The history of

Kittitas is a city in Kittitas County, Washington, United States. The population was 1,381 at the 2010 census and an estimated 1,493 in 2018. There are numerous interpretations of the name, which is from the language of the Kittitas American Indian language.

Alexander Ross enters the Kittitas Valley

Alexander Ross was a fur trader with the North West Company, and is credited as the first European-American to enter Kittitas Valley. Ross went on a winter mission to trade horses with a clerk, two French Canadian trappers and their wives in 1814 when they entered Kittitas Valley. They came across the local natives at a gathering place called Cle-ho-han (near present-day Parke Creek), where those gathered were digging roots, playing sports, trading stories, and being involved in every form of encampment life. The camp was full of at least 3,000 men and "treble that of horses." In a later record, Ross called the valley "the Eyakema Valley''; other history accounts of the area have identified it as the Kittitas Valley. Ross also mentioned the abundance of horses, wilderness, and how the valley must have been more than six miles in each direction he looked.

The Milwaukee Road

The town of Kittitas was founded as part of the Milwaukee Road, founded in 1847 to serve as a railroad from Mississippi to Wisconsin. What would eventually become the Kittitas town was the center of this expansion. The railroad connected many small towns, providing the farmers of Kittitas a great opportunity to gain business and reach the country in an easier way than before. The Kittitas Yard in this community was the depot, storage, maintenance buildings, a water tower, and other necessary services that a railroad would need. This depot would be welcomed into the National Register of Historic Places in 1992 as it still stands to this day. To this day, the depot is still used for hay exports. In 1931, the Milwaukee Road was incorporated. In June of the next year, the businesses of South Main Street were burnt to the ground.

The Yakama Indian War

Native Americans in the Kittitas and Yakima Valleys were becoming more agitated from gold miners crossing the areas and the white settlers took their land from them. The treaty that tribal leaders signed, Kamiakin included, was taken back at these aspects and rejected the treaty. The Yakima Indian War would go on from 1855 to 1858. From May to September of 1856, Major Granville O. Haller was leader of a military encampment in Kittitas Valley. 1859 was the year that the Yakima tribe was forced on the reservation near Fort Simcoe. On April 18, 1859, Congress ratified the Treaty of Yakima and President James Buchanan signed the ratification. Following this ratification, cattlemen had brought their herds to capitalize on the Kittitas Valley's beautiful landscapes.

As for gold miners, they continued to travel through the Kittitas regions, being as disruptive as they were before the Yakima Indian War. A.J. Splawn would describe how he and brother William Splawn bought horses from the Indians in this area and would then sell them to the gold miners. He mentioned how by 1864 gold was the main cause of business and trouble as miners would search every inch of the valley to find gold.

Ben Snipes Begins his Work

Ben Snipes was born in North Carolina in 1835, but his family had moved several times before he was 12, when he was in Iowa. He had learned much about cattle and how to handle them. As he heard of the California gold rush in 1852, he picked up his things and left home. After failing to get in on that, he went to Washington looking to gain a foundation of cattle near the Columbia River. Looking to get the proper handle on the area, Snipes made a deal with his former employer to do the work along with yielding a half interest in the results. He got his first cattle from young Indian boys as assistants, helping the herd multiplying at an alarming rate.

By the spring of 1856, the herd was at 102 cattle, and Snipes went from the Okanogan lake country to the Thompson River country, selling his cattle at $125 a head. Settling at The Dalles, Snipes gained the confidence to go into the cattle business by himself, pursuing his desire to be on top of the Columbia-Yakima valley. He built a log cabin in the valley in 1859, often being credited as the first home for a white man in the area. By the end of 1861, Snipes had gained the reputation of being the Northwest Cattle King, sporting somewhere between 25,000 to 40,000 cattle in his herd.

As severe winters negatively impacted his cattle, Snipes went into the Yakima valley expecting the worst-case scenario. His cattle inventory was between 2,500 to 3,000, and he had his loyal team to help him in this time of uncertainty. He went to Portland to borrow $50,000, which he planned to find the animals that he needed to succeed. Snipes was in a large amount of debt, but the season had been in a state to better farm cattle. He was one of the only cattle suppliers in the Northwest, making Snipes believe that he could retain his title as Cattle King. After another severe winter reducing the cattle in the valley, and the rise of the Northern Pacific Railway passing through in 1884, Snipes believed that the cattle business was coming to an end.

Looking for new investment opportunities, Snipes acquired more than a hundred acres of land in what's now the busiest area in Seattle city. He was slowly but surely getting more financially stable, and he was loaning to others who were in need. Snipes had also built a flouring mill at The Dalles to support the wheat in the area that he picked up his first cattle. Looking to branch out more, he remembered that Ellensburg didn't have a bank. As he couldn't find a proper building to host a bank in the city, Snipes had a three-story stone building built and opened the bank on February 22, 1889. On July 4, 1889, a fire started and would destroy many of the buildings of the city, including the bank. It opened in a temporary building that still stands today. Snipes soon decided to open a branch in Roslyn.

