Social Forces in Pacific Northwest History


Chinook Indian Plank House

Approx. 1805

White Europeans first notable encounter with the Chinook Indian tribe was in 1805 by Lewis and Clark, during their famous expedition. Inevitably, they must have encountered the plank style houses used by the Chinooks and many other northwest costal tribes. While this is obviously not the date of the first plank house ever constructed, it is when white settlers first made note of their use by these Indian tribes. It is estimated that Indians of the Northwest Coast began constructing these dwellings over 3,000 years ago.

The plank homes were constructed from red cedar and were up to 70 feet long. They were built to house an entire family. The frame was constructed from wooden pegs and thick trees with a secondary frame of skinny poles. The frames were covered with cedar planks, approximately four inches wide and tied together or slotted between the secondary frames. The roof, made of bark, was simply weighed down with stones rather than tied or slotted. These houses were efficient at keeping out the damp air and weather of the pacific coast.

It is a common mistake to call these structures longhouses, as they were rectangular in shape, but they do differ from the primarily pole constructed longhouses of tribes such as the Iroquois.

The Cataldo Mission is Bulit


The current Cataldo Mission building was designed by the Jesuit Missionary, Antonio Ravalli. It was built in a combination of Greek Revival and Colonial styles. Ravalli made sure that the mission was constructed by the Indians whom it was for. This helped them feel like an important part of the church. The walls are constructed from the waddle and daub method of weaving sticks into a lattice and "daubing" them with sticky mud, clay and straw. There were no nails used in the entire construction. Instead, wooden pegs hold the structure together. The cross beams are fashioned from whole, giant trees and squared off with nothing more than a broad axe.

The mission is the oldest building in Idaho and is designated a National Historic Landmark. After several renovations, visitors can now tour the mission along with the adjacent parish house and informational museum, located in Coeur d'Alene's Old Mission State Park.

The Ferry House is Built


The Ferry house is one of the oldest residential buildings left standing in Washington state. Built by Winfield Scott Ebey, the architecture is a combination of both vernacular and Greek revival styles. The approximately 2,800 square foot dwelling was used as an Inn and included a post office and tavern as well as the obvious guest rooms. The wood for the Inn came from his brother Isaac's abandoned cabins. The structure is one and a half stories, has clapboard siding, and a wood-shingle gable roof. Ebey built the inn to insure financial stability for his brothers children. He inherited the children after his brother was murdered by native Canadians. The Ebey Inn, so it was named, brought in a great deal of income as it was the only accommodations in the area. Today it is protected by the U.S. government and has had a few small renovations to preserve the integrity of the structure.


J.J. Astor's American Fur Company

1808 - 1842

Furs were a hot commodity in Europe during the early 1800's. America became a major supplier of furs because of the untapped resources in the Pacific North West. The fur trade caused a large economic boom for the U.S. and helped support the Civil War back East. Looking for a slice of the pie, businessman John Jacob Astor Established the American Fur Company in 1808. Astor used anti British sentiment and the fact that the fur trade was the first booming corporate enterprise in America to establish a fortune.

While the British run Hudson's Bay company dominated fur trade in North America, Astor's American fur Company was the first to really challenge this British rival. Americans backed his company, wanting to drive out British business and expand American trade and commerce. The American Fur Company was quite successful during the peak of the fur trade era, and only ceased operation in 1884 as the fur trade died out and more permanent settlements were being established.

Discovery of Gold, Silver and Lead in the Couer d'Alene Region


The discovery of gold, lead and silver in the Coeur d'Alene region brought a large influx of prospectors into the area. In what is now Stevens, Ferry, and Pend Oreille counties, mining emerged and became a huge stimulus to the economy of Spokane. Many minors used Spokane as a "jumping off point" because it was close to the action, had lower prices than many surrounding towns and was a major supply depot. It provided everything they might need to become a successful miner.

