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Tri-Cities’ Surprising Role In The Frontier Mining Industry

Courtesy of CHREST

Did you know the mining industry supported the Tri-Cities economy in the 19th century? In school we learn that before the Hanford Project the Tri-Cities was a ranching and agricultural community, but the beef and produce went to mines in Montana and British Columbia. Learn more about the area’s early economy below:


In 1853 the Washington Territory was created Native Americans’ title to the land was extinguished. Up until then the “Inland Empire” was closed by military order to settlement. By the late 1850s, steamboat travel had begun on the Columbia River. Around the same time cattle ranchers began to see the benefits the Columbia Valley had to offer.

The abundance of bunchgrass allowed cattlemen to fatten their herds here over the winter before continuing on to Canada. Well known pioneer Ben Snipes became the biggest cattleman in the Northwest driving as many as 100,000 head of cattle and 20,000 horses through this area on his way to the Cariboo mine in British Columbia where he sold the cattle for 100 times more than he could get for them anywhere else. The route became known as the Cariboo Trail and was two and a half times the length of the famous Chisolm Trail.

New settlements began to spring up along the rivers. A horse driven ferry connected the shores of the Columbia River at the town of White Bluffs, which became an important link in the communication with supplies for the mines in Montana.

It was there that the first post office in the Richland region was established. Located in a private home it was named Julia after the daughter of Edwin and Ida Craig — the first settlers to that area. Mail arrived every three months.

The glory days of White Bluffs were short, however, when an easier route was established through Walla Walla. The town, the sternwheelers and ferry remained.


This article was produced by the Columbia River Exhibition on History, Science & Technology.






95 Lee Boulevard Richland (509) 943-9000


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