Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Fort(s) Walla Walla, Washington"
Including ... Fort Nez Perce ... "Old Fort Walla Walla" ... Fort Walla Walla ... Wallula ...
Image, 2004, Fort Walla Walla sign, Wallula, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Sign, Fort Walla Walla, Wallula, Washington. Image taken September 26, 2004.

Fort Nez Perce or "Old Fort Walla Walla" ...
Fort Nez Perce (also called "Fort Numipu", the Nez Perce name for themselves meaning "The People") was constructed in 1818 by Donald McKenzie, a fur trader with the Montreal-based North West Company. Fort Nez Perce was located on the left bank of the Columbia River six miles below the mouth of the Snake River and 1/2 mile above the mouth of the Walla Walla River, the location of today's Wallula, Washington. This was the original "Fort Walla Walla", often today referred to as "Old Fort Walla Walla", and is not to be confused with three later military-based Fort Walla Wallas built around the community of Walla Walla. Today, a historical marker made from the actual stones from Old Fort Walla Walla has been erected at a highway turnout on Highway 730 near the site.

"Old Fort Walla Walla" ...
"... Fort Walla Walla, on the Columbia river, near its junction with the Walla Walla, was originally called Fort Nez Perce. It was established in 1818 by Peter Skeen Ogden, then a North West trader. He was attacked by Indians of the Walla Walla tribe, on the ground where the old fort stands, and obliged to retreat to the island near the fort, where he made a successful defense and completely repulsed the savages. As a trading-post, it was entitled to but little consideration. It was important, however, as a stopping-place for trains, and for keeping the Indians in check. It consisted of an inclosure of pickets some two hundred feet square, with a platform inside, from which the pickets could be overlooked. At the northeast and southwest corners were bastions. The buildings, four in number, were built of logs and mud, one story high, used as residences of employees. Up the Walla Walla river twenty miles were a farm and dairy, where some twenty acres were cultivated. A dam had been erected, but it had disappeared early after the treaty. The country some little distance back was appropriated for grazing, but immediately adjacent to the fort was a complete desert of drifting sand, on which nothing appeared to vegetate except wild sage. ..."

Source:   History of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington, 1889, vol.1

Image, 2004, Fort Nez Perce marker, Wallula, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Marker for location of Fort Nez Perce, Wallula, Washington. Image taken September 26, 2004.

1818 - 1856
Image, 2004, Fort Nez Perce marker, Wallula, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Marker for location of Fort Nez Perce, Wallula, Washington. Image taken September 26, 2004.

Fort(s) Walla Walla ...
Fort Nez Perce:
In 1818 Donald McKenzie of the North West Company established Fort Walla Walla - also known as "Fort Nez Perce" - as a trading post to help control the fur trade from the interior lands of the Pacific Northwest. When the Pacific North West Company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821, the fort was strengthened and became an increasingly important link in the trade along the Columbia River. This first "Fort Walla Walla" was located at today's Wallula, Washington (see more information above).

First Military Fort Walla Walla:
The first military Fort Walla Walla, a temporary fort, was built in 1856 on the south side of Mill Creek, directly west of Kibler and 5 miles northeast of the growing community of Walla Walla. Col. Edward J. Steptoe supervised the building, which consisted of a blockhouse and stockade. The early name for this fort was "Fort Steptoe". It was evenutally named for the Walla Walla Valley in which it was located.

Second Military Fort Walla Walla:
The second military Fort Walla Walla was built in October and November, 1856, on the north side of Mill Creek, 6 miles east of the junction of the Walla Walla River with Mill Creek. The compound went from the present Main Street south to the current First Avenue to about Palouse Street. This fort included barracks, stables, officer's quarters and sheds.

Third Military Fort Walla Walla:
The third Fort Walla Walla was built the following spring in 1857 on 13th Avenue and Rose Street, adjoining the city of Walla Walla. This fort was more extensive than the previous two forts and covered 613 acres. The original buildings were made of adobe brick, later boarded over and painted white. This fort was extensive and along with the officers quarters and troop barracks included a parade grounds, stables, a blacksmith's shop, granary, storehouse, sheds, and a saw mill. Fifteen of the "fort-era" buildings exist today.

