Revere Restoration Project
on the Lost Highway in
Garfield County, Washington
Named for the 20th President
of the United States,
"Native Americans were the first known inhabitants of what is now Garfield County. The indigenous people of this region were the Nez Perce--their name derived from the French term for "pierced noses." Though indigenous to the region, the Nez Perce lived a semi-nomadic life--one that included seasonal treks across the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains where they would hunt buffalo. From this custom was established the Nez Perce Trail.
"The Nez Perce Trail extended eastward from the Columbia River at the present-day town of Wallula (in Walla Walla County), through present-day Garfield County, and across the Rockies to the Great Plains. Tribes from across what is now the western United States gathered on the plains to participate in the traditional buffalo hunt before returning home. Other south-central Washington tribes frequenting the trail were the Yakima, Klickitat, Walla Walla, Cayuse, and Umatilla.
"The trail, however, was more than a road to the buffalo hunting grounds. It was the principal travel route across the Rockies. As such, it was also used by tribes on both sides of the range to maintain social contacts and to engage in commerce. In fact, it is believed to have been the most widely used route in the entire western territory. It should be further noted that the Nez Perce also employed canoes, traveling upon the Snake River and other tributaries.
"A lasting testament to the strategic placement of the Nez Perce Trail and its importance to the development of the region was its use by white explorers Lewis and Clark and B.L.E. Bonneville, as well as by fur trappers, prospectors, the military, missionaries, and homesteaders. Even today, highways more or less parallel the ancient trail.
The Lewis and
Clark Expedition signaled the beginning of white exploration in what would
become Garfield County. In 1805, the party passed the county along its
northern Snake River border on their westward journey to the Pacific
Ocean. On their return trip in 1806, the party left the Columbia near the
present-day town of Wallula and cut an eastward path through the heart of
Garfield County on horseback. They used the old Nez Perce trail as their
guide (which roughly parallels present-day Highway 12). The observations
of Garfield County made by Lewis and Clark in their travel dairies were
quite favorable and stimulated great interest in the
The fur industry was
among those most interested in the region. From its Fort Walla Walla
trading post (erected near present-day Wallula in 1818), the British
Northwest Fur Company expanded its operations into Garfield County. In
1821, the Northwesters were taken over by the Hudson's Bay Company--thus
giving the latter a virtual monopoly over fur trade in the new territory.
Garfield County (indeed much of southeast Washington) proved a profitable
region within which to trap. Beaver and otter were especially abundant in
and around the Tucannon River in the county's panhandle. In 1833, Captain
B.L.E. Bonneville reconnoitered the region on behalf of American fur
interests. His journey was immortalized in Washington Irving's, The
Adventures of Captain Bonneville.
Among the notable
migration parties was that led by John Work, an agent of the Hudson's Bay
Company. Starting from the Fort Walla Walla outpost in September of 1831,
Work and his 56-person party followed the Nez Perce Trail as they headed
east across Garfield County and other parts of southeast Washington to the
Upper Snake River country. Other settlement
parties were led by missionaries-- most notably Dr. Marcus Whitman and
Reverend Henry H. Spalding in 1836. Spalding's impact on Garfield County
history was the more pronounced of the two because of his relative success
in converting many of the local Nez Perce Indians to Christianity.
When Washington Territory was established in 1853, present-day Garfield County was part of Walla Walla County--a county that encompassed all of eastern Washington, Idaho, and one-fourth of Montana.
A Nez Perce Indian
named Daniel Types is believed to be the first permanent settler in
Garfield County. Types, an early convert of Reverend Spalding, cultivated
corn and other vegetables on half an acre of land in the Alpowa Valley.
The first white settler in Garfield County was a man by the name of Parson
Quinn who settled in the Pataha Valley about 11 miles from present-day
Pomeroy. He was followed by the likes of J. M. Pomeroy who arrived in 1864
to later own and operate a renowned eatery and stage station at the future
site of the town of Pomeroy. (This eatery and stage station was
located at the current site of the Hotel Revere Building.)
of a stagecoach line between the towns of Walla Walla and Lewiston in 1862
precipitated a wave of migration into the Pataha and Alpowa Valleys. Most
of the new arrivals engaged in either cattle ranching or vegetable
farming. Wheat farming, from which the area eventually gained its
reputation, was not yet recognized as a feasible undertaking.
