History

Walla Walla’s Washington Statesman was published for the first time 157 years ago.

Part 1

Author’s note: This is the first installment in a series of columns that bring local news from 157 years ago, when Walla Walla’s Washington Statesman was published for the first time. I hope to give the readers a feel for what the town was like during its nascent years.

I occasionally paraphrase for the sake of clarity and modernize capitalizations, but generally I try to keep intact the language of the time, which may sound quite formal to modern ears.

I also keep intact the way places were referenced, such as Des Chutes (instead of the modern Deschutes). When I quote the prices of goods and services from those early years, I then approximate those costs in today’s dollars.

Street numbers were not present in the earliest days. Since nearly all of the buildings were on Main Street, merchants as well as those offering professional services gave their location on Main Street relative to a building that was known by the residents at that time.

Many of the merchants were catering to the miners, most of whom came from the west coast and then headed to Idaho, for whom Walla Walla was the nearest outpost for purchasing their supplies.

The 1860 census indicated the city of Walla Walla had 722 residents (704 Caucasian, 1 African American and 17 Native American). The county of Walla Walla had 1,297 residents (1,028 males, 69 females). The census acknowledges that Native Americans were counted only if they were “taxed,” that is, not living on a reservation or “roaming in bands.”

This column will appear each week, bringing forward the “latest” news.

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From the Washington Statesman, 13 December 1861, Walla Walla, Washington Territory:

“Mill Creek has again rendered itself obnoxious to many of our citizens, by establishing its main current through their door-yards, and making itself generally familiar with their wood piles and other property which it found in its course in a condition to float.

“As if to exceed all former attempts at getting ‘high,’ last Sunday evening, when it had but barely fallen within its proper bounds and was quietly gliding down its usual channel, it commenced rising, and at day-break on Monday morning its gigantic proportions would suggest to a timid mind at least, the propriety of engaging in an enterprise similar to that which occupied father Noah’s attention a short time previous to the flood.

“Persons who have resided here for a number of years tell us that for the time in the season the creek is unusually high. However, we can see no impropriety about its getting high at present, as it only makes it in unison with other things; but we do think that so much water passing through this city is entirely unnecessary, especially, while so little of that fluid is used for drinking purposes.”

“J. C. Isaacs, wholesale and retail dealer in dry goods, clothing, hats, caps, boots, shoes, hardware, groceries, provisions, miners’ tools, etc. Main Street, next door to Printing Office. Wheat, barley, and oats taken in exchange for goods.”

Susan Pickett was professor of music at Whitman College from 1981–2018. She is the author of “Marion and Emilie Frances Bauer: from the Wild West to American Musical Modernism” — a biography about two women born in Walla Walla whose careers in the New York City music scene spanned 1896–1955.