Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Walla Walla River, Washington"
Including ... Walla Walla River ... Fort Walla Walla ... Madame Dorion Memorial Park ... Wallula Unit, McNary National Wildlife Refuge ... Campsite of April 27-28, 1806 ... Campsite of April 29, 1806 ... The Golden Age of Postcards ...
Image, 2005, Walla Walla River, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Evening, Walla Walla River, Washington: Looking upstream from old road bridge near mouth of the Walla Walla. Image taken September 24, 2005.


Walla Walla River ...
The Walla Walla River enters the Columbia River at River Mile (RM) 315, ten miles downstream of the Columbia's junction with the Snake River and just upstream of the head of the Wallula Gap. The Walla Walla is located downstream of Wallula, Washington, and upstream of Port Kelley and Spring Gulch. Twenty-one miles downstream is the McNary Dam. The lower reach of the Walla Walla River is now protected as the Wallula Unit of the McNary National Wildlife Refuge.

Walla Walla Drainage ...
According to the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority website (2004), the Walla Walla River drains an area of 1,758 square miles. Its tributaries originate in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon, from which the river flows north and west to enter the Columbia at Lake Wallula, the reservoir behind the McNary Dam. About 73 percent of the drainage lies in Washington State. Elevations in the subbasin range from about 6,000 feet at mountain crests to about 270 feet at the Columbia River. The eastern portion of the drainage lies in steep, timbered slopes of the Blue Mountains within the Umatilla National Forest. The remainder of the drainage consists of moderate slopes and level terrain. One major tributary to the Walla Walla River is Mill Creek, around which the community of Walla Walla developed.

Views of the Walla Walla River ...

Image, 2005, Walla Walla River, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Walla Walla River, Washington: Looking at right bank of the Walla Walla River, from old road bridge near mouth of the Walla Walla. Image taken September 24, 2005.
Image, 2005, Looking towards mouth of the Walla Walla River, click to enlarge
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Walla Walla River looking towards mouth. View from old Madame Dorion Bridge. Image taken September 24, 2005.
Image, 2005, Walla Walla River, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Walla Walla River, Washington: Looking upstream from Madame Dorion Bridge, at the Walla Walla River. Image taken September 24, 2005.


Lewis and Clark and the Walla Walla River ...
Lewis and Clark passed by the Walla Walla River on October 18, 1805, and referred to the river as a "riverlet".

"... the Countrey rises here about 200 feet above The water and is bordered with black rugid rocks, at the Commencement of this high Countrey on Lard Side a Small riverlet falls in which appears to passed under the high Country in its whole cose ..." [Clark, October 18, 1805]

On their return on April 27 and 28th, 1806, Lewis and Clark camped across from the mouth of the Walla Walla near today's Yellepit. On the 29th they moved across the Columbia to camp on the north bank of the Walla Walla, a spot which is now under the waters of Lake Wallula.

"... The Wallah wallah River discharges it's Self into the Columbia on it's South Side 15 miles below the enterance of Lewis's River, or the S.E. branch     a range of hills pass the Columbia just below the enterance of this river     this is a handsom Stream about 4 1/2 feet deep and 50 yards wide; it's bead is composed of gravel principally with Some Sand and Mud; the banks are abrupt but not high, tho' it does not appear to overflow; the water is Clear.     the Indians inform us that it has it's Source in the range of Mountains in view of us ..." [Clark, April 29, 1806]

Campsite of April 27-28, 1806 ...
Lewis and Clark's camp of April 27 and 28, 1806, was on the north side of the Columbia River near Yellepit, Washington, across from the mouth of the Walla Walla River.
[More]

Campsite of April 29, 1806 ...
On April 29, 1806, the men crossed the Columbia and camped on the north bank of the Walla Walla River, where they prepared for their journey up the Walla Walla to intersect the Snake River.

"... our guide now informed us that it was too late in the evening to reach an eligible place to encamp; that we could not reach any water before night.     we therefore thought it best to remain on the Wallahwollah river about a mile from the Columbia untill the morning, and accordingly we encamped on that river near a fish wear ..." [Clark, April 29, 1806]

Today this spot is under Lake Wallula behind McNary Dam. A visitor can view this area from Wallula, Washington, at the Fort Nez Perce/Fort Walla Walla historical sign.


Image, 2005, Wallula Gap from just upstream mouth of the Walla Walla River, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Wallula Gap as seen from above the Wallula Viewpoint. The confluence of the Walla Walla River with the Columbia River is on the left, just visible behind the Port of Walla Walla. Image taken September 25, 2005.


Early Walla Walla River ...
Historians claim there are more than 20 different spellings of "Walla Walla" which exist in early journals and on early maps.