Abandoning the military Fort Walla Walla:
In 1865 after the Civil War Congress tried to abandon the fort, however, according to accounts:

"... Congress tried to abandon the fort in 1867, but listed the post in Oregon rather than Washington. By the time the error was discovered, the Modoc tribe was warring in southern Oregon, and the fort was regarrisoned with troops from the 21st Infantry Regiment. The fort remained in use for the next 37 years. ..." [Terry McConn, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, October 20, 2005]

A paragraph in the Seattle Gazette, September 2, 1865, mentioned abandoning Fort Walla Walla.

"... Fort Walla Walla is to be abandoned by the U.S. troops, the government stores removed to other posts, and its garrison sent into the Indian country. ..."

From the Walla Walla Statesman, Friday evening, January 12, 1866, reflected the bitterness of some of the citizens of Walla Walla.

"... The present condition of Fort Walla Walla reflects but little credit upon the Military Department -- or rather upon the individual who lately had the honor to command this immediate district. Governed by no higher motive than predjudice against the people of Walla Walla, the late District commander industriously applied himself to the work of dismantling Fort Walla Walla. Under his orders, all the troops, with the exception of a corporal's guard, scarce sufficient to protect the public property, were ordered away, and the post left to go to ruin. ... Carrying out this policy he has left public property of an aggregate value of hundreds of thousands of dollars, without even amilitary guard, and attended with the dangers incident to a large number of unoccupied buildings. The present commander, Capt. Noble, is doing all that he can for the protection of the property committed to his care; but stripped of soldiers, he is measureably powerless, and for the most part is compelled to trust to luck. FOrt Walla Walla to-day will furnish comfortable quarters for six companies of troops, with stable accommodations for a thousand horses, all which can be subsisted at a much lower cost to the Government than at less favored localities. Dirty Curry knew this, but to gratify his private spleen he has left Fort Walla Walla literally a deserted habitation. ..."

Deactivation and Abandonment:
Fort Walla Walla was formally deactivated in 1889 and abandoned in 1911. Today this is the site of the present day Fort Walla Walla park, cemetery and museum complex, as well as the Veterans Hospital and grounds.

Fort Nez Perce from the Journals

The first Fort Nez Perce was built in 1818 and was a combined fort and fur-trading post, constructed by Donald McKenzie of the North West Fur Company. In 1821 the British Hudson's Bay Company took over the fort following a merger with the North West Company.


According to the "HistoryLink.org" website (2007, The Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History):

"... The timber to build the fort was floated down the Walla Walla River from as much as 100 miles away. The resulting fortress was so formidable that the fort's first factor, fur trader Alexander Ross, called it the Gibraltar of the Columbia. ... Contemporary drawings and letters by early visitors to the vicinity ... indicate that this fort no longer existed by 1831 and that it had been replaced with another less substantial fort made of driftwood from the Columbia. ..."


John Ball described the fort in 1832:

"The said fort was a small stockade of upright timbers set in the ground some fifteen or eighteen feet high with stations or bastions at the corners for look-outs. And the company kept here for the purpose of trade a clerk and some half-dozen men. We were kindly received and here for the first time since leaving the forks of the Platte the first of June ate bread, being now the 18th of October. The fort is at the mouth of the creek on the Columbia nine miles below the mouth of the Lewis river. It was an interesting sight to look on the Columbia, after the long, long journey to see the same and to get to it. The country about looked barren, for the fall rains, if they have them, had not commenced -- little or no timber or shrubs, except the Artemisia, wild sage, which grows from one to five or six feet high, and is found everywhere on the mountain plains. ..." [John Ball, 1832]


Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth wrote about the fort in 1832 and 1833:

"... In the morning of the 14th we put out about N. and arrived at fort Walla Walla about 5 ock in the evening distance 30 miles near the fort the river Walla Walla was crossed which is about 75 feet wide and about 2 feet deep current moderate the size of the last creek passed I was received in the most hospitable and gentlemanly manner by Peanbron the agent for this post     the fort is of no strength merely sufficient to frighten Indians mounting 2 small cannon having two bastions at the opposite corners of a square enclosure there were 6 whites here. ...     At the post we saw a bull and cow & calf, hen & cock, punkins, potatoes, corn, all of which looked strange and unnatural and like a dream. They gave me a decent change of cloth which was very acceptable I took a ride up the river 9 miles to the junction of Lewis River which comes in from the S.E. and soon takes a S. course the Columbia comes here from the N.W. ..." [Wyeth, October 14, 1832]

"... the corn for this post 150 bushells last year was raised at least 3 miles from the fort none was stolen by the Indians a good test of their honesty as they are all most always starving. This place is kept by about 5 men Inds. are freely admitted inside of it about 1200 skins traded here it is kept up mostly for trading horses and the safty of the communication the course of the Wallah river is E. by N. near the fort when I saw it. ..." [Wyeth, February 14, 1833]


In 1834 John Kirk Townsend, an ornithologist with the Nathaniel Wyeth party, wrote:

"... The next morning, we visited Walla-walla Fort, and were introduced, by Captain W., to Lieutenant Pierre S. Pambrun, the superintendent. ... The fort is built of drift logs, and surrounded by a stoccade of the same, with two bastions, and a gallery around the inside. It stands about a hundred yards from the river, on the south bank, in a bleak and unprotected situation, surrounded on every side by a great, sandy plain, which supports little vegetation, except the wormwood and thorn-bushes. On the banks of the little river, however, there are narrow strips of rich soil, and here Mr. Pambrun raises the few garden vegetables necessary for the support of his family. Potatoes, turnips, carrots, &c., thrive well, and Indian corn produces eighty bushels to the acre. ..." [Townsend, September 4, 1834]


One plan of the Hudson's Bay Company was to have their forts self-sufficient. Each post was to farm and raise stock. Stephen Dow Beckham in his paper "An Interior Empire: Historical Overview of the Columbia Basin" (1995) wrote about Fort Nez Perces' agricultural pursuits in 1835:

"... Fort Nez Perces at the mouth of the Walla Walla was representative of these enterprises. In 1835 the post had twelve head of cattle, seventy-five horses, and six pigs: in 1846 the livestock included thirty-six cattle, 115 horses, and thirty-eight pigs. By the early 1840s Pierre Pambrun, the trader, tilled 50 acres olong the Walla Walla River: in 1845 he had twelve acres in vegetables and in 1846 opened another thirty acres some twenty miles from the fort ..."


The Rev. Samuel Parker also mentioned the "self-sufficient" nature of the Fort during his visit in October 1835.

"... October 6, 1835: ... FORT Walla Walla is situated on the south side of the Columbia river, ten miles below the confluence of the Columbia and Lewis' river, which last is commonly called, by the people belonging to the Hudson bay Company, Nez Perce river; and one mile above the Walla Walla river, in latitude 46o 2', longitude 119o 30'. Two miles below the fort there is a range of mountains running north and south, which, though not high, yet are of considerable magnitude; and where the Columbia passes through, it is walled up on both sides with basalt, in many places three hundred feet perpendicular height, which renders the scenery picturesque. The soil, for considerable distance around, with the exception of some strips of bottom-land, is sandy, and for the want of summer rains is not productive. This establishment is not only supplies with the necessaries of life, but also with many of the conveniences. They have cows, horses, hogs, fowls, &c. and cultivate corn, potatoes, and a variety of garden vegetables; and might enlarge these and other productions ot a great extent. They also keep on hand dry goods and hardware, not only for their own convenience, but also for Indian trade. Most of the year they ahve a good supply of fish; of which there are abundance of salmon of the first quality. There is a great deficiency in religious privileges. ..."


