November 27, 2013 - December 4, 2013
This week, HistoryLink takes a look back at the effects of irrigation on the development of the Yakima Valley, originally a sagebrush desert. For millennia, the dry grassland was sufficiently fertile to feed the valley's inhabitants, even with an average yearly rainfall of only eight inches. But within the last 150 years, the use of supplemental water distribution from nearby rivers and streams has transformed the region into the "fruit bowl of the nation."
The valley's first irrigation ditch was dug in 1852 by Catholic missionaries from the St. Joseph Mission in company with local Yakama Indians. The priests and the Yakama people were on friendly terms, but their early demonstration of the valley's farming potential came to an abrupt end in 1855, when the mission was torched by United States Army troops during the Yakama Indian War.
On December 4, 1889, Walter Granger and a group of Minnesota investors organized the Yakima Land and Canal Company, which in turn created the Sunnyside Project, the valley's first commercial irrigation venture. Grateful landowners soon named a town after Granger, although the businessman lived in nearby Zillah. By the time Sunnyside incorporated in 1902, farmers throughout the region were seeing bumper crops of apples, peaches, plums, cherries, and more. Mabton farmers later celebrated their abundant alfalfa production by opening the Hay Palace -- built almost entirely of hay bales.
The transformation of the landscape also led to a diversification of the people who lived and worked in Yakima County. Beginning in the 1890s, Japanese immigrants worked as hired hands, and many of them leased land and entered the farming business for themselves. Japanese Americans would most likely have had a greater presence in valley history had they not been forced to leave and sent to internment camps during World War II.
Instead, Mexican nationals were hired in 1942 under the Emergency Farm Labor Supply program, nationally known as the Bracero program. After 1947, the Bracero workforce was supplemented by Mexican American migrants, and Hispanic workers continue to provide a substantial portion of the farm labor in Yakima County.
Fourteen years ago this week, Seattle came under siege during the 1999 WTO Conference. Things proceeded peacefully enough on November 28, with a scattering of demonstrations. More people gathered downtown on November 29 in mostly non-confrontational protests. But on November 30 all hell broke loose. Despite a "no protest zone," protests continued until the conference ended in failure on December 3.
HistoryLink.org -- which had been online for less than a year -- found itself thrust into the spotlight when the site's WTO-Cam became the only live feed from downtown after news reporters and film crews were pushed back by the tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets aimed at protestors. For the full details on how we captured "history as it happened," check out this video produced in 2009 by Josh McNichols and Jerome Montalto.
News Then, History Now
When They Began: On November 28, 1853, Governor Isaac Stevens established Olympia as the territorial capital. A few Washington counties also celebrate anniversaries this week. Whitman County was established on November 29, 1871, and Garfield County was established on November 29, 1881. Two years later, Douglas County and Adams County were both created on November 28, 1883.
Starting Spokane: Spokane got its start on November 29, 1881, when it incorporated as Spokane Falls. A few months earlier, the tiny community had been the seat of Spokane County before armed citizens from Cheney wrested away the title when they swiped the county records and the auditor. Fortunately for Spokane Falls residents, the city became an important railroad terminus, and voters made it the county seat again in 1886.
On the Go: No sooner did Yakima City incorporate on December 1, 1883, than its residents learned that the Northern Pacific Railroad would pass north of their town instead of through it. So they uprooted 100 buildings and replanted them four miles away -- right next to the tracks. In 1917, the original town was renamed Union Gap.
Ocean's Flow: On December 2, 1890, Ilwaco incorporated and became well known as both an excellent fishing location and a great place to grow cranberries. As the Columbia River's gateway to the sea, the city is home to the Port of Ilwaco, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard's National Motor Lifeboat School.
Deadly Flights: On November 30, 1947, a chartered Alaska Airlines C-54 overshot Sea-Tac Airport and crashed, killing nine and injuring 17. Five years later a U.S. Air Force C-54G Skymaster crashed in Tacoma, killing 37 people, on November 28, 1952.
Housing Sites: In 1949, developers eyed logged-over land about 12 miles north of Seattle, just over the Snohomish County line, and began filling it with 640-square-foot cinder-block houses priced at $4,999 and aimed at World War II veterans with young families. Five years later, on November 29, 1954, the quickly growing community incorporated as Mountlake Terrace.
Fiery Frights: On November 28, 1968, a four-alarm fire broke out at Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle that took 14 hours to bring under control. And on December 4, 1975, a tanker truck jackknifed and overturned on Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct, spilling 3,700 gallons of gasoline that almost immediately burst into flames. By the time the fire was put out, it had caused $750,000 in property damage.
On the Screen: On November 28, 1968, Douglas Q. Barnett helped organize Seattle's first black film festival. Barnett later founded Black Arts/West theater company, an outgrowth of his work with the Central Area Motivation Program, in the old Cirque Playhouse in Seattle's Central Area, as he recounts in a detailed five-part People's History memoir.
Urban Scene: Forty years ago this week, on December 4, 1973, Buster Simpson arrived in Seattle and immediately created his first eco-art installation, with fellow artist Chris Jonic. A retrospective of Simpson's work was recently on display at the Frye Art Museum.
Quote of the Week
When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come.
--Leonardo da Vinci
Image of the Week
Pasco got its start on November 28, 1884.