Ferguson County is Created

On January 23, 1863, the Washington Territorial Legislature established the county of Ferguson. This area was made up of what is now the Yakima and Kittitas counties. It was bounded by the SImcoe Mountains, the Cascade Mountains, Walla Walla and Stevens counties.

At the time there were not enough people living there to create a sustainable county government, and therefore Ferguson was not fully recognized as a county. A.J. Splawn, an early resident of the Kittitas and Yakima valleys noted that the people of Ferguson were not able to pay the same kind of taxes that cities like Olympia could, so the county government wasn't an issue addressed yet. Splawn also mentioned that the county was named after a member of the house from Skamania County, James Leo Ferguson.

On January 18, 1865, Ferguson County was disbanded, and the area became Yakima County on January 21 of that same year. It wouldn't be until 1883 when Kittitas County would be formed in this same area.

The Completion of the Snoqualmie Pass

The Snoqualmie Pass was one of the most vital achievements for Kittitas Valley as it was one of the first wagon roads to be completed. This road linked the valley to the Puget Sound, allowing business people to travel to and from these areas with more ease. The pass wouldn't incorporate the first toll of the area in an effort to maintain the road connecting Seattle through Ellensburg to Walla Walla. Frederick Ludi, the first settler of the Upper Valley, would use this road when he would settle what is now Thorp in 1867. John Alden Shourdy would also use this road to discover and settle in Ellensburg in 1871.

The First Settlers of the Valley

Frederick Ludi and John Goller were the first settlers of the Upper Kittitas Valley. Their original plan was to go from the Cascade Mountains to the Puget Sound, but they ended up at Manastash Creek. They lived there for a year but decided to relocate due to their inability to adapt to the cold winters and heavy snow that came with the area. After they moved on from Manastash Creek, they eventually found what is now Ellensburg in 1867. William "Bud" Wilson was also around at the time of their arrival, but he lived amongst the Native Americans already there. He built a small cabin that would later be turned into Robber's Roost in 1870.

The next year in 1868 saw the arrival of the Tillman Houser family, originating from the Auburn area. It took them 10 days to travel across the Native American trail across the Snoqualmie Pass. All of their supplies were carried in a wagon and they walked the whole way. Another family that made its way to Ellensubrg were the Splawns from Yakima. The family consisted of Charles Splawn, his wife Dulcina Thorp, and their three children Sarah, Harrison, and Clarence. Dulcina Thorp is known as the first white woman in the Kittitas Valley, and the daughter of Fielden M. Thorp, the man whom Thorp would be named after. The next year Splawn and Thorp gave birth to Viola Splawn, the first white child to be born in the Kittitas Valley.

Kittitas County is Created

Despite the Kittitas valley population being small in the 1880s, the citizens had their political pursuits in mind already. Because the county seat Yakima City was so far from Ellensburg, trips there to settle county disputes became tedious and many citizens agreed it wasn't worth the effort. They decided to pick between two choices; move the county seat to Ellensburg or organize a new county. The people of Yakima objected to these ideas, mostly because they would find more difficulties from the citizens from the Naches gap to the Columbia river. At the election of 1880, voters supported Democratic candidate George S. Taylor to the legislature as opposed to Republican nominee John A. Shoudy. Many believed that Shoudy would divide the county or remove Yakima City from its county seat position.

In the election of 1882, the two men ran for the same office once again, this time the Kittitas valley Democrats elected Shoudy over Taylor by a lead of fifty-six votes. One of the reasons was that the taxpayers and board didn't believe that it was in the county's best interests to not build a new courthouse. Old Yakima citizens were not in favor as they believed it would cause more division if a county became two separate entities. One S.T. Packwood was a lawyer that had many expenses that couldn't be forgotten if the county was to remain one collective area. So he talked with the Yakima National Bank, and they made a case to Judge J.R Lewis to approve Kittitas to become its own county. Shoudy's bill for the creation of Kittitas County saw virtually no opponents, and the new county was on its way to becoming a reality.

In December of 1883, the board of county commissioners held a meeting about the new Kittitas County. This was done to establish the relationship between Yakima and Kittitas counties, knowing what will be transferred to which area. Even Klickitat county was involved in case the two counties were unable to come to an agreement. After the agreements were made, Kittitas County had other problems to take care of. Despite having no courthouse, a building to take the place of one, or the funds to create one, the early years of the local government saw a lot of meetings in different places. Bank vaults were used as recordkeeping. Luckily, the political landscape was handled by capable people and they were able to maintain the economy. In response to the discovery of coal in Roslyn, Ellensburg citizens were able to get money to circulate through the county.