William Henry Gray (published in 1870) describes Fort Walla Walla in 1836:

"... Old Fort Wallawalla, in 1836, when the mission party arrived, was a tolerably substantial stockade, built of drift-wood taken from the Columbia River, of an oblong form, with two log bastions raised, one on the southwest corner, commanding the river-frton and southern space beyond the stockade; the other bastion was on the northeast corner, commanding the north end, and east side of the fort. In each of these bastions were kept two small cannon, with a good supply of small-arms. These bations were always well guarded when any danger was suspected from the Indians. The sage brush, willow, and grease-wood had been cut and cleared away for a considerable distance around, to prevent any Indians getting near the fort without being discovered. Inside the stockage were the houses, store, and quarters for the men, with a space sufficiently large to corral about one hundred horses. ..." [W.H. Gray, 1870]


In 1838 the "Map of the United States Territory of Oregon West of the Rocky Mountains, Exhibiting the various Trading Depots or Forst occupied by the British Hudson Bay Company, connected with the Western and northwestern Fur Trade. Compiled in the Bureau of Topographical Engineers, from the latest authorities, under the direction of Col. J.J. Abert, by Wash: Hood." had the Fort labeled "Ft. Nezperces". Downstream the Wallula Gap area was labeled the "Gt. Bend.".


In 1841 the fort was destroyed by fire shortly after the visit by Charles Wilke's U.S. Exploring Expedition.

"... Fort Wallawalla is about two hundred feet square, and is built of pickets, with a gallery or staging on the inside, whence the pickets may be looked over. It has two bastions, one on the southwest and the other on the northeast. On the inside are several buildings, constructed of logs and mud; one of these is the Indian store: the whole is covered with sand and dust, which is blown about in vast quantities. The climate is hot; and every thing about the fort seemed so dry, that it appeared as if a single spark would ignite the whole and reduce it to ashes. ..." [Wilkes, 1841]


After the fire of 1841 the fort was rebuilt. In 1852 (p.188) Reverend Gustavus Hines wrote about the new fort of 1843 in his publication Oregon: Its History, Condition and Prospects:

"... Fort Walla-Walla is situated on the left bank of the Columbia, just above the mouth of the Walla-Walla River. It may more properly be called a trading post, as it looks but little like a fort except that two or three small buildings are enclosed in an adobey wall, about twelve feet high. The company and some private indivuals met with considerable loss, not long ago, from the burning of this fort, which was supposed to have been fired by the Indians. The land around is very barren, though the face of the country is good. The company cultivate a farm about three miles from the fort, on the banks of the Walla-Walla. ..." [Rev. Hines, May 29, 1843]


In 1843 Brevet Captain Fremont, detailed with exploring west to the Wilkes survey, wrote about "Fort Nez Perce".

"... and the next morning arrived at the Nez Perce fort, one of the trading establishments of the Hudson Bay Company, a few hundred yards above the junction of the Walahwalah with the Columbia river. Here we had the first view of this river, and found it about 1,200 yards wide, and presenting the appearance of a fine navigable stream. We made our camp in a little grove of willows on the Walahwalah, which are the only trees to be seen in the neighborhood; but were obliged to send the animals back to the encampment we had left, as there was scarcely a blade of grass to be found. The post is on the bank of the Columbia, on a plain of bare sands, from which the air was literally filled with clouds of dust and sand, during one of the few days we remained here; this place being one of the several points on the river which are distinguished for prevailing high winds, which come from the sea. The appearance of the post and country was without interest ..." [Fremont, October 26, 1843]


From: "Report of Lietus. Warre and Vavasour, Dated 26 October, 1845, Directed to "The Rt. Hon. The Secretary of State for the Colonies.", IN: Joseph Schafer (editor), 1909, "Documents Relative to Warre and Vavasour's Military Reconnoissance in Oregon, 1845-6", The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, March 1909, Vol.X, No.1:

"One hundred and eighty miles below Okanogan the Snake, or south branch of the Columbia River, joins the north, and nine miles below the junction is Fort Nez Perces, on the Walla Walla River, built of mud, 120 yards square, and better adapted than any of the other posts to resist a sudden attack."

"Fort Nez Perces on the Walla Walla River was formerly the point where the emigration from the United States embarkon the the Columbia, and it is still preferred by large numbers of emigrant families. But a more southern and shorter route has been discovered by which they fall upon the Columbia about 125 miles below the Walla Walla, at an impracticable rapid called the "Dalles," formed by the contraction of the river bed into a narrow "trough" or channel, not more than 30 yards wide, where the boats, etc., are transported overland for a distance of one mile."


