This information is provided courtesy of Diane G. Nebel, Commission Member of the Rosalia Planning and Historical Commission. Additional information was taken from
A History of the Rosalia Area
Though the town of Rosalia didn’t exist until 1872, this area of Whitman County has a long history. In 1858 about a quarter mile north of present-day Rosalia, Colonel Edward J. Steptoe and his troops clashed with several Native American tribes.
Many contradictory accounts have been made about this battle. Native American accounts indicate 200 Coeur D’Alenes, 175 Yakimas, 150 Spokanes, and five Palouses fought in the battle. Colonel Steptoe’s report suggests 600-1000 members of the Spokane, Yakima, Palouse, Cayuse, and Coeur D’Alene tribes were involved in the fighting.
It is widely accepted that on May 6, 1858, Colonel Steptoe left Fort Walla Walla to reach Fort Colville. Accompanying him were the C, E, and H companies of the 1st Dragoons and the E company of the Ninth Infantry, along with five company officers, 152 enlisted men, and several Nez Perce scouts.
Halfway to their destination, Steptoe and his troops realized their route took them into Coeur D’Alene tribal lands—an action in direct conflict of the Indian Treaty of 1855. On May 16, 1858 the tribes and military met and a battle ensued, lasting until the afternoon of the 17th.
How Colonel Steptoe and his troops escaped is a matter of debate. One version has the army successfully escaping by their own means. The Native American accounts report that the tribes under Chief Vincent of the Coeur D’Alenes allowed Steptoe to escape. Another report has Chief Vincent sending a note informing Steptoe of a safe passage for a late night escape. The chief then ordered dancing and drumming to mask the sounds of the retreating soldiers.
Colonel Steptoe lost five soldiers, two officers, three Nez Perce scouts and about thirty dead horses and mules. Although the Native Americans lost nine to fifty warriors, this battle was declared one of the last Native American victories in Washington Territory.
The town of Rosalia appeared as a result of the 1871 Indian Appropriations Act which moved the tribes onto reservations as wards of the federal government and opened Eastern Washington to the many settlers streaming in from the East. One year later in 1872, the town of Rosalia was established just a quarter mile north of the battle site. The first settlers were two men, Mr. Daily and Mike Miller.
Soon after Daily and Miller arrived, the Donahoe brothers, Tom and William, took up homesteads about one mile southeast of the Steptoe Battlefield. The story goes that these brothers were on their way to the mines in Kellogg, Idaho and met John and Rosalia Favorite. They decided to contact someone in Washington D.C. and ask permission to start a town. Permission was granted and the town was named in honor of John’s wife Rosalia.
Homesteaders arrived by wagon train on the Old Territorial Road that still passes through town. Supplies for the early settlers were purchased from Walla Walla, a ten-day trip from Rosalia. The U.S. Post Office, started by John Favorite in 1872 and still operating today, was the focal point of mail delivery in the area and pony express was the delivery method. The usual carrier was Glid Holbrook who, while traversing his mail route, rode his pony far enough to travel the world twice.
Another early settler was Mumm who arrived from Germany in 1880, bought a homestead to farm in Rosalia. Eventually his farm became a showplace; he planted two large groves of trees comprising of forty varieties that he nurtured and shared with others. Many of the old trees in Rosalia today came from Mumm’s nursery stock. In fact, Mumm’s the word for the legal description for many homes and businesses in Rosalia, identifying property under the name of "Mumm’s Addition."
As time went on, railroads played a significant role in historical settlement of the Inland Empire. Three to four different railroads served the northern communities of Whitman County. Beginning in the summer of 1886, the Palouse branch of the Northern Pacific Railroad reached Rosalia and built the first grain warehouse in town.
During the 1880s Rosalia became a thriving community of 800-900 several years before Washington State joined the Union in 1889. Several business founded during these years still exist today. The Christian Church founded in 1887, and the Riggs Pioneer Cemetery was founded in 1878.
