This is the Tohotonimme battlefield where on May 17, 1858 a combined force of around 650 Spokan, Palus, and Coeur d' Alene warriors fought against the encroachments of Col. Edward Steptoe and his column of 160 men. His group also included a group of "Christianized" Nez Perce scouts. In this battle, one of the last Indian-American wars fought within Washington Territory, the Native forces emerged victorious as they routed Steptoe's men and forced a retreat.
Steptoe's presence in the Palouse region was an attempt to intimidate area tribes with a show of military force, but few were impressed. On May 16, at Pine Creek near present-day Rosalia, a band of Coeur d'Alenes accompanied by Father Joset (a Jesuit Missionary) confronted Steptoe in an attempt to reason with him and stop his march into hostile territory. Unheeded by their intervention, Steptoe rode further and soon realized he was being followed by a large force of Coeur d'Alene, Palus, and Spokans. Steptoe's column was dangerously low on ammo as he did not expect an altercation, and his dragoons even left behind their sabers. Due to Steptoe's poor planning, his column was forced into a prolonged retreat once Indian force began their attack. The battle at Tohotonimme occurred during this "running battle," as Steptoe's men took up defensive positions on a small hill in an attempt to repulse his attackers.
That night, during a lull in the battle it is thought that Chief Vincent of the Coeur d'Alenes used the sounds of dancing and war drums to allow Steptoe a chance to escape under the cover of darkness. No one has yet discovered for certain how Steptoe and his men were able to flee. Still in debate to this very day is just how Steptoe was able to escape in what could have very well been a much more significant victory for the Indian forces.
Steptoe may have escaped alive, but not before five Nez Perce scouts, two officers and five enlisted men were killed during what was basically Steptoe's glorified retreat. Indian forces emerged victorious, sending a strong message to Federal officials that these northwest tribes would not be forced off their land without a fight. Unfortunately, this Indian victory was short lived as Col. George Wright came to this area in the following months with a force of 600 men. Wright ensured a more successful campaign of "Indian removal."
When you stand in front of the Steptoe Memorial obelisk and overlook Tohotonimme field along the highway, you are standing at the very spot where Col. Steptoe attempted his last ditch effort to rally his troops and repulse the attack. This is also the spot where he had his column's howitzers hastily buried to prevent them from falling into their attacker's hands. Directly to the southeast of the battlefield is Pine Creek, where Steptoe was first fired upon and the fighting initially broke out.