Hudson's Bay Co. chief factor to visit Fort Walla Walla Museum

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WALLA WALLA -- From the days of Lewis & Clark through the end of the horse-powered era in the early 1900s, much about this region has changed.

The first fur traders dealt with regional Indians. By the 1850s, the population was changing rapidly and the days of free-roaming Indians were drawing to a close.

A man who marked those changing times relives his experiences at Fort Walla Walla Museum.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, museum visitors can see, hear and touch what it was like to be a fur trader and manager of the area's principal business in the mid-19th century, the Hudson's Bay Company Fort Walla Walla.

Even though 2008 marked the sesquicentennial of the U.S. Military Fort Walla Walla, the early 1800s trading post at the mouth of the Walla Walla River was known by the same name.

Richard Monacelli portrays the fort's chief factor, or manager, William McBean, in one of the Museum's most popular Living History performances. The event takes place in the pioneer settlement.

In the event of inclement weather, the performance will be in the Grand Hall of the Entry Building.

The first Fort Walla Walla was built near today's Wallula and became one of the earliest Pacific Northwest outposts for trading furs and other items with the local Indians. The fort was built in 1818 by the Northwest Trading Company, which soon merged with the Hudson's Bay Company. The structure was so sturdy that its first factor called it the "Gibraltar of the Northwest." That structure lasted only 10 years, however, before being destroyed by fire.

A second fort, built on the same site, had also succumbed to fire by the time William McBean came on the scene as factor of the third post. Visitors can see images of the early trading post in a new exhibit in the Soldiers & Indian People Gallery in the Entry Hall.

McBean, of British and Indian parentage, was born in Canada about 1807 and came to the Walla Walla region in 1846. He became chief factor in charge of the Hudson's Bay Company fort at the time of the Whitman Massacre in 1847.

He left Fort Walla Walla in 1855 during the Indian wars and later returned to the region with his Indian wife and children.

At the time, the region's first Catholic priests were ordained in a ceremony at the fort so McBean's wife offered one of her dresses to an oblate when a shortage of albs became apparent.

McBean continued to reside in Walla Walla and was active in assisting various Catholic institutions until his death in 1872.

McBean offers myriad factual details on his times and the people and cultures with whom he lived, sharing with his audience many examples of fur trade items including pelts, beadwork, axes, bowls, pottery, clothing and smoking pipes.

McBean paints a colorful picture of his life, giving visitors a taste of the Walla Walla region in the middle 1800s.

IF YOU GO

Fort Walla Walla Museum is on Myra Road in Fort Walla Walla Park. Museum

hours are 10 am - 5 pm daily, April through October, and 10 am - 4 pm,

November 1 through December 23 (except Thanksgiving). The Museum is open

weekdays 10 am - 4 pm, January thru March. Admission is free to members and

children under 6, $3 for children ages 6-12, $6 for seniors 62 and older and

students, and $7 general admission. Membership includes free admission to

more than 40 Living History performances and other benefits, beginning at

$27. For more information, contact Fort Walla Walla Museum at (509) 525-7703

or e-mail info@fortwallawallamuseum.org. Online see

fortwallawallamuseum.org.

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