I will fight no more forever...so name a dam after me.
-- Chief Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain

(Ok, you got me; I added that last bit myself)

In the State of Washington one will find no shortage of Indian names. The two largest cities, Seattle and Spokane, are named for a chieftain and a tribe, respectively. Quinault, Yakima, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, and the many more that are namesakes to rivers, cities, counties, and publicly owned vessels are a constant reminder of happened here a century and a half ago; the invasion and conquest of an indigenous people. But none of these christenings, to me, have so much sadness as the U.S. Army's naming of Chief Joseph Dam.

Joseph was his Christen name; Hinmaton-Yalaktit (Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt), or Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain, was his birth name. A great chief of the Nez Perce Indians, his story is a tragedy of how peaceful and cooperative Indians were betrayed and killed by the U.S. Army in the name of Manifest Destiny. Joseph's family complied with the U.S. Government's request to intern the Nez Perce on a reservation. However, once gold was discovered on the land laid aside, the government materialistically took it back and tried to move the Nez Perce onto a span of land one tenth the size. A war of legends ensued between the Nez Perce and the U.S. Army, though, the Nez Perce were grossly out numbered. Joseph decided the best thing for his people would be move his entire tribe hundreds of miles into Canada in order to place them outside of the grasp of the U.S. Army. But, they were stopped only 40 miles from their freedom and were forced to return to their sliver of reservation under the guard of American soldiers.

To be honest, the Army wasn't really responsible for the name. It was originally supposed to be named Foster Creek Dam, however, just before construction began the U.S. Senate renamed the project after the Nez Perce chief. The dam is owned and operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Its construction began in 1949 and the first 16 powerhouses were finally brought online nine years later. Just down stream from Grand Coulee, Chief Joe creates a fifty mile long reservoir on the Columbia River known as Rufus Woods Lake, named for a Wenatchee newspaper reporter. In 1973, to increase its output, the dam was raised 10 feet and 11 new turbine generators were added making Chief Joseph Dam the second largest hydroelectric dam in the United States, second only to Grand Coulee Dam.


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