By 1875, the
region's population had grown to the point that the Columbia-Garfield-Asotin
area was partitioned from Walla Walla County to form Columbia
In 1877, Columbia
Center became the first town platted in what would become Garfield County.
It was situated in the foothills of the Blue Mountains along Pataha Creek
at the northern end of the county panhandle. At that time, it was in
Columbia County, hence the town name. Though no more (it faded in the late
1880s after being bypassed by the Union
Pacific line that ran between Starbuck and Pomeroy), it is remembered as a
bustling town which, at its height, had sawmills and flour mills, a post
office, stores and shops, saloons, restaurants, stables, blacksmiths, a
school, and a host of private residences.
The town of
Pomeroy was platted in 1878 after Joseph M. Pomeroy and William C. Potter
built a flour mill on the site. The town expanded quickly as newcomers
fueled the demand for a
center of service and trade. By 1880, Pomeroy surpassed Columbia Center
and others as the leading town in the region. It did, however, receive
stiff competition from the nearby town of
Pataha (3 miles east of Pomeroy).
population growth compelled the territorial legislature and Territorial
Governor W.A. Newell to partition the southeast Washington region once
again, thus creating Garfield
County. It was named in memory of the late President James A. Garfield who
was assassinated earlier that year. The new county encompassed what we now
know as Garfield and Asotin counties (the boundaries of present-day
Garfield County were established in 1883 when it was partitioned to create
Asotin County). The economic rivalry between Pomeroy and Pataha
The creation of Garfield County
precipitated yet another wave of immigration and settlement into the
county, particularly into the Pomeroy area. Consequently, Pomeroy was
incorporated on January 27, 1886. Cityhood was matched by an equally
important event but a few days earlier -- the completion of the
Starbuck-Pomeroy line by the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company (O.R.N.C.).
development of Garfield County cannot be adequately described without
mentioning the forms of transportation that supported it. Before the
arrival of the railroad, freight was shipped to Garfield County via a
network of steamers and wagons. Freight usually originated in Portland and
moved up the Columbia and Snake rivers to a dock at New York Bar (in
Columbia County). From there, it was loaded onto wagons for overland
shipment to Pomeroy. On their return trip, freighters would transport
local commodities such as grain and livestock to the dock for transport to
major markets. People arrived and left Garfield County by the same route,
though typically by stagecoach on the overland leg of the journey.
Water transport of local commodities, however, proved unreliable as
shallow drafts and low river levels combined to make transport all but
impossible at times. Moldy and rotten grain was at least one result of
shipments left exposed on the docks for prolonged periods.
The task of
keeping cattle and other livestock near the docks during down times was
another inconvenience. Railroads changed all that. Work began on the
Starbuck-Pomeroy branch in 1885 after the necessary right-of-ways were
transferred from local ownership to the O.R.N.C. The 30-mile line was
built in less than a year using Chinese contract laborers. Once built, the
rail line made obsolete the docks at New York Bar as well as the steamer
and wagon network that had served the county so long. The rail line also
established Pomeroy as the undisputed leader among local towns.
Neighboring Pataha began to fade (though not completely) after Pomeroy
officials--in a final act of rivalry--blocked the proposed extension of
the line to that town. By 1887, Pataha City was no longer a competitive
Among the numerous
Garfield County towns that came and went--or that existed on paper
only--were Alpowa, Belfast (later Mentor), Berlin, Central Ferry (later
Reform), Chard Station, Gould City, Ilia, Mayview, Peola, Ping, Valentine,
and Zumwalt (later Houser Station). Most were platted for the purpose of
establishing post offices for the town industry (e.g., milling). When the
industry folded, so, too, did the town. Most of the few residents it had
relocated to the Pomeroy-Pataha area.
