Yelleppit and the Walla Walla

This excerpt from the journal of Meriwether Lewis describes the Corps of Discovery’s encounter with the Walla Walla Indians and their headman Yelleppit. After crossing the Umatilla River—which Lewis calls the “Youmalolam”—on their return to the east, the “much fatigued” explorers stopped for a time to eat. While encamped they were met by Yelleppit and six other Indians. Lewis and Clark recognized the Walla Walla headman from the previous fall, when they had stopped briefly at his village across from the mouth of the Walla Walla River, giving him a small medal and promising to spend a few days with him the following spring.

Little is known about Yelleppit aside from what is contained in the journals of Lewis and Clark. The explorers first met him in October 1805, when they described him as “a bold handsom Indian, with a dignified countenance about 35 years of age, about 5 feet 8 inches high and well perpotiond.” It is unlikely that Yelleppit was his regular name; yalipt is a Sahaptin word that means “trading friend.” This was a formal social relationship among Plateau peoples, whose economy was based in large part on trading, gifting, and other forms of exchange.

Lewis noted that Yelleppit was “a man of much influence not only in his own nation but also among the neighbouring tribes and nations.” He was very interested in the American explorers, who he viewed as valuable potential trade partners. He convinced the newcomers to stay at his village for a couple of days, during which time the Walla Wallas entertained them with dancing and music. A nearby community of Yakamas also joined in the celebration.

Before the explorers took their leave of the Walla Wallas, whom Lewis described as a “friendly honest people,” Yelleppit presented Clark with a “very eligant white horse,” asking for a copper trade kettle in return. The captains had already given away all of the kettles they could spare, so Clark presented Yelleppit with his own sword instead, as well as some gun powder and a hundred musket balls. It would be another twelve years before the Walla Wallas would establish lasting trade relations with the newcomers, though. In 1818, the Northwest Company built a trading post called Fort Nez Perce—later known as Fort Walla Walla—at the mouth of the Walla Walla River.

Further Reading:
Ronda, James P. Lewis and Clark among the Indians. Norman, Okla., 1984.

Moulton, Gary, ed. The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Vols. 5 and 7. Lincoln, Nebr., 1988-1991.

Written by Cain Allen, © Oregon Historical Society, 2004.

Related Historical Records

Clark's Drawing of White Salmon Trout // OrHi 96334
Clark's Drawing of White Salmon Trout

The image reproduced here is a copy of a sketch made by William Clark in February 1806. It depicts what Clark labels a “white salmon trout,” later known as a coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch). This was one of many sketches Clark made of newly discovered plants and animals …

Cruzatte Wounds Captain Lewis // Journals 5. Thwaites : 239-242
Cruzatte Wounds Captain Lewis

This excerpt from the journal of Meriwether Lewis describes a hunting accident on August 11, 1806, during which Lewis was shot by one of his men, Pierre Cruzatte, a one-eyed, half-French, half-Omaha private known for his skill as both a boatman and a fiddle-player.

In July 1806, the Corps of …

Death of Meriwether Lewis // Mss 1089
Death of Meriwether Lewis

The death of Meriwether Lewis in the fall of 1809 has long been a subject shrouded in mystery and controversy. This much we know: on September 4, 1809, Lewis, then governor of Louisiana Territory, left St. Louis for Washington, D.C., to take care of some personal and professional business. After …

Map of Lewis and Clark's Track
Map of Lewis and Clark's Track

This important map titled A Map of Lewis and Clark's Track Across the Western Portion of North America from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean marks the culmination of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which explored western North America from 1804 to 1806. It also marks the end of the …

Meriwether Lewis to Thomas Jefferson, 1805
Meriwether Lewis to Thomas Jefferson, 1805

Captain Meriwether Lewis wrote this letter to President Thomas Jefferson in early April 1805 from Ft. Mandan, near present-day Washburn, North Dakota. It was hand-copied and the spelling corrected around 1901 by one of Lewis’s relatives for Eva Emery Dye, an Oregon City-based novelist who was doing research on the …

The Lewis and Clark Expedition

No two explorers are more firmly imprinted in the American consciousness than Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Rivers, counties, towns, schools, and wildlife refuges in Oregon are named after them. Monuments honor them, hundreds of books have been written about them, and a formal organization, the Lewis and Clark Trail …

Related Oregon Encyclopedia Articles

This entry was last updated on May 28, 2020