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Home to New Settlers

As with many areas in the West, the story of white settlement begins with Lewis and Clark passing through the area in 1805 on their westward expedition. It wasn’t until 1836 that a permanent settlement was built by Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. Although only moderately successful at its goal of converting Native Americans to Christianity, the Whitman mission would become an important stop for travelers on the Oregon Trail. These travelers brought disease and an epidemic of measles broke out in 1847 with approximately half of the infected whites recovering while most of the infected Native Americans died. This strained the relationship between settlers and the indigenous communities which later turned to violence.

In 1854, Washington’s territorial governor, Issac Stevens, wanted to open up the land to non-Native settlement, railroad expansion, and development. In the a Treaty of 1855 representatives of 14 tribes, that would later become the Yakama Nation, ceded land to the US while still retaining hunting and fishing rights. Despite promising the tribes they had two years to relocate to the reservations, Stevens allowed settlers to move to the land within weeks. In response to this betrayal, Native American tribes resisted, which lead to the Yakama War. By 1858, military intervention, led by Colonel George Wright, crushed the resistance and forced tribal leaders to agree to the reservation system. The growth of the settler population was slow until a railroad was built between Spokane and the Columbia Basin.

After building a bridge over the Columbia, the railroad company drew people to the area with a large scale advertising campaign that boasted of a temperate climate, long growing season, bountiful rivers and cheap land. Kennewick was referred to as the Italy of Washington.

The Columbia Basin’s irrigation projects were plagued with difficulty until the 1902 Newland Reclamations Act was passed authorizing the government to help directly with irrigation of the area. This lead to the area of Richland, White Bluffs, and Hanford experiencing a boom between 1907 and 1910. Even greater population growth occurred when new railroad lines would connect the area to Spokane, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul.

While the farmers of the Columbia Basin benefitted from high prices of agricultural commodities during the First World War, the drought of the 1920s and the Great Depression devastated the region’s economy. Over half of the acres in the area were abandoned or foreclosed resulting in large dust storms. In 1934, President Roosevelt came to the area and pledged money to build a dam at Grand Coulee. This would not only provide irrigation canals and hydroelectric power, but also extensive employment.

On March 6, 1942 residents of Hanford received a letter informing them they would have to move because of a military project. The next issue of the Kennewick Courier-Reporter proclaimed “RICHLAND, WHITE BLUFFS AND HANFORD AREA TO BE TAKEN BY HUGE WAR INDUSTRY...MASS MEETINGS CALLED AT RICHLAND TO EXPLAIN THE WAR PROJECT TO RESIDNETS.”
The residents of the area were surprised and also confused as to why the military wanted such land. When they attended the meetings they were only told the project was top secret. The towns of Hanford and White Bluffs were almost completely destroyed and the area of Richland was rebuilt for DuPont’s higher level employees and skilled workers. The town of Kennewick remained a normal municipality and experienced massive growth as thousands of people came to the area to work at Hanford Nuclear Reservation.


Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon by Clifford M.Drury

History of Richland

History of Pasco

History of Kennewick 


Module presentation slides.
Script for the presentation.


White Settlements

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