According to the Washington Historical Society, in the Sahaptian language, "walla" means "running water" and duplication of a word is the diminutive form, making "Walla Walla" a distortion of the Indian meaning, "small rapid river". Other historians say the name "Walla Walla" is from a Nez Perce and Cayuse word "Walatsa" which means "running" and probably used in reference to the running waters of the Walla Walla River. Robert Hitchman in Place Names of Washington (1985, Washington State Historical Society) wrote the name is Indian for "place of many waters", and refers to the many tributaries of the Walla Walla River.

The U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Website (2007) lists eight variations used for the Walla Walla River. These include "Walla Walla", "Wallow Wallows", "Wallow Wallows River", "Wollah Wollah", "Wollah Wollah River", "Wollaw Wollah", "Woller Woller", and "Woller Woller River".

Lewis and Clark labeled the river "Wolloh Wolloh R" on their route map [Moulton, vol.1, map#75], and Clark used "Wallah Wallah" in his journal entry of April 29, 1806.

"... we therefore thought it best to remain on the Wallah wallah river about a mile from the Columbia untill the morning, accordingly encampd on the river near a fish Wear. ..." [Clark, April 29, 1806]

Alexander Ross (Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon or Columbia River, published in 1849) journeyed upstream on the Columbia River in 1811 and reached the Wallula Gap and the Walla Walla River on August 12th.

"... On the 12th we left our camp early, and in a short time came to the colonnade rocks, which suddenly terminated in two huge bluffs, one on each side of the river, exactly opposite to each other, like monumental columns. The river between these bluffs lies right south and north. The banks of the river then become low with sand and gravel, and the plains open full to view again, particularly on the east side. Close under the right bluff issues the meandering Walla-Walla, a beautiful little river, lined with weeping willows. It takes its rise in the blue mountains already noticed. ..." [Ross, August 12, 1811]

In 1838 the "Map of the United States Territory of Oregon West of the Rocky Mountains" had the river labeled "Walla Walla R.". Upstream was "Ft. Nezperces" and downstream the Wallula Gap area of the Columbia River labeled "Gt. Bend.".

In 1843 Captain Fremont called the river "Walahwalah".

"... The weather was pleasant, with a sunrise temperature of 36o. Our road to-day had in it nothing of interest; and the country offered to the eye only a sandy, undulating plain, through which a scantily timbered river takes its course. We halted about three miles above the mouth, on account of grass; 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. ..." [Fremont, October 25 and 26, 1843]

Image, 2005, Fishing, Walla Walla River, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Fishing, Walla Walla River, Washington: Upstream view of the Walla Walla River, as seen from Marie Dorion Park, Washington, looking towards the McNary National Wildlife Refuge. Marie Dorion Park is just off of Washington State Highway 12, at Wallula Junction. Image taken September 24, 2005.


Walla Walla River, etc.

  • Fort(s) Walla Walla ...
  • Madame Dorion Memorial Park ...
  • McNary National Wildlife Refuge ...
  • Walla Walla (the city) ...


Fort(s) Walla Walla ...
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. In 1856 "Fort Walla Walla" up the Walla Walla River at the junction of Mill Creek with the Walla Walla River. Three different forts were built there.
[More]

Image, 2004, Fort Walla Walla sign, Wallula, Washington, click to enlarge
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Sign for location of the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Walla Walla along the Columbia River. Image taken September 26, 2004.


Madame Dorion Memorial Park ...
The Madame Dorion Memorial Park is located on the Walla Walla River near its confluence with the Columbia, at the junction of Washington State Highway 12 and Highway 730. During winter of 1811-1812, an advance party of the first fur traders reached the Columbia River from Montreal, Canada. With them was Marie Dorion, an Iowa Indian, who was the second women to come west overland -- the first being Sacajawea, with Lewis and Clark.
[More]

Image, 2005, Madame Dorion Park, Washington, click to enlarge
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Madame Dorion Park, Walla Walla River, Washington. Image taken September 25, 2005.


McNary National Wildlife Refuge, Wallula Unit ...
The lower reach of the Walla Walla River lies within the Wallula Unit of the McNary National Wildlife Refuge.
[More]

Image, 2005, Walla Walla River and McNary National Wildlife Refuge, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Walla Walla River and McNary National Wildlife Refuge, Washington: Upstream view of the Walla Walla River, as seen from Marie Dorion Park, Washington, looking towards the McNary National Wildlife Refuge. Marie Dorion Park is just off of Washington State Highway 12, at Wallula Junction. Image taken September 24, 2005.


