Excerpted from “Lyman’s History of Walla Walla County, Embracing Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin Counties”
“On November 17, 1859, the board of commissioners voted to locate the county seat at the point first named ‘Steptoeville,’ then Waiilatpu, but now by their vote duly christened Walla Walla.
Thus, on November 17, 1859, the ‘Garden City’ officially entered the world under the name by which the Indians at the junction of the Big Rivers introduced themselves to Lewis and Clark, the first white explorers, and preserved, though with many changes of spelling, through the era of the Hudson's Bay Company, and by that company applied to the fort on the Columbia.
Now by the action of the first elected board of county commissioners the musical name was attached to the newly established town of 1859.
It is worthy of notice that the name is commonly supposed to mean the ‘Valley of Waters,’ referring to the numerous streams in the vicinity of the city. The author [Lyman] has been told by ‘Old Bones,’ an Indian of the Cayuse tribe who lived for many years near Lyons’ Ferry on the Snake River and was known to all old-timers, that the name was understood by the natives to signify that section of country below Waiilatpu, ‘where the four creeks meet;’ viz., the Walla Walla, Touchet, Mill Creek, and Dry Creek. The Walla Walla above that point was commonly known to the Indians as ‘Tum-a-lum.’ The sound ‘wall’ is common in Indian words all over the Northwest as Willamette, Wallula, Wallowa, Waiilatpu, or, as some got it, W’allatpu.
Many poetical and some prosaic accounts have been given of the origin of the name. Among others, Joaquin Miller, ‘Poet of the Sierras,’ insisted that when the French voyageurs first looked down from the Blue Mountains (‘Les Montagnes Bleues’ in their Gallic speech) upon the fair fertile valley, they exclaimed : ‘Voila, Voila !’ (Behold, behold!) and thus the name became fixed. This fantastic idea is, however, easily disproved by the fact that Lewis and Clark, who entered the country by the Snake River, got the name from the Indians on the Columbia near the mouth of the Walla Walla.
There was a general habit of designating the region around the fort as Steptoeville, a clumsy and illogical name, for it is not euphonious nor would it seem that it would have been popular, for certainly the officer who met such disastrous defeat at the hands of the Spokane Indians did not bring great glory to the Stars and Stripes nor great security to possible settlement. Fortunately the name was not preserved.”