The land we call Ekone Ranch and White Eagle Memorial Preserve is part of a large geologic region known as the Columbia Plateau which was formed by flood basalt, a series of lava flows which subsided to form the Columbia Basin.
Rock Creek, which flows through the southern part of this land and feeds into the Columbia River, is an important habitat in the region, and the Upper Rock Creek watershed is home to many native species and a long history of indigenous inhabitation.
Near the mouth of Rock Creek is the longhouse for the Rock Creek Band, who are the traditional indigenous peoples here. This region was and remains an important gathering place for fishing and gathering spring roots like camas, and other native plants.
This area is the home of the Rock Creek people or K'milláma (Hunn 1990), one of the 14 tribes and bands of the Yakama Nation listed in the Treaty with the Yakamas of 1855. Both the Mámachatpam, (commonly the Yakama or the Yakama Nation) and Imatalamłáma, more commonly known today as the Umatilla, once lived in the area and closer to the Columbia River. Intermarriage, kinship ties, and regional trade connected bands and tribes throughout the region. Suphan (1959; 1974) finds that the Mámachatpam (Yakama), Imatalamłáma (Umatilla), and Walúulapam (Walla Walla) groups used this land for hunting, fishing, and resource gathering.
Here’s a link to a bit more information about the tribal peoples of this land, who continue to steward and care for this region and its resources, even though many of their traditional practices have been threatened during colonialization.
Here’s some more information about Rock Creek, from the Columbia Rivers website. This hour long geology lecture from Nick Zentner at Central Washington University on the Ancient Rivers of the Northwest explains the surprising origins of the beautiful red “potato” stones we sometimes find on the land out by the canyon!
The Simcoe Mountains lie to the north of Ekone, and Fort Simcoe State Park on the Yakama reservation land tells the story of western colonization and military occupation in the mid-1800s. The fort subsequently became one of the boarding school efforts to colonize native children.
The Horse Heaven Hills extend East of Ekone toward the Tri-Cities and Wallula Gap. The Goodnoe Hills rise up from the south side of Rock Creek downriver from Ekone land, and the abandoned silica mining town of Goodnoe Hills speaks to the white settlers’ arrival in the area in the 1860s.
While many tribes were displaced after the Yakama Wars, and the Treaty of 1855 ceded large amounts of territorial homeland to white settlers, the tribes retained their ancestral hunting, fishing, and gathering rights on ceded land, although they continue to need to fight for these rights.
Parts of the Ekone Valley were surveyed in 2017 by a collaborative effort between a private contractor, the Klickitat County Conservation District, and a Yakama Nation representative. The survey found evidence of tool use, and although they didn't find any household objects, char from cooking, or other indications of a standing seasonal camp in the places where they dug, it remains possible that this site is of historic importance. Here are some compiled excerpts of the Survey Report with more information about the tribal history in this area.
The Ekone forest is comprised primarily of Oregon White Oak, also known as Garry Oak, and Ponderosa Pine trees. The East Cascades Oaks Partnership is a new consortium of land trust organizations, tribes, scientists, land owners, and stakeholders working to protect Oregon white oak habitats. White Oak trees can live to be 400 years old, and provide habitat for over 200 species, including the threatened western grey squirrel which has been on Washington State’s threatened species list since 1993, largely due to habitat loss. Oregon white oak has lost approximately 90% of its historical range since the 19th Century.
stopping to sniff the ponderosas
This land is host to so much wildlife – western grey squirrel, deer, wild turkeys, coyote, bobcat, rattlesnakes, and occasionally bear make their way through these forests and watersheds. Mid-Columbia River steelhead trout and, downriver, coho salmon, both threatened species found here, are traditionally very important to the area tribes. Rock Creek is listed as critical steelhead habitat, and the Rock Creek Fish and Habitat Assessment completed in 2013 found healthy native populations in the upper Rock Creek watershed. The USGS and Yakama Nation Fisheries Program tagged juvenile steelhead from where Rock Creek flows through Ekone land and other places in the Rock Creek and Columbia River watersheds to conduct migration studies and to determine the health of native species.