The Living History Company at Fort Walla Walla Museum is in its 19th year and is planning another full season for 2017. Organized in 1998 by Walla Walla City Council member Barbara Clark and her husband Dan, the company has grown from about a dozen authentic characters out of 1800s Walla Walla to over fifty. The goal of the company is to bring to life the exhibits at the museum with live presentations every week from April through October, telling visitors dramatic stories about the lives of a variety of Walla Wallans and the issues of their day, and allowing visitors to question the characters about their lives and times.
This year’s schedule continues the company’s tradition of 2 pm presentations every Sunday from April through October, and also on Saturdays from June through August.
Rev. James H. Wilbur was a pioneer Methodist preacher, teacher, and Indian agent. “Father Wilbur,” as he was most often called, will focus on his 22 years of work on the Yakama Indian Reservation at Ft. Simcoe. Originally assigned and hired by the Indian agent to begin a school there, he twice complained in person to President Lincoln about treatment of tribal members by Indian agents and their cronies. During his second visit to Washington, D.C. in 1864, Lincoln appointed him Indian agent, a role he kept for most of the next eighteen years.
Wilbur’s new presentation will reflect on more recent news he has learned from a conversation with a professor of cultural anthropology – a field that did not exist in Wilbur’s time. He has also learned of an official apology written two decades ago by church leaders, which acknowledged damage done by missionaries in destroying tribal cultures.
James Wilbur is portrayed by Chuck Hindman.
In 1853, William Hurst Rockfellow was the wagon master of a wagon train headed to southern Oregon near the present day city of Talent. He came north during the Gold Rush days in eastern Walla Walla County and operated the Rockfellow & Co. Pony Express, which ran between Walla Walla and the Boise Gold Basin in Idaho. While working as a prospector in Oregon, he, his brother Alfred, and three other Jackson County, Oregon friends discovered the famous Rockfellow ledge of gold, now known as the Virtue Mine. He and his partners set up their stamp mill to extract the ore on Powder River, and eventually Baker City grew up around it. Meanwhile, William’s wife operated a boarding house in Walla Walla. One of his daughters, Alice, married Harvey Meacham, who owned the Meacham toll road that ran between Idaho and Oregon and a hotel near the summit of the Blue Mountains between La Grande and Pendleton, Oregon.
William Rockfellow is portrayed by his great grandson, Dick Phillips.
Justice Langford was a highly respected lawyer in his day, with wide legal experience. He was able to practice law in Oregon, Washington Territory, California and elsewhere. He was seen by both his colleagues and the citizenry as honorable, capable, possessing a deep knowledge of the law, and was esteemed in bi-partisan support.
Mrs. Miner, Walla Walla’s first schoolteacher, opened a private school in a store building on Main Street in the winter of 1861-62. She was then given a certificate, and on June 16, 1862 began the first public school classes in Walla Walla. She was described as “a lovely, cultured woman, who had the finest house plants in town.”
Sarah Miner is portrayed by Allison VanOcker.
Fred Stine represents one of Walla Walla's best “rags to riches” stories. He arrived in Walla Walla in 1862 with no more than the clothes on his back and 75 cents in his pocket, but he eventually built the largest brick hotel in the Washington Territory. After Stine’s arrival, he quickly went about earning the trust of local residents who lent him sufficient funds to set up a lucrative blacksmith shop serving the needs of miners making their way to Idaho’s gold fields, pioneers from the Oregon Trail, and the military at Fort Walla Walla. With the fortune he made, Stine not only retired his debts in a few short months but soon amassed enough to construct the Stine House in 1872, the largest brick hotel in the region.
Fred Stine is portrayed by Touchet agribusinessman Charles Saranto.
Suzanne Cayouse Dauphin was born in 1825 in the land of the Cayuse, one of this region’s homeland tribes. In 1840 she married Mathieu Dauphin, a free trapper of St. Louis, Missouri. Mathieu and Suzanne traveled to Fort Hall in Utah Territory (near present day Pocatello, Idaho). The first two of their seven children were born there. Subsequent travels took them to the California gold fields in the Yuba River area and French Prairie on Pudding River near Gervais, in Wasco County, Oregon, before finally homesteading near Frenchtown, a French Metís community located just west of Walla Walla. Their 160 acre donation claim encompassed the present town of Lowden. Mathieu died in 1867 and was buried north of the family home on their land claim. Upon his death, Suzanne became one of the first Indian land title holders in the Northwest. Suzanne died in 1876 and was buried in St. Rose of Lima cemetery at Frenchtown.
Suzanne Cayouse Daupin is portrayed by Judith Fortney.
Pierre Chrysologue Pambrun was born at L’Islet, Quebec on 17 December 1792. He served the Canadian (British) Voltigeurs (Light Calvary) as a Lieutenant in the War of 1812 before joining the Hudson’s Bay Company as a clerk in 1815. In 1816 Pierre was captured by the bois-brûles (Northwest Company employees) at the Seven Oaks Massacre at Red River (Winnipeg, Manitoba). He spent two years in Montreal and London, testifying in court proceedings brought by the Hudson’s Bay Company to recover damages. Pierre first crossed the Rocky Mountains in 1823, to New Caledonia, now British Columbia. Pierre married Catherine Umfreville in 1838 at Fort Vancouver on the lower Columbia River.
Pierre and Catherine met Marcus and Narcissa Whitman in 1836 at Fort Nez Perce and accompanied them down the Columbia to Fort Vancouver. In 1841, while riding along the Walla Walla River to check his gardens and presumably to visit the Whitmans, Pierre was impaled on the saddle horn of his bucking horse at what is now Nine-Mile Ranch. He was attended by Marcus Whitman and died six days later.
Pierre is portrayed by his great, great grandson, Sam Pambrun, local historian, teacher and past president of the Umatilla Historical Society.
Members of the Living History company lead a tour from McCool Cemetery to the Poor House Cemetery to Fort Walla Walla Cemetery.
Perspective is a significant reason behind the study of history and the existence of museums. Knowing what the past gave to the present and how people of the past dealt with problems is critical to making informed decisions about the future. Join our full Living History company as they present “A 19th Century Party! Looking Forward from the Past.” This is the last Living History performance of the season.
Are you interested in sponsoring this program? Contact the Museum to find out how!