Fort Walla Walla

By Luke Sprague

February 18, 2014

This Tuesday I had the privilege of meeting James Payne, Executive Director of the Fort Walla Walla Museum. We toured the newer Entrance Hall located at Fort Walla Walla and pictured above. In addition to the entrance hall, the Fort Walla Walla Museum complex includes a pioneer village maintained by living historians from April to October, a horse agriculture exhibit, a military cemetery, multiple exhibit halls, and a research center. My comments today will focus mostly on the entrance hall and secondly the museum complex as a whole.

The museum contains an outstanding collection of artifacts that are historically relevant to the Pacific Northwest and to the nation, and span timeframes from pre-settlement to the First World War. The exhibits themselves are readily accessible to the public while simultaneously illuminating the bigger historical picture in an understandable, uncluttered, and straightforward manner. Professionals and volunteers on staff maintain the museum, archives, records, and research facility on fifteen acres. Of note, the museum recovers onsite artifacts with its own staff archaeologists, preserves cultural artifacts, and conserves historical documents.

In addition to the museum featuring original military uniforms, gear, and firearms used at the fort, the grounds display artillery from the First World War and Fort Walla Walla army unit the 2/146th Artillery Battalion (see the picture above). United States Civil War exhibit points out local family connections and includes a unique photograph of President Lincoln. Buffalo and Indian soldiers who served at Fort Walla Walla also appear in similar displays. However, this museum emphasizes a complete picture of lives in the Pacific Northwest and the military is just one aspect of that image.

The transportation exhibits show the nature of early travel in the Pacific Northwest, while the agricultural exhibits display how improvements in technology increased production. The exhibits continue to excel at highlighting multiple dimensions of history while not sacrificing detail. The plateau Indian bead work collection donated by the Lloyd family best exemplifies this. The Lloyd family exhibit retells how a settler family was able to initiate, maintain, and grow a peaceful co-existence with plateau Indians of the inland Pacific Northwest—unlike many of their neighbors. Other exhibits illustrate different periods in history, including a diorama of Lewis and Clark meeting Yellpt of the Walla Walla people, a display of early fur-trading equipment, and a textile exhibit displaying formal dresses from mid-Victorian times to the 1950s.

I would strongly encourage anyone with an interest in history, archeology, or heritage to make time to visit the Fort Walla Walla Museum. See their website for specific details Fort Walla Walla Museum

Luke Sprague is a public historian at HistoryMint and manages the nominations to the National Register of Historical Places for Latah County, Idaho. To find about more about what he does during his working hours click here.