Walla Walla (the city) ...
In 1856 a fort for protection against the Indians was built on Mill Creek, near its junction with the Walla Walla River. By 1857 a village evolved around the fort. In January 1859, the Territorial Legislature approved the name "Walla Walla City", and, when the town grew during the 1862 Idaho gold rush, the community was incorporated and platted from the land claim of A.J. Cain. Earlier names for the community were "Steptoeville" and "Steptoe City", for Lieutenant Col. Edward J. Steptoe, who fought in the 1850s Indian wars. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names made "Walla Walla" the official name in 1907.


"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.

Penny Postcard, Fort Walla Walla with troups, ca1908 Penny Postcard: Fort Walla Walla, with troups, ca.1908. Penny Postcard, Postmarked 1908, "Fort Walla Walla, Walla Walla, Wash." Published by Sprouse & Sons, Tacoma, Washington. Made in Germany. Card is postmarked July 16, 1908. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Penny Postcard, Mill Creek, Walla Walla, Washington, ca.1907 Penny Postcard: Mill Creek near Walla Walla, Washington, ca.1907. Penny Postcard, Postmarked 1907, "Mill Creek near Walla Walla, Wash." Published by M. Rieder, Los Angeles. Made in Germany. Card is postmarked November 28, 1907. Card #1645. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.
Penny Postcard, Mill Creek, Walla Walla, Washington, ca.1910 Penny Postcard: Mill Creek, Walla Walla, Washington, ca.1910. Penny Postcard, ca.1910, "Scene on Mill Creek, Walla Walla, Wash." The first Fort Walla Walla was built on the Columbia River. In 1856 a fort was built up the Walla Walla River on Mill Creek, near its junction with the Walla Walla River. By 1857 a village evolved around the fort. Published by M. Rieder, Los Angeles. Made in Germany. Card #1636. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 18, 1805, first draft ...
S. E. 1 miles to mo. of a <Creek> river 40 yds wide [Walla Walla River] under a high Clift. in the Lard. bend here the river enters the high countrey rising abt. 200 feet above the Water [Wallula Gap] large black rocks makeing out from Lard. half across the river and some distance from Stard. Side [Columbia River Basalt].

S. 12 W. 4 miles to a point of rocks in a Lard. Bend passed a Small Isd. passed a 2d at 2 miles, on its upr. Point 2 Lodges of Indians fishing at a rapid opsd. the lower point psd. 9 Lodges of Indians fishing on an Island on the Stard. Side below about 1 mile 5 Lodges on the Stard. Side, passed a Island in middle of river at 3 m.

we Encamped a little below & opsd. the lower point of the Island on the Lard. Side [Spring Gulch Creek] no wood to be found we were obliged to make use Small drid willows to Cook- our old Chief informed us that the great Chief of all the nations [Chief Yellepit] about lived at the 9 Lodges above and wished us to land &c. he Said he would go up and Call him over they went up and did not return untill late at night, about 20 came down & built a fire above and Stayed all night. The chief brought a basket of mashed berries.



Clark, October 18, 1805 ...
This morning Cool and fare wind from the S. E. ...     Took our leave of the Chiefs and all those about us [from their camp, the location of today's Sacajawea State Park] and proceeded on down the great Columbia river     passed a large Island at 8 miles about 3 miles in length, a Island on the Stard. Side the upper point of which is opposit the center of the last mentioned Island and reaches 3 miles below the 1st. Island and opposit to this near the middle of the river nine Lodges are Situated on the upper point at a rapid which is between the lower point of the 1st Island and upper point of this; great numbers of Indians appeared to be on this Island, and emence quantites of fish Scaffold     we landed a few minits to view a rapid which Commenced at the lower point, passd this rapid which was verry bad between 2 Small Islands two Still Smaller near the Lard. Side, at this rapid on the Stard. Side is 2 Lodges of Indians Drying fish, at 2 miles lower and 14 below the point passed an Island Close under the Stard. Side on which was 2 Lodges of Indians drying fish on Scaffolds as above

[Today this reach has been inundated by the waters of Lake Wallula, the reservoir behind the McNary Dam. The Burbank Slough - part of the McNary National Wildlife Refuge - dominates the eastern bank of the Columbia and two islands which remain offshore of Wallula are Crescent Island and Badger Island.]    