Besides its small-town atmosphere, Rosalia still celebrates its territorial history by having an Annual Battle Days Celebration in recognition of the Steptoe Battle. Another interesting fact about the area is that the Palouse Region geology uniqueness is the best kept secret in the world. (i.e. Steptoe Butte rises 3300 feet above rolling hills of grain were soils run 100 to 200 feet deep )
Territorial Towns and Settlements
Pine City—established in 1878 by Mr. Z.T. Dodson. In 1879 the first post office was built.
Rosalia—established in 1872 and named in honor of the first postmaster's wife Rosalia Favorite.
Steptoe—established when the new post office was built in 1875.
Thornton—established and platted in 1889 by Patrick Sheahan.
The Donahoe Family Diary--Pioneering Family of the Palouse By Leo Donahoe, 1887 – 1983
The following are summarized excerpts taken from the diary of Leo Donahoe, son of William J. Donahoe. William and his brother, Tom Donahoe, were significant in the establishment of Rosalia, Washington in 1872. These two brothers also discovered remains of a mammoth that since 1920 is still on display at the famous Fields Museum in Chicago. Leo Donahoe published his diary around 1979 at the age of 92. The family gave a copy to the Battle Days Museum for the citizens of Rosalia.
The Donahoe family originated in Ireland. Leo’s great-grandfather, James Fitzgerald was born in 1762, married and sailed to Quebec, Canada on May 17, 1820. They had four sons and four daughters: Walter, Patrick, Michael, Thomas, Ann, Mary, Marcella and Bridget. Leo’s grandmother Bridget Fitzgerald married Moses O’Donahoe in Frampton, Quebec. They had six boys, Jim, Pat, Mike, William, Tom and Walter, and two girls, Bridget and Colleen.
Leo's dad William was born in Frampton in 1840. He boarded a sailing ship in New York bound for San Francisco in 1860 and found a job at a sawmill in San Jose. In 1869 William and his brother, Tom, bought two saddle horses, two pack horses, two Winchester rifles and two revolvers and headed north for Washington Territory. At Portland, Oregon they took a ferry up the Columbia River to The Dalles. Once on land they traveled east to Walla Walla where they found a place with a large spring and a creek in 1870, about 100 miles north (Rosalia area). About one-fourth of a mile north of the spring there was one lone pine on the edge of the creek; they promptly named the creek Pine Creek.
On Pine Creek they lived in a tent until they built a log cabin from logs hauled from neighboring Pine City. With no nails, they bored holes in the logs and used wooden pegs. They built a rock fireplace using clay by mixing dirt and bunch grass. A sleeping loft above the dirt floor was built out of timber poles and canvas grass. Their cabin was far better than most of the sod homes in the area.
There were no single women in those days in the area, just married women. It was lucky for William that Samuel Gage’s family moved into the area from Independence, Missouri. They had a daughter, named Martha whom William married in 1876.
Ties Between the Donahoe and Gage Families
Traveling west on the Oregon Trail was quite the experience for the Gage Family. They started west from Independence, Missouri in 1856 with a long train of ox teams. Some days they would make eight miles a day. They had to form circles and let the oxen eat bunch grass. The circles were formed to protect them from the Indians but sometimes the soldiers would protect them. Leo’s grandma said when the buffalo were moving north or south, you could see them for miles.
During an Indian attack on the wagon train, Martha Gage witnessed the Indians kill her brother. They scalped him and shot him full of arrows. He was buried along the trail. Many people on the wagon train became sick and died, young and old alike. In addition to all the hardships, there were no doctors or medicine. The wagon train they were on was long and the trail boss handled everything. He married and buried people along the way. He told them when to stop and start every day.
The Gages ended their journey in Salem, Oregon. Leo’s mother Martha, while talking about her life in Salem, remembers one tribe of Indians burying their dead in a tree and killing the horses around the tree. This was done so they would be together in the happy hunting ground. Later on the Nez Perce would come by their cabin wearing war paint, grinding their teeth and rubbing their stomachs. This was the signal for the pioneers to feed them. In 1872 the Gage family moved to Rosalia and eventually Martha Gage married into the Donahoe family.