What's important to note is that the city of Kittitas was not the same as the originally platted town of Kittitas by Austin Mires and Jeremiah D. Damman in the 1880s. This original attempt as there were not enough investors to make this platted area successful.

First Kittitas County Fair

From September 30 to October 2, 1885, the first Kittitas County Fair was held near Ellensburg, two years before Kittitas County was organized. The event ran for three days, and attracted celebrants from throughout the Kittitas Valley. Exhibitions include livestock such as horses, hogs, and chickens. Among the games and entertainments are catching a greased pig and climbing a greased pole.

One of the reasons that the fair came to be was the reunion of Civil War veterans from the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). The Ellensburg chapter of this organization hosted this reunion through the James Parsons Post, Number 11. The original location was near the Ellensburg KOA, often referred to as the "Upper River Bridge." This post would later be renamed the David Ford Post after John Ford Clymer's great-grandfather. This event was not held on official fairgrounds as one did not exist in Kittitas County yet. The Ellensburg Fair had also been at the Woolen Mill.

Ranchers and townsmen worked together to prepare for this event by cleaning the land, creating a racetrack, providing seating with locally grown plants, and similar services.

Many local businesses were able to display their products and services at the fair such as produce, wine, handcrafted items, clothes, paintings, and flowers. The last night of the fair featured a ball in Downtown Ellensburg. In 1923 a permanent fairground site was established. From that year on the Kittitas County Fair was an annual Labor Day weekend event. The Ellensburg Rodeo, held concurrently with the Fair, was organized officially in 1923.

Northern Pacific Railroad, and the Yakima & Kittitas Irrigation

In the 1870s, a group of farmers went to a place called Kennewock and dug the Kennewock Ditch canal below the Union Gap on the Yakima River, a feat they did all by themselves. Despite the small scale of the canal, the farmers were able to grow a large variety of crops and fine orchards. This early success was followed by others planning to make their own success, the Northern Pacific Railroad included. Engineer J.D. McIntyre conducted a survey of the Yakima Valley, with the results of North Yakima being the best place to irrigate and become productive. This was the Sunnyside project. The valley offered reliable snowpack from the Cascade Range, deep soil, and a great amount of sunshine, hence the name of the Sunnyside project.

1889 saw the arrival of canal-building expert Walter N. Granger to evaluate the progress of the Sunnyside project. He's quoted to say that a city should be built on the Yakima River in the future. Seeing the potential, Granger called his team of engineers to get over to Kittitas. This year also saw Granger become the president of the newly established Yakima Canal & Land Company. The Northern Pacific Railroad was so impressed by this group's work, they purchased two-thirds of the stock, renaming the company the Northern Pacific, Yakima & Kittitas Irrigation Company. The company bought out the Kennewock ditch and began expanding on what would become the Sunnyside Dam.

In 1892, 25 miles of the Sunnyside Canal were completed, and the company had a formal ceremony to celebrate it on March 26. Many local supporters from North Yakima and the Cascades came in support of the dam. Paul Schulze, president of the Northern Pacific, Yakima and Kittitas Irrigation Company, came from Tacoma with the president of Tacoma Power & Light and other business leaders. Farmers and orchardists quickly started business along the canal. This was not successful because the Financial Panic of 1893 caused work to halt. Work would later resume and the canal had become a 42-mile structure. During this time, Granger platted Sunnyside and Zillah.

Due to Schulze's financial worries and suicide, the company had to go into receivership. The Washington Irrigation Company purchased the Sunnyside Canal in 1900, and two years later declared the canal was the largest irrigation project of the Northwest. By this time, a large amount of alfalfa, apples, peaches, plums, and prunes were being shipped. Farmers also produced vineyards, maintaining the Yakima Valley's reputation of being a great region to winegrow.

In 1905, the U.S. Reclamation Service (now called the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation) purchased the Sunnyside project, merging with the Sunnyside Division of the Yakima Project. The Sunnyside Dam had been completed in 1907 and by 1919, 32,00 acres of land were available for cultivation and another 32,000 acres for irrigation. As of 2020, the Sunnyside Canal is 60 miles long, with its irrigated lands being the Sunnyside Division of the Yakima Reclamation Reclamation.


A continuously evolving area of agriculture, business, and property, Kittitas is a small but proud farming community, with gorgeous open views and collection of state titles! Tourism for Kittitas lies mainly within their charismatic downtown and at Olmstead State Park. Visitors to the park are invited to stroll through the donated, generational home of the Olmstead family, for a chance to step out of the 21st century for a day. The property has maintained structures to explore, breathtaking landscapes, and heritage gardens that bloom in the spring. The park is also a popular location and subject for artists. Quite often artists are spotted with their easels creating.