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The individual states in the United States didn’t form all at once. With each state, there was a process to their creation, and yet they share similar beginnings. The first beginnings of each state start with the Native American tribes, explorers, missionaries and then settlers. This process laid a foundation for new territories that would eventually separate into individual states.
Washington State’s famous explorers are George Vancouver, Robert Gray and the American explorers Lewis and Clark. George Vancouver came to the Pacific Northwest with two ships, the Discovery and the Chatham. Vancouver named everything in sight, which included islands, mountains and waters. Puget Sound is named after Peter Puget, a lieutenant accompanying him on the expedition. To this day, we still have the names Whidbey Island, Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, and Hood Canal are all key geographical features in the state of Washington named by Vancouver.
Robert Gray was the first American explorer to circumnavigate the globe. The Columbia River is named after his ship the Columbia and Grays Harbor County is named for Grays Harbor the bay in the southwest corner of the county that Robert Gray discovered.
The Lewis and Clark expedition open the United States to several new finds. According to Historylink.org, “In May 1803, the United States purchased Louisiana from France. The doubling of U.S. territory caused President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) to send Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) on a westward expedition to explore the nation’s new piece of real estate. The Corps of Discovery was a party of 33 people, including Sacagawea, a Shohone [sic] Indian, and York, an African slave. The Corps, under the leadership of Captain Lewis and Captain William Clark (1770-1838), traveled by foot, horse, and watercraft across North America and back again beginning in Wood River, Illinois, in May 1804, and returning to St. Louis, Missouri, in August 1806. The period the Corps spent along the Columbia and Snake rivers and at the mouth of the Columbia — from October 1805 to May 1806 — was principally within what is now the State of Washington.”
Lewis and Clark Expedition is credited with discovering 178 plants species. Two Plants, Lewisia rediviva (also known as bitterroot) and Clarkia pulchella (elkhorn clarkia) – were named after the explorers.
In the Pacific Northwest, there were Native American tribes all over the region. There were the Chinook, Makah, Lummi, along with Nooksack, Nez Perce, Salish, and the Tlingit. On the other side of the mountain in Washington were Yakima, and Spokane tribes. The Cayuse and Okanogan tribes were further south in the region. Every story is different, but in general, the beginning relationships between the Indians and the Settlers were friendly and cordial at first, then disputes over trade and land erupted, and then war ensued.
One particular event that is well known in Washington History is the “Whitman Massacre.” In 1836 the Whitmans established a Protestant mission next to the Walla Walla river, but at the time it was on the Cayuse Tribe’s land. In a similar fashion with Squanto and the Pilgrims, the Cayuse Indians showed the missionaries how to plant and cultivate crops and fed them food till the missionaries were able to harvest their own. Of course, the goal of Marcus Whitman was to covert many Indians to Christianity, and the Cayuse Indians were hoping for a prosperous relationship of trade and goods. Tensions rose higher and higher as more settlers came into their land taking portions without compensation.
It finally came to a murderous head when more than 4,000 settlers arrived in the region in 1847. They brought an epidemic of measles. The epidemic brought death to almost half of the Cayuse Indians living near Whitman’s Mission. The anger peaked because only a few of the white settlers died. The Cayuse Indians attacked the Mission killing Whitman’s and eight other people. It was a brutal attack that lead to five of the Indians being hung, but also bringing more division and the creation of the Oregon Territory.
In 1848 Oregon Territory was created. This included the future states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho and a portion of Montana. Only a few years later, the people north of the Columbia river wanted to branch off and become a separate territory. According to Historylink.org, “On February 8, 1853, a federal bill was introduced to separate “Columbia Territory” from Oregon. Representative Richard H. Stanton of Kentucky, believing that the first president should be honored with the name of a state or territory, and noting that the federal capital already recognized the name “Columbia,” amended the bill to read “Washington Territory.” On March 2, 1853, President Millard Fillmore (1800-1874) signed the act. He dispatched Isaac Stevens (1818-1862) to govern the new territory, which until 1863 included Idaho.
President Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) selected the anniversary of George Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1889, to sign the act creating the state of Washington, but his proclamation of admission was not issued until November 11, 1889. The Great Event was celebrated with cannon fire, public and private meetings, parades, and endless oratory.”
According to Ballotpedia, “The Washington State Constitution describes the fundamental structure and function of the state’s government. It consists of a preamble and 32 articles. This constitution is the second in Washington’s history. The first one was ratified in 1878, and the current version on October 1, 1889.
The territory of Washington voted to apply for statehood in 1876. They sent Orange Jacobs, the territory’s delegate, to Congress to enable an act that would allow statehood after a constitution was ratified. The first constitutional convention met in Walla Walla, Washington to draft the constitution in 1878. When it was presented to voters in November, it was overwhelmingly approved.
This did not allow Washington statehood as Congress failed to act on the proposed constitution. The 1876 constitution was then used during the drafting of Washington State’s 1889 Constitution. A second constitutional convention met in Olympia, Washington from July 4 to August 22, 1889. This time, 75 delegates helped draft the constitution which was ratified on October 1, 1889. President Harrison issued a proclamation admitting Washington to the Union on November 11, 1889.”
Mary Salamon is the author of Government and Its People- How the Church can Participate in Government. She resides in the Pacific Northwest and was the publisher of Marysville Tulalip Life Magazine. She served as the Washington State Leader for the Governors Prayer Team and is the mother of three sons and five beautiful grandchildren. She is available for speaking engagements at local civic events, churches and conferences.
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