Paul Kane was at Fort Walla Walla on July 12, 1847, and wrote about it in his Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North Amercia (1859) :

"... I arrived at Walla-Walla. It is a small fort, built of dobies, or blocks of mud baked in the sun, which is here intensely hot. Fort Walla-Walla is situated at the mouth of the river of the same name, in the most sandy and barren desert that can be conceived, and is about 500 miles from the mouth of the Columbia. Little or no rain ever falls here, although a few miles lower down the river it is seen from hence to pour down in torrents. Owing to its being built at the mouth of a gully, formed by the Columbia River through high mountainous land leading to the Pacific Ocean, it is exposed to furious gales of wind, which rush through the opening in thehills with inconceivable violence, and raise the sand in clouds so dense and continuous as frequently to render travelling impossible. I was kindly received by Mr. McBain, a clerk in the Hudson's Bay Company's service, who, with five men, had charge of the fort. The establishment is kept up solely for trading with the Indians from the interior, as those about the post have few or no peltries to deal in. ... "


The fort was again destroyed by fire in 1855 during Indian uprising and then rebuilt. The fort stayed in operation until 1857, when Fort Walla Walla, located upstream on the Walla Walla River became the commercial center for the area. The original town of Wallula was eventually built on the site of the original fort.

"The Golden Age of Postcards" ...

The early 1900s was the "Golden Age of Postcards", with the "Penny Postcard" being a popular way to send greetings to family and friends. Today the Penny Postcard has become a snapshot of history.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 18, 1805 ...

Snake River ConfluenceReturn to

*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

  • Beckham, S.D., 1995, An Interior Empire: Historical Overview of the Columbia Basin, located on the U.S. Forest    Service's Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project website, 2006;
  • Early Canadiana Online website, 2006, "William Henry Gray's A history of Oregon, 1792-1849, drawn from personal observation and authentic information, published in 1870.";
  • Gray, W.H., 1870, "A History of Oregon, 1792-1849: Drawn from Personal Observaation and Authentic Information;
  • Hines, Rev. Gustavus, 1852, Live of the Plains of the Pacific. OREGON: its History, Condition and Prospects ..., published in Buffalo: Geo. H. Derby and Company, published in Chicago: Hewson & Denison;
  • Hitchman, R., 1985, Places Names of Washington, Washington State Historical Society;
  • Mountain Men and the Fur Trade website, 2006;
  • National Libary of Canada and National Archives of Canada Website, 2005, Canadian Institute of Historical Microreproductions;
  • NOAA's "United States Coast Pilot", 31st edition;
  • Oregon Historical Society website, 2004, "The Oregon History Project";
  • Oregon State Department of Transportation website, 2004;
  • Parker, Rev. S., 1838, Journal of an Exploring Tour Beyond the Rocky Mountains, Under the Direction of the A.B.C.F.M., Performed in the Years 1835, '36, and '37 ... Published by The Author, Ithaca, N.Y., online at Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library, 2007;
  • Schafer, J., (editor), 1909, "Documents Relative to Warre and Vavasour's Military Reconnoissance in Oregon, 1845-6", The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, March 1909, Vol.X, No.1.;
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla District website, 2004;
  • U.S. GenWeb Project website, 2006, "History of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington, 1889, Vol.1";
  • U.S. National Park Service website, 2004, Whitman Mission National Historic Site;
  • Washington State Historical Society website, 2004, "Lasting Legacy";
  • Washington State University website, 2005, "Early Washington Maps: A Digital Collection";
  • Wyeth, N.J., 1899, Journal of Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth's Expeditions to the Oregon Country First Expedition - 1832, Wyeth's papers were originally published as: The correspondence and journals of Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth, 1831-6. Eugene, Ore., University Press, 1899. (Sources of the History of Oregon: v. 1, pts. 23-6), A more recent edition is: The Journals of Captain Nathaniel J. Wyeth's Expeditions to the Oregon Country 1831-1836. Don Johnson, ed. Fairfield, Washington. Ye Galleon Press. 1984, courtesy Mountain Men and Fur Trading website, 2007;

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
September 2008