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Wallowa County, Oregon facts for kids

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Wallowa County
Wallowa County Courthouse in Enterprise
Map of Oregon highlighting Wallowa County
Location within the U.S. state of Oregon
Map of the United States highlighting Oregon
Oregon's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  Oregon
Founded October 14, 1887
Named for Wallowa River
Seat Enterprise
Largest city Enterprise
 • Total 3,152 sq mi (8,160 km2)
 • Land 3,146 sq mi (8,150 km2)
 • Water 5.5 sq mi (14 km2)  0.2%%
 • Total 7,391
 • Estimate 
7,545 Increase
 • Density 2.2/sq mi (0.8/km2)
Time zone UTC−8 (Pacific)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−7 (PDT)
Congressional district 2nd

Wallowa County is one of the 36 counties in the U.S. state of Oregon. As of the 2020 census, the population was 7,391, making it Oregon's fifth-least populous county. Its county seat is Enterprise. According to Oregon Geographic Names, the origins of the county's name are uncertain, with the most likely explanation being it is derived from the Nez Perce term for a structure of stakes (a weir) used in fishing. An alternative explanation is that Wallowa is derived from a Nez Perce word for "winding water". The journals of Lewis and Clark Expedition record the name of the Wallowa River as Wil-le-wah.

Wallowa County is part of the eight-county definition of Eastern Oregon.


In 1871, the first white settlers came to the area, crossing the mountains in search of livestock feed in the Wallowa Valley. The county was established on February 11, 1887, from the eastern portion of Union County. Boundary changes occurred with Union County in 1890, 1900, and 1915.

Chief Joseph-1877

In 1877, the younger Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, incensed at the government's attempt to deprive his people of the Wallowa Valley, refused to relocate to the reservation in north central Idaho. Several regiments of U.S. Army troops were dispatched to force him onto the reservation. After several battles and a march of almost two thousand miles (3,200 km) towards sanctuary in Canada, Chief Joseph was forced to surrender in eastern Montana, forty miles (60 km) from the border with Canada. He and some of the survivors from his band were detained in Oklahoma, and later were relocated to Colville Reservation in northeast Washington. Approximately half of the survivors moved to the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. Chief Joseph last visited Wallowa County in 1902, and died two years later.

Wallowa County was the scene of perhaps the worst incident of violence against Chinese in Oregon, when in May 1887 a gang of rustlers massacred 10-34 Chinese gold miners in Hells Canyon. Of the seven rustlers and schoolboys believed to have been responsible, only three were brought to trial in Enterprise, where a jury found them not guilty on September 1, 1888. A proposal to commemorate this event on official maps as Chinese Massacre Cove was approved in 2005 and encompasses a five-acre site.

Wallowa County Courthouse was built in 1909–1910, using locally quarried Bowlby stone, a type of volcanic tuff. It is a Romanesque Revival-style building with Queen Anne architectural elements in some exterior features. The courthouse was listed on National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Today, it still houses Wallowa County government offices and faces west toward South River Street and is surrounded by Courthouse Square which encompasses one city block, approximately 1.3 acres (1 ha). The square is landscaped with oak, pine, maple, linden, juniper, and flowering crab apple trees. There are roses planted on the north, west, and south sides of the courthouse. The square also has several veteran memorials along with a 20-by-24-foot (6.1 by 7.3 m) wood-framed gazebo in the northeast corner of the square.

Wallowa mts lake
Wallowa mountains and lake

United States Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas was one famous summer visitor to Wallowa County, building a vacation cabin on Lostine River Road in 1939.

In December 2003, a developer announced a proposal to buy a 62-acre (0.25 km2) property near Wallowa Lake, and build 11 homes on it. This property is adjacent to the property that is home to the grave of Old Chief Joseph, father of the younger Chief Joseph. This proposal drew opposition from a local group, as well as from the Nez Perce, Colville, and Umatilla tribes. Prior offers by the National Park Service and the Trust for Public Land to buy the land were rejected. The County commissioners gave conditional approval for the developers to complete a final plat of the land on February 13, 2004, but the attorney for the Nez Perce said the tribe would appeal the decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.


Wallowa is the northeasternmost county of Oregon. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 3,152 square miles (8,160 km2), of which 3,146 square miles (8,150 km2) is land and 5.5 square miles (14 km2) (0.2%) is water.

Geographic features

Wallowa Lake and the Wallowa Mountains attract tourists to this region. The lake is a natural glacial formation, held in on three sides by prominent moraines. The microclimate is somewhat different from the surrounding areas and provides a cool retreat during the summer. Other geographic features include:

Adjacent counties

National protected areas


Historical population
Census Pop.
1890 3,661
1900 5,538 51.3%
1910 8,364 51.0%
1920 9,778 16.9%
1930 7,814 −20.1%
1940 7,623 −2.4%
1950 7,264 −4.7%
1960 7,102 −2.2%
1970 6,247 −12.0%
1980 7,273 16.4%
1990 6,911 −5.0%
2000 7,226 4.6%
2010 7,008 −3.0%
2020 7,391 5.5%
2021 (est.) 7,545 7.7%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2020

2010 census

As of the 2010 census, there were 7,008 people, 3,133 households, and 2,024 families residing in the county. The population density was 2.2 inhabitants per square mile (0.85/km2). There were 4,108 housing units at an average density of 1.3 per square mile (0.50/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 96.0% white, 0.6% American Indian, 0.4% black or African American, 0.3% Asian, 0.1% Pacific islander, 0.5% from other races, and 2.0% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 2.2% of the population. In terms of ancestry, 28.4% were German, 16.7% were English, 14.6% were Irish, 7.3% were American, and 5.4% were Scotch-Irish.

Of the 3,133 households, 22.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.3% were married couples living together, 7.1% had a female householder with no husband present, 35.4% were non-families, and 30.0% of households were made up of individuals. The average household size was 2.20 and the average family size was 2.70. The median age was 50.5 years.

The median income for a household in the county was $41,116 and the median family income was $49,961. Males had a median income of $35,963 versus $29,395 for females. The per capita income for the county was $23,023. About 9.6% of families and 12.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 17.4% of those under age 18 and 10.6% of those age 65 or over.


Major highways

  • OR 3.svg – Oregon Route 3 – north to Washington, becomes WA-129.svg Route 129
  • OR 82.svg – Oregon Route 82 – west to La Grande, the junction with I-84.svg Interstate 84



Incorporated cities

Census-designated place

  • Wallowa Lake

Unincorporated communities


The principal industries in Wallowa County are agriculture, ranching, lumber, and tourism. Since 1985, three bronze foundries and a number of related businesses specializing in statue-making have opened in Joseph and Enterprise, helping to stabilize the local economy. The Forest Service is the largest landlord in the county, owning 56% of the land.

Notable people

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