The Pomeroy-based Washington Independent was the first newspaper published in Garfield County. Started in 1880 when the area was still part of Columbia County, it operated for two decades until 1901. During its existence, it was a chief rival of the Columbia Chronicle, a Dayton-based paper. The Washington Independent was followed by the Pataha Spirit in 1881 and the Pomeroy Republican in 1882, the latter being a forebear of the present-day East Washingtonian. Two other papers, the Garfield County Standard and The Pataha Farmer, were short-lived and eventually absorbed by the East Washingtonian. Today, the East Washingtonian remains the county's only locally-published newspaper.
The turn of the
century brought greater and greater expansion in Garfield County's grain
production industry as new technology and equipment improved crop yields
and harvesting methods. Local farmers--and their counterparts across
southeast Washington--were pressed to produce grain for both state
consumption and for troops overseas during World Wars I and II and the
Korean War. During these tense periods, security networks were set up to
protect grain and grain facilities from perceived saboteurs. By the end of
World War II, Pomeroy was the main grain shipping point on the Union
Pacific Railroad line. Record grain (mostly wheat) crops were posted in
1951 and 1970, but shaken by severe drought in 1977.
peas became a major agricultural crop in Garfield County. This led to the
introduction of seasonal harvest workers and others involved in the
storage and wholesale trading of peas. By far the most significant event
resulting from local pea crops, however, was the arrival of the Blue
Mountain pea cannery. Prior to its arrival, peas were shipped to
neighboring Columbia County for processing at the Blue Mountain Canneries
Division's plant in Dayton. The Pomeroy-based Blue Mountain cannery (a
subsidiary of Minnesota Valley Canning Company) began operating in July of
1942 and was the first major food processing firm to locate within the
county. It averaged around 450 workers for the 30-40 day harvest and
packing season. The peas were processed for the nationally recognized
Green Giant label. New pea crop harvesting and packing records were
set in 1951 and 1956. Nonetheless, the plant closed in October of 1960 as
freight rates doubled and the price of peas remained constant. This
closure effectively ended the once-mighty role of pea production and
packing in Garfield County. Both the plant and its property were purchased
a month later by the Robert Dye Seed Ranch, which packaged bluegrass seed
for the O.M. Scott Lawn Seed Company. By 1963, the company was the largest
bluegrass seed processor in the nation.
Since the turn of
the century there had been renewed interest in improving the navigability
of the Columbia and Snake rivers with a series of dams and locks; this in
order to break the virtual freight monopoly held by railroads over the
past half century. This interest ultimately came to fruition during
the 1960s and early 1970s as the Lower Snake River Project--easily the
most significant economic development effort of the period. The U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers project saw the construction of a series of
hydroelectric power generating dams and navigational locks on the Snake
River. Two of the four dam-locks had particular impact on Garfield
County--Little Goose Dam near Starbuck (in Columbia County) and Lower
Granite Dam north of Pomeroy. Both boosted the local population and labor
force greatly as construction workers and their families moved into the
county. Little Goose Dam began operating in 1970, Lower Granite Dam in
1975. Bonneville Power Administration transmission lines were strung
across the county in 1973.
Ironically, the historic
Pomeroy-Starbuck branch line--once the economic lifeline of the
community--was officially abandoned by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1981
after several years of running in the red.
Today, the Garfield County economy continues to be tied closely to agricultural production--namely wheat and other grains. This industry has also sustained an industry based on the storage and wholesale trading of grain commodities. Government employment also plays a major role in the local economy. There is a federal presence through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (which oversees and maintains dams and locks on the Lower Snake River) and the U.S. Forest Service (which oversees Umatilla National Forest lands in the south county). Local government is mainly represented by county administration as well as by local school and fire districts. The county's modest retail trade and service base is concentrated in the Pomeroy area.
The previous information was excerpted from History of Garfield County by Judge Elgin Victor Kuykendall (with added material by Don Walsh).
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Last Updated: 01-May-00