What It Is and Why It Is Important
Blog Entry: December 13, 2010
While a visit to Whitman Mission may not initially scream out "Geology!", the Walla Walla Valley has a complex and interesting geologic history, a geologic history that even explains why Waiilatpu was such an attractive spot to the Whitmans when they were looking for a mission site back in 1836. Starting this week, the Photographer's Eye will take a two-part look at the park's geology. Part two will be posted in a few weeks.
The Whitmans traveled to the Oregon Country in order to bring Christianity to the peoples living here. They finally settled among the Cayuse. The Cayuse, though, like many northwestern tribes, followed a seasonal round of food gathering. The Whitmans realized it would be challenging to convey their message to a tribe that was only at their mission for part of the year. They hoped they could inspire the Cayuse to adopt a more settled lifestyle based on agriculture, which would then keep the Cayuse nearby year round for easier religious instruction.
So what does this all have to do with geology? In order to begin planting the crops that would sustain them, the Whitmans needed a site with fertile soils and an ample water supply. As anyone who lives in the Walla Walla Valley is aware, the valley is great for growing wheat, grapes, onions, and a variety of other crops. Dr. Whitman saw the fertility of this area also. He had noted the quality of various soils as his group traversed the continent. He wrote the following about this area: "We are located in the pleasantest valley of the upper Columbia on the Walla Walla River...The soil is better & more extensive on this than any other stream with which I am acquainted."