Published: January 18th 2013January 18th 2013
From Spokane go south on Hwy 195 about 30 miles. Just past Rosalia take left onto Hwy 271 and go southeast about 8 miles to Oakesdale. From there take Hwy 27 southest 0.7 miles to Hume Rd and turn right. Follow Hume Rd about 7 miles to the Steptoe Butte State Park entrance. Go clear to the top of the butte. Look closely and you can still see remnants of the rifle pits.
Steptoe Butte is located a few miles southeast of Rosalia, Washington. It is such a unique feature that it carries its own geologic definition. A steptoe is a prominence of quartzite protruding through a basalt flow. Only one such place exists on the planet. The butte is not named after that unique geologic feature though. It is named in honor of Edward Jennings Steptoe and is a place he would probably just as soon forget. Edward Steptoe graduated from West Point in the class of 1837 along with a fellow named James Gunnison. Steptoe served two tours in the Second Seminole War, and fought valiantly enough during the War with Mexico to have attained a brevet rank of lieutenant colonel. Gunnison graduated second in the class of 1837 and served in the Topographic Corps. He was talented mapper, but not much of a fighting man. By the fall of 1853 Gunnison was still a first lieutenant, but was charged with mapping a route for the transcontinental railroad through Utah. His small command was attacked by Pahvants on the Sevier River and wiped out to the last man. There were rumors persistent enough to be believed that the Gunnison Party was actually murdered by Mormons and not by Indians. President Franklin Pierce ordered an Army investigation. Major Edward Steptoe happened to be passing through the area on his way to California with remounts and recruits and was ordered to lead the investigation. Fully a year had passed since the massacre and in the meantime the Mormon courts had prosecuted a couple of old squaws and an old blind man, found them guilty in the massacre and had then allowed them to escape. Justice had prevailed, the Pahvants were at peace once more, and Steptoe was left holding an empty sack and a thorough disdain for God’s only Church. President Pierce offered Steptoe the Governorship of Utah, but it was the last thing on earth he wanted. His final recommendation was for the Army to establish a fort in Utah to keep a close watch on the happy brethren. Merrily he continued on to California, and then to a posting at Fort Walla Walla. Native inhabitants north of the Snake River, Yakimas, Spokanes, Palouse, and Coeur d’Alenes, were unhappy about white incursion onto lands set aside for them by treaty. The Senate had the treaty but had not yet ratified it so from a white perspective the treaty was not in force. The Indians had become hostile with the delay. Steptoe was ordered to take a force up to the Spokane River and show the hostiles the rifle. They were not much impressed with the show of force and the further north he went the madder they got. By the time the soldiers reached Pine Creek near Rosalia, on May 17, 1858, the Indians attacked. Steptoe and his men were driven back in a running fight to high ground on Steptoe Butte and put under siege. The soldiers were not dislodged after several assaults and the Indians lost enthusiasm for the fight. Both sides withdrew but the soldiers were out of ammo and would have been slaughtered after one more assault. The Indians exulted in their victory as the soldiers fled back to Fort Walla Walla in such a hurry that they abandoned their artillery in Tucanon Creek. Steptoe resigned from the Army in 1861 for reasons of poor health and he died in 1865. The photo shows the defensive position held by the soldiers atop Steptoe Butte.