on a hill just above his home. The inscription on his headstone reads, Chief Joseph Tonasket 1822-1891, "He proved himself a strong and able leader, and although his was not an inherited Chieftain-Chief, he was officially recognized as Chief of the Okanogan Indians in about the year 1858. His whole life was a series of accomplishments for his people."