North Pacific Railroad Bypasses Yakima City


In the mid 1880's the Northern Pacific Railroad was making plans to run a Cascade Branch through the interior areas of the Northwest. Residents of Yakima City were hopeful that the railway would put a station in the mist of their growing city. This would be a welcome boost to the local economy. To the dismay of the residents, the railway decided to build a new city a few miles north, naming it North Yakima. The tracks went right through Yakima without a single stop! After much turmoil and blaming, the Northern Pacific ended up paying transportation and land costs for anyone from Yakima City who wanted to move to North Yakima. Residents saw one town economically destroyed by the railroad while another one prospered beyond belief.

Science and Technology

The First Saw Mill in the Pacific Northwest


In 1828, the Hudson's Bay Company built the first sawmill in the Pacific Northwest. Located at Fort Vancouver, the sawmill was a water powered operation positioned just north of the fort. Because Fort Vancouver was such a popular place to settle, there was a growing need for carpenters. Obviously the carpenters needed material, and at a faster and faster rate, thus the construction of the mill was a necessary technology for Fort Vancouver. In addition to supplying the local area with lumbar, the sawmill was so successful that it was able to export the surplus to Hawaii and California. This was the start of an ever prospering timber industry in the Pacific Northwest.

The Beaver Steamboat Arrives in Oregon


On May 17th, 1836, the first steamboat to see the Pacific Northwest arrived in Oregon. The Beaver was built in England and measured 101 feet. By April 10th 1836 she was anchored off of Fort Vancouver; ready to transport maritime fur traders up the west coast. This was just the beginning of a giant steamboat industry in the Pacific Northwest. Eventually steamboats would become a main source of transport for grains, commercial products and passengers. Steamboats narrowly survived the technical boom of railroads and are actually used more today than most railways!

Dr. Dorsey S. Baker Completes an Inexpensive Railroad


One of the Pacific Northwest's earliest railroads was the Walla Walla and Columbia River Railroad. Completed by Dr. Dorsey S. Baker in 1875, the railroad was a short 46 mile track, running from Wallula, WA to Walla Walla, WA. This railroad earned the nicknames Rawhide and Strap Iron Railroad from the practice of using wooden tracks with strap iron placed over the top. This inexpensive railroad proved to be quite lucrative for Baker. This was only the beginning of railway technology in the Pacific Northwest. Eventually, the railroad industry would greatly increase urban development, the timber industry, and become a huge part of what shaped our history.


Oregon Wolf Meetings


In February and March of 1843, settlers in Oregon met in what are now known as the Wolf Meetings. Settlers were tired of their livestock being attacked by wild animals. Without any sort of organized government in the territory, they were left to deal with it as individuals. This lead to a vote at Champoeg a few months later, which narrowly sided with creating the grass-roots government. Settlers used the Iowa territorial laws, The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence and The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 to form a provisional constitution and committee. This government lasted until 1848 when Congress approved an official territorial government.

Donation Land Claim Act


The Donation Land Claim Act was enacted by the United States Congress in 1850. This government act promised each single white male citizen, 18 years of age and older, 320 acres of free land. If he became married before December 1st, 1851, his wife would receive another 320 acres of land for herself. In order to receive this land for free, you had to live on and cultivate the land for four years. This had a huge impact on white emmigration to Oregon, and caused the familiar square plot pattern on the land which we can still see today.

Congress Passes the Edmunds Act


The Edmunds act of 1882 stopped polygamists from voting, serving as jurors when the case involved polygamy or holding any political office. This act led to the Idaho Test Oath which forced people to testify whether or not they were associated with the Mormon church. Anti-Mormon sentiment was prominent in the Republican party of Idaho where some corrupt individuals, whether they were against Mormonism or not, used it to elevate themselves in the powerful growing government.


