irrigation

Old hand drawn map
From a letter William Gray wrote to Elkanah Walker, January 24, 1842. This is the only known map made during the mission period. The Walla Walla river is on the right (south). The straight lines indicate irrigation ditches.

NPS

The Columbia Plateau is largely covered by dry, grassland. Dr. Whitman realized what this meant to farming. In 1841 he wrote to his friend, Dr. Bryant that: "Cultivation will require the aid of irrigation in order to make a business of it even in this valley." With the aid of local Indian peoples these ditches became a reality.

William Gray wrote: “Both our houses are now surrounded with a ditch 4 feet wide and [5?] deep—our [cross? or crops?] ditch passing behind or about where the old [first] house stood is not done yet.” And again: “Perhaps you will be surprised when I tell you that all our ditches have been dug by the Indians & that too with very little of my superintending them. They have done it all by the job—we gave them 1 [ball?] for [10?] feet 4 inches in length 4 feet in width 2 ½ ft. deep.”

Catherine Sager described the main ditch that came off the north side of the Mill pond: "A good-sized ditch passed in front of the house, connecting with the mill pond, intersecting other ditches all around the farm, for the purpose of irrigating the land."

 

Sources:

Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon by Clifford Drury

A Feasibility Study on Historical Reconstruction, Whitman Mission National Historic Site, Washington by Erwin N. Thompson

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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