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History & Culture

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1814: First White Man Enters Valley

"The first European-American individual entered the Kittitas Valley during the winter of 1814 in search of horses. Alexander Ross, a fur trader for the North West Company, was met with the winter encampment of local natives at Cle-ho-han.

In awe, Ross recorded:

The second day after our friends left us we entered the Eyakema Valley, "the beautiful Eyakema Valley," so called by the whites. But on the present occasion there was nothing either beautiful or interesting to us; for we had scarcely advanced three miles when a camp in the true Mameluke style presented itself. A camp of which we could see its beginning but not the end! This mammoth camp could not have contained less than 3,000 men, exclusive of women and children, and treble that number of horses. It was a grand and imposing sight in the wilderness, covering more than six miles in every direction. Councils, root-gathering, hunting, horse-racing, foot-racing, gambling, singing, dancing, drumming, yelling, and a thousand other things which I cannot mention were going on."

The din of men, the noise of women, the screaming of children, the tramping of horses, and howling of dogs was more than can well be described."

The Fur Hunters of the Far West, pg. 23



"Samah! Samah! Peelcousm, peelcousm." "White men, turn back, turn back, you are all dead men!"



1848: First Mission

With the Ahtanum Mission established just south of Yakima City to minister to the Yakama tribe, Chief Ow-hi of the Kittitas tribe sought a priest for his people. Upon his request to the Father Superior, three men were sent and established the first mission in Kittitas Valley.

The Immaculate Conception Mission was located on the Manastash Creek. Father Pandosy and Brothers Chirouse and Blanchet baptized the local Native Americans and taught religion in addition to serving as translators during treaty talks.

As the talks dissolved into war and the Immaculate Conception Mission burned, Father Pandosy and Brothers Chirouse and Blanchet retreated to Yakima City.

Early 1850s - George McClellan and a team surveyed for roads and trails from the Seattle area to Kittitas.

He discovered Gold in a town now called Liberty (was called Meaghersville)


1860s: Settlement
1860s - People started to move here because the area had many good land resources.

  • Ranching and farming
  • Cattle raising. Ben Snipes drove cattle through the Valley beginning in 1859.
  • Cattle were marked with branding irons to identify ownership.
  • Farming crops like wheat and potatoes for humans and hay for animals.
  • The area is along natural travel routes between Seattle & Spokane, Portland, the Dalles, Okanogan and Canada
  • There were horse trails throughout the area, and wagon trails and toll roads were just being built

  • Pioneers began to come into to this area and settle and begin to make a living for themselves. They helped open up this area for more people to come and live.

    In 1863, the Washington Territory government elected to create Ferguson County. It included much of modern Kittitas and Yakima Counties. Lacking population and the need for organized county government, Ferguson County soon ceased to exist. It would be another 20 years before Kittitas County was organized (1883).

    Early settlers began entering the valley in 1865. John Rozelle, his wife, three sons, daughter and son-in-law, moved into the valley late that fall with intent to form a permanent settlement. However, when they ran out of supplies, they were rescued and relocated to the Moxee area.

    It would not be until 1866 that a permanent home in the valley would be built and occupied. William "Bud" Wilson, a cowboy, built a small cabin along one of the many creeks in the valley. The creek would later be known as Wilson Creek and the cabin became the early trading post, Robber's Roost. It was also in the year 1866 that the first accepted land survey was performed, preparing the valley for future settlement.

    1863 Ferguson County is created and includes much of modern Kittitas and Yakima Counties. County is soon disbanded.

    1866 William (Bud) Wilson builds a small cabin on a creek (later known as Wilson Creek) Cabin will become robbers roost.

    First accepted land survey performed.

    Charles Splawn (brother of Andrew Jackson Splawn) moves to the valley at Taneum.

    1867 The first Upper Valley settler, Frederick Ludi, arrives

    Completion of a wagon road over Snoqualmie Pass links Kittitas Valley to the Puget Sound


    1868 Tillman Houser and family settles in the Ellensburg area
    1868: The First Family Settlers

    1870 AJ Splawn and Ben Burch purchase Wilson's Cabin and move it to the present-day location of E 3rd Avenue between N Main Street and N Water Street in Ellensburg. Cabin serves as the first trading post and is known as Robber's Roost.

    1871 & 1872: Shoudy's
    1871 - Shoudy's move to area from Seattle.
    1872 - Splawn sells "Robbers Roost" and squatting rights to 160 acres of land (present-day Ellensburg) to John Shoudy.

  • Shoudy has his land surveyed and divided into lots and blocks.
  • He names the mapped land Ellensburgh, after his wife, Mary Ellen Shoudy.

  • Although, people still called the site "Robbers Roost" for several years after.



    1873 Gold Rush begins in the Swauk Creek area. The Swauk Mining District encompasses more than 1,000 acres.

    1878-1883 - Population boom in area. By 1883, almost 3,000 people were living in area and the City of Ellensburg was created.

    1882: There's Coal in them there hills

    Nov 26 1883 - Ellensburgh is named county seat and officially incorporated

    Nov 28 1883 - Kittitas County is created.

    1885 First Kittitas County Fair is held.

    1886 Roslyn is founded

    Mar 31 1886 - First Northern Pacific Railroad train arrives in Ellensburgh from Yakima.

    Population: 800
    1886 - The Northern Pacific Railroad reaches Ellensburg and Cle Elum.

  • Many people moving to the area to work for the railroad.
  • The ease of transportation by railroad instead of by wagon causes the Population of Ellensburg increases and many businesses get their start

  • 1889 Feb 4 - city of Roslyn is incoporated, but is later nullified. Official re-incorporation occurs on April 26, 1890

    Feb 22 - Washington Territory admitted into the union. Proclamation making Washington the 42nd state issued on Nov 11.

    July 4 - Ellensburgh's Central Business District is almost completely destroyed by fire. 10 blocks of downtown and 200 homes are destroyed. Estimated loss is $2 million

    July 6 - Citizens of Ellensburgh begin rebuilding their city

    1890 Thorp is founded

    Early lighting system developed by John Shoudy gives Ellensburgh a municipal power supply. The Ellensburg Light Department is Washington's first municipally owned and operated lighting system.

    Sept 6 - Washington State Normal School opens to public (now known as Barge Hall at Central Washington University)

    1891 - Washington State Normal School opens. This is now known as Barge Hall at Central Washington University

    1905 First automobile crosses the Snoqualmie Pass

    1910 Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad begins daily local service

    1923 Sept 13-15 - First Ellensburg Rodeo takes place






    Special thanks to the Kittitas County Historical Museum for providing the history timeline and photos! If you are interested in more info or photos please contact Sadie Thayer at 509-925-3778





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