at 16 miles from the point [junction of the Snake River with the Columbia, location of today's Sacajawea State Park] the river passes into the range of high Countrey at which place the rocks project into the river from the high clifts [Wallula Gap] which is on <both> the Lard. Side about 2/3 of the way across those of the Stard Side about the Same distance, the Countrey rises here about 200 feet above The water and is bordered wth black rugid rocks [Columbia River Basalt],     at the Commencement of this high Countrey [Wallula Gap] on Lard Side a Small riverlet falls in [Walla Walla River] which appears to passed under the high County in its whole cose     Saw a mountain bearing S. W. conocal form Covered with Snow [Mount Hood, Oregon].    passed 4 Islands, at the upper point of the <first> 3rd is a rapid, on this Island is two Lodges of Indians, drying fish, on the fourth Island Close under the Stard. Side is nine large Lodges of Indians Drying fish on Scaffolds as above [Yellepit area]; at this place we were called to land, as it was near night and no appearance of wood [Lewis and Clark are in the Port Kelley area, where today the islands offshore are under the waters of Lake Wallula.],     we proceeded on about 2 miles lower to Some willows, at which place we observed a drift log     formed a Camp on the Lard Side [Spring Gulch] under a high hill nearly opposit to five Lodges of Indians; Soon after we landed, our old Chiefs informed us that the large camp above "was the Camp of the 1st Chief of all the tribes in this quarter [Chief Yellepit], and that he had called to us to land and Stay all night with him, that he had plenty of wood for us &" This would have been agreeable to us if it had have been understood perticelarly as we were compelled to Use drid willows for fuel for the purpose of cooking, we requested the old Chiefs to walk up on the Side we had landed and call to the Chief to come down and Stay with us all night which they did;     ... we made 21 miles to day.






Clark, April 29, 1806 ...
This Morning Yelleppit [Chief Yellepit] furnished us with 2 Canoes, and We began to transport our baggage over the river [Columbia River to the north bank of the Walla Walla River]; we also Sent a party of the men over to collect our horses. ...     by 11 A. M. we had passed the river with our party and baggage but were detained Several hours in consequence of not being able to Collect our horses. our guide now informed us that it was too late in the evening to reach <to> an eligible place to encamp; that we Could not reach any water before night. we therefore thought it best to remain on the Wallah wallah river [Walla Walla River] about a mile from the Columbia untill the morning, accordingly encampd on the river near a fish Wear. ...     The Wallah wallah River [Walla Walla River] discharges it's Self into the Columbia on it's Souoth Side 15 miles below the enterance of Lewis's River [Snake River], or the S. E. branch.     a range of hills [Clark is referring to the Horse Heaven Hills at the Wallula Gap] pass the Columbia just below the enterance of this river [Walla Walla River].     this is a handsom Stream about 4 feet deep and 50 yards wide; it's bead is composed of gravel principally with Some Sand and Mud; the banks are abrupt but not high, tho' it does not appear to overflow; the water is Clear.     the Indians inform us that it has it's Source in the range of Mountains in view of us to the E. and S. E. [Blue Mountains] these Mountains commence a little to the South of Mt. Hood [Mount Hood, Oregon] and extend themselves in a S Eastwardly direction terminateing near the Southern banks of Lewis's river [Snake River] Short of the rockey Mountains.    Ta wan na-hiooks river [Deschutes River], river Lapage [John Day River] and [blank] River all take their rise on those <N. Side of> Mountains.    the two principal branches of the first of those take their rise in the Mountain's, Jefferson and Hood [Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood, Oregon].    those Mountains are Covered at present with Snow.     those S W. Mountains are Covered with Snow at present tho' do not appear high.     they Seperate the Waters of the Multnomah [Willamette River] from those of the Columbia river. they appear to be 65 or 70 miles distant from hence. ... there are 12 other Lodges of the Wallahwallah Nation on this river a Short distance below our Camp. ...



Gass, April 29, 1806 ...
The day was fair, and we got all our baggage transported to the south side of the river. Here are a great many of the natives encamped on a large creek, which comes in from the south, and those on the north side are moving over as fast as they can. We encamped on the creek [Walla Walla River] ...


Ordway, April 29, 1806 ...
we bought 2 more dogs to take us across the plains and a little Shappalell & other roots &C. we borrowed a canoe from the Indians and crossed over the Columbia to the South Side above the mouth of the river [Walla Walla River] which we took to a byo where we passd. down last fall, and got all our baggage across the river and got up our horses. our guide telling us that it was a long distance to water, & further than we could go this day. So we mooved over 1 mile on the bank of the river which is named the wal-a-wal-a River [Walla Walla River] near a large village of the wal-a-wal-a nation where we Camped again. these Savages have wers made of willows across this little river where they catch large quantityes of Salmon trout, Suckers, &C. ...




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*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

Sources:    Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority website, 2003, 2004;    "HistoryLink.org" website, 2007, "The Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History";    Hitchman, R., 1985, Place Names of Washington, Washington State Historical Society;    Mountain Men and the Fur Trade website, 2007;    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2004, Walla Walla District;    U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) website, 2007;    Walla Walla Union-Bulletin website, 2007;    Washington State Department of Tourism website, "experiencewashington.com", 2004;    Washington Secretary of State website, 2004, Washington History;    Washington State Historical Society website, 2004, "Lasting Legacy";   

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.
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May 2014