The Mammoth Find
In 1876 William and Tom Donahue dug a long ditch to drain water out of the spring. Upon digging they found a lot of big bones. They laid them aside but kept on digging up bigger bones. They finally found the head with huge tusks. What they discovered was a Mastodon. The news spread far and fast. Subsequently, a man came on the stage from San Francisco, California after hearing about the find and bought the bones for $1,000. The man then hauled it back to San Francisco. In 1920, the bones were purchased from the Fields Museum in Chicago, Illinois, where the mastodon exhibit can still be seen today.
At the same time William and Tom were digging up the mastodon, the Nez Perce Indians were on the warpath. William and his wife Martha headed to Walla Walla on horseback. After leaving Martha in a safe place, he headed back to the ranch. When he returned home, Tom told him the horses were stolen. William and a cowhand got their guns and rode south to the Snake River looking for the wrestlers. There along the Snake River they ran into four Cayuse ponies, unawares that Indians were hiding in the trees nearby. After a fruitless search in the area for the wrestlers, the William and the cowhand returned to the ranch.
Plowing Up History!
One year as the Donahoes were plowing their land near where the Steptoe Battlefield site, they plowed up a cannon ball and some old guns, most of which had deteriorated. That’s not all that was plowed up. In 1890 to 1900 there were hills covered with flowers and millions of prairie chickens; however when the farmers plowed up the flowers, they destroyed bird nests. There were thousands of other birds like blackbirds, bob-whites, quails and lots of squirrels. There were also many mink, muskrats and fish until the Smith brothers put in a dam at Pine City. After all the plowing, Leo wrote: "Now there is nothing but wheat."
In 1896 Rosalia began growing by leaps and bounds but the town still looked as it did during the territorial days. The streets were muddy in the spring and lined with hitching posts to tie horses. There were two livery stables, two saloons, lodges, churches, a bank, a post office and stores. For a long time Rosalia had no plumbing. Each home had well access and an outhouse. Mischievous boys had an annual practice of tipping over outhouses during Halloween.
The Seattle Adventure
In 1905 at the age of 18, Leo left for Seattle to look for work. Seattle had cable cars that went down to the docks. Down at the docks, Leo saw all types of sailing vessels from foreign countries, like China and Japan. Leo wrote, “ I saw a cop and asked him how he could become a cop.” The cop quickly warned Leo, “It is a very dangerous job. Do you want to die young? The death rate is high in Seattle. Stay away from the docks or you will get shanghaied."
Needless to say, Leo left for Portland and worked on a freighter boat heading east up the Columbia River. When the boat docked at The Dalles, the crew was amazed at the site of hundreds of Indians fishing for salmon; there was a steady flow of salmon. The Indian men would stand on a big rock or log with a spar and some with nets. The spears had a small sharp piece on the end of the long spear with a piece of buckskin string made out of deer hide fastened to the pole. When they speared the salmon, it would turn sideways and secure the fish. Then the Indian women cleaned the fish in the river and hanged them on long poles to dry in the sun. Leo wrote, “They treated me real nice. I was the only white person there. We had a nice meal on salmon and ate with our fingers. The babies were on a board on their mothers’ backs. The men wore their hair in long braids with a long buckskin braided along with their hair. The little kids didn’t wear anything. The women wore long dresses adorned with beads and shells."
Moving back to the Ranch
Leo hopped a train to Pasco the next day. Finally he ended back at the Donahoe ranch in September 1906. In 1909 Leo married Mary Ellen Merriman and moved on a farm that Leo bought in Lind, Washington. In 1910, Halley’s Comet visited the skies. Leo wrote, “It looked like a huge ball of fire. It showed up in the northern skies. It had a long tail of fire and must have been miles long. The paper said lots of people thought it was the end of the world. Some committed suicide."
In 1914 Leo and Mary sold the Lind place and moved back to the Donahoe ranch. Leo worked for his Uncle Tom Donahoe and recalled stories about the Indians living around them during those years. The Donahoe’s family farmed Indian land for about twenty years and saw them quite often. The reservation was only twenty miles east of the Donahue’s ranch. They camped on the ranch because of the large spring. The Indians said “ we have used it for hundreds of years."