George Simpson Orders the Snake Brigades

1824 - 1829

In late 1824, Peter Skene Ogden, a ruthless fur trader, was ordered to head up the Snake Brigades by George Simpson. Simpson wanted Ogden to decimate the beaver population in the Columbia River Region. He believed that this would steer the American fur traders away from the region and thus bolster British Claims to Oregon Country in the area. Over-hunting of beaver and the deforestation of the land caused by settlers, led to practically eliminating the animal in much of the Columbia River Region. In addition species like turtles, ducks, frogs, owls and many others rely on beaver ponds for homes or food. Finally, beaver ponds can filter and trap excess nutrients in water. With the "fur desert" policy of Simpson, generations of Americans have missed out on these benefits. Recently, the beaver population is on the rise due to conservation efforts all over the country.

Settlement of Whidbey Island


In 1850, settlers on Whidbey Island had major impacts on the native environment which they claimed for themselves. They introduced wheat and oats while making a large effort to stop the growth of native bracken plants. Settlers also introduced livestock foreign to the island, just as they were killing off the native wolf population. They marked out roads and private plots on the land, forever changing the face of the landscape.

This happened wherever white emmigrants decided to settle. They killed off native plants and animals while introducing their own crops and animals. They marked up the land for roads and housing. The native environment was forever changed by the white settlers of the Pacific Northwest.

Transcontinental Railroad Depletes Bison Population


The beginning of an operational transcontinental railroad system marked the end for most of the Pacific Northwest's bison population. The railways were ruthless in acquiring land, land that native bison called home. Ever growing towns and cities, due to easy access by railroads, kept growing and encroaching on bison land. Unfortunately, shooting bison from the train became popular and added to the startling decimation of this native animal. These things coupled with over hunting in the 1830's led to a sharp decrease in bison numbers.

Before white settlers, the bison population was estimated at between 15 and 60 million. By the end of the 19th century, bison were nearly extinct with a population of below one thousand! Through major conservation efforts, the population today is up to 200,000, that of which only 16,000 are free roaming.


The Whitman Mission and Tragedy

1836 - 1847

Protestant Missionaries Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife Narcissa established the Whitman Mission in 1836. The mission, named Waiilatpu, was located on the Walla Walla River near a native Cayuse Indian tribe. Their goal was to Christianize and civilize this nearby tribe. The success of the Whitman's was minimal at best. They made very few converts and continuously clashed with the culture of the Cayuses.

Unfortunate for the tribe, the Mission was a main stopping point for sick travelers on the busy trail to Oregon. The travelers brought with them measles and dysentery which killed half of the tribe within two months. Because Marcus was able to cure most white children, and was not able to cure most Indian children, the Cayuse Indians believed that he was some sort of witch doctor. This along with the fact that he brought nearly nine hundred white immigrants back with him after a trip east, which the Indians believed were reinforcement against them, brought the situation to a bloody end. On November 29, 1947 two leaders of the Cayuse tribe killed Marcus, his wife and eleven other people staying at the mission.

Roman Catholic Missions Begin


The first Roman Catholic mission in the Pacific Northwest was established by Francis Norbert Blanchet and Modeste Demers. French employees of the Hudson's Bay Company and the bishop of Quebec wanted them to bring the catholic religion to the "barbarians" of the region and to find lost Christians who had resorted to the ways of those same "savages." The mission was situated the on Cowlitz river and another, established by the same men, on the Willamette River. Blanchet and Demers were the first of many Jesuit missionaries to bring their religion to the natives of the Pacific Northwest.

The First Morman Settlement/Mission in the Pacific Northwest

1855 - 1858

In 1855, Fort Lemhi became the first Mormon settlement in the Pacific Northwest. Sent by Brigham Young, as many as twenty seven Mormon men set out to establish a Mormon mission near the Salmon River Valley. These missionaries had the goal of promoting peaceful relations and bringing civilization to the natives. The mission quickly grew to two hundred people. Dealing with controversy over high cattle prices and aiding a rival tribe, a Banook tribe stole the missions cattle heard. The conflict ended with a few Mormons killed and the fort was abandoned in 1858.

While Mormons did have a large presence in the Pacific Northwest, especially in Idaho, most of their settlements were not missions that reached out to the Indians.