The heritage of the Walla Walla region is interlaced with the legacy of soldiers, pioneers and American Indians. For more than a decade, Fort Walla Walla Museum, 755 Myra Road, has commemorated the region's heritage in its two-day, early June event.
The event is scheduled for 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Dozens of re-enactors from throughout the region bivouac on the grounds to portray military encampments from the early 1800s through World War I. Fort Walla Walla Days also offers opportunities to learn more about the cultural heritage of the people of the Homeland Tribes who have lived in this area for countless generations.
Not always seen as a military expedition, the Lewis &and Clark expedition was primarily a soldierly venture into lands little known to Euro-Americans. A significant event of the journey occurred just 30 miles from the museum, when Clark exchanged gifts with Yellept, a headman of the Walla Walla people. Lewis and Clark's "Northwest Corps of Discovery" may have been the first contact Americans had in the new West, but would not be the last.
Soon after came the men of the fur trade, who built trading forts throughout the region, including Fort Walla Walla (originally named Fort Nez Perces) at the mouth of the Walla Walla River across the Columbia River from Yellept's camp. The fur trade era, represented by the Hudson's Bay Company in the Walla Walla region, endured into the 1850s. "Mountain men" of the fur trade era are also featured during Fort Walla Walla Days.
The museum also offers a play fort so its young visitors can burn up a little energy before their families take in other aspects of the weekend's events.
Beginning with the Cayuse War in the aftermath of the incident at Whitman Mission in 1847, armed conflict became a common theme of the 1850s. Initially, men of the Oregon Volunteer Militia attempted to settle the situation, but pioneers of the region clamored for an official army presence.
U.S. military Fort Walla Walla was first occupied in 1858 on the grounds of today's Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Medical Center in Walla Walla where the fort's original "Officers Row" quarters remain in place. The post was allotted a square mile "reservation," and the museum occupies land that was once part of the fort.
A number of the region's early pioneers were veterans of the Mexican War of 1846-1848. During the 1860s, Fort Walla Walla soldiers were diverted to the eastern states during the Civil War. While the post was manned by militias from Oregon, California and Washington, it is easy to imagine those people remaining in the region were eager for news of acquaintances or loved one in the war. In that context, the museum features Civil War skirmish re-enactments each day. Civil War veterans are numerous in the community's Mountain View Cemetery. Other camps may portray the 1870s, Spanish-American war and World War I.
Other demonstrations will include the blacksmith shop, as well as small arms and cannon firings. A special exhibit titled "Honoring the Red, White and Blue: Patriotic Beadwork of the Plateau People," featuring scores of vibrantly colored items made by the Columbia Basin's Indian people, is in the new Entry Hall. While aspects of the display have been seen at the Montana State Historical Society museum in Helena and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, this may well be the largest-ever exhibit of its kind.
The museum also features a major exhibit funded in part by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services in the Entry Hall. The exhibit is titled "Through War and Peace: American Military and the People of the Homeland Tribes," and it resides alongside a Lewis and Clark diorama featuring a background mural by acclaimed regional landscape artist Leslie Cain and other displays related to regional heritage. A series of military mannequins clad in different uniforms marking the occupation of Fort Walla Walla stand before the American flag of each era. Visitors can mark the changes in the country as the military changed with it. Nine other display cases fill the exhibit. There is also a room devoted to an officer's parlor display, newly updated this year, which shows what life at home circa 1910 might have been like for an officer and his family. Across from the parlor exhibit is a military cemetery display.
The headstones were the originals in the cemetery in Fort Walla Walla Park and were unearthed in an excavation on the museum campus about 11 years ago. Research showed that the Army ordered a "cemetery re-alignment" in the early 1900s, and the grave markers found were the midden pile of that exercise as replacements were installed.
Saturday and Sunday mark the final days to enjoy "The Art of Norman Adams: A Retrospective," featuring a variety of works by this incredibly prolific native son.
The museum is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. both days. Food by Kerri's Concessions and treats by Deeney's Ice Cream will be available throughout the event.
Fort Walla Walla Days 2011 is sponsored by Banner Bank, Best Western Walla Walla Suites Inn, Columbia REA, The Country Register, Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center, Opp & Seibold General Construction, Inc., Pacific Power, Super 1 Foods, Walla Walla Electric and Wildhorse Resort and Casino.