It Happened Here: First emigrant wagon train passes through Yakima Valley
Oblate Historical Legacy
By Donald W. Meyers, originally Published in the Yakima Herald-Republic
Along North Wenas Road, three miles northwest of Selah, stands a small granite monument, one that’s easy to overlook.
The monument commemorates the location of “Owhi’s Gardens,” land that was cultivated by Upper Yakamas under Chief Owhi, as well as the passage of the Longmire-Byles emigrant train through the area 167 years ago Sept. 20.
The monument could also rightly be seen as marking the beginning of the end of life as the Yakama knew it.
The Wenas area offered the Yakama areas protected from harsh winters and good water supplies. It also provided access to the west side of the Cascades, allowing for trade with the tribes on the coast, as well as the Hudson’s Bay outposts at Fort Nisqually and Fort Vancouver.
In 1847, Owhi invited priests from the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to come to the Valley and teach the people, in return for his protection. It is believed that the missionaries taught the Yakama how to irrigate land, practices Owhi’s people used in the Wenas Valley to grow crops, leading to the name “Owhi’s Garden.”
In August 1853, a U.S. Army surveying team from Fort Vancouver led by Capt. George B. McClellan came into the Valley, camping at Owhi’s Gardens. Scouts who encountered McClellan’s company reported that he said territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens was going to make a treaty to take the land from the Natives.