By 1900 the country was all settled and barb-wired. The railroad had cut through the Palouse. At that time the Union Pacific Railroad cut through the reservation to Plummer, Idaho. One night the train operator at the depot called Leo to tell him the switch engine just ran over an Indian and cut him in two; they wanted Leo to identify the body. Leo knew him as John Westokin, since Leo farmed his land. John Westokin was the sixth Indian Leo had identified.
Leo attended the funeral for John at DeSmet Mission in DeSmet, Idaho. He was in a coffin in the entrance to the church. As the Indians walked by they would shake hands and say, with tears in their eyes, in their own language, “We will see you in the happy hunting ground.” The priest gave a beautiful sermon. He spoke on how whiskey and moonshine was killing all the young Indian men. The singing was wonderful. They had their own people to sing and play the organ. At the grave, each one threw a handful of dirt in the grave. Then they sang the "death song."
World War I and the Twenties
Another year went by and it was 1916 with lots of snow. News came that the war was on. Leo signed for the army but they put him in class four. They told him to stay home and raise food for the army and care for the family — many U. S. boys never came home again. In 1921 Leo sold his horses and farm machinery. He paid the auctioneer and bank clerk and left the farming business. Leo lived in Tekoa, Washington, loading sack wheat in boxcars. He remembered Tekoa’s first moving picture show at the old Empire Theater. The picture was awfully jumpy. No sound, they had printed on the screen the actors’ dialogue and the little kids would ask mom what the people were saying.
Working for the Railroad
Leo's next job was in the roundhouse firing up the railroad engines. The roundhouse was small. It held six engines but they parked the extra ones outside. They had three shifts – a day shift, a four to 12 am shift and a 12 am to 8 am shift. Being the youngest on the crew, Leo had to call the engineer and firemen, also fire up the engines. First he threw in a lot of slab wood (four feet long) and hooked up a steam pipe. Then, with steam from the stationary engine, the fire started. Then they piled the coal and soon had the engine steamed up. “It is an easy job because I was use to handling 140 pound sacks of wheat," wrote Leo.
Working at the Logging Camp
In 1922 Leo took a job working at the logging camp at Marble Creek at St Maries, Idaho. There were three hundred men in the camp, so it was like a small town. They had long log houses made of cedar logs with a long dining room with six cooks and many of waiters. Everything was hauled by mules which meant one man on a horse and six mules. During the time Leo worked at the logging camp there was a big fire that summer. Though it burned thousands of acres, the fire left trees standing tall and stately. After three months at the logging camp, Leo returned home and that’s when he had to promise never to leave again; so Leo went back to work for the railroad.
The Great Depression
The depression of 1930’s hit everyone. The railroad laid off hundreds of workers, including Leo. The farmers were hit especially hard. The government gave the farmer a rebate on gas but people started stealing gas from the farmers. Everything turned out okay, but the expenses were high. In 1940 the crops were good but prices were quite low.
World War II and the Forties
World War II came along and Leo’s sons, Robert and Bill, were talking about joining the army. In 1942 Leo Donahue, his wife Mary and his family of seven boys and four girls moved to Spokane. Leo once again went to work for the railroad but ended up as a carpenter. In the 1960s he was hired as a carpenter to help build a missile silo at Deep Creek. Leo finally retired at the age of 80. At the age of 91 in 1979 he wrote this in his diary, <“I will tell you how to live to be 100. Whoop it up till you are 99 and then be very, very careful.”> His wife died in 1975 and Leo at the age of 96.
Leo Donahue’s diary ends with the following:
"Well, I will bring my life story to a close. I batch and live alone. I was born August 25, 1887 before Washington became a state in 1889. I saw all the new buildings go up since it started. All the old timers are gone. It took ten years and the country was all wheat. It was a great country, full of flowers and prairie chickens. I can’t write anymore. I hurt my hand. The story is finished. I could tell more." Leo Donahue, 1979
The Emilene Whitman Story
The story of Emilene Trimble Whitman (an early settler and subsequent owner of Whitman’s Stage Line in Rosalia as verified by old ledgers in the museum collection) is equal to that of the Donner Party’s Sierra Nevada Tragedy.
Emilene and the Trimble family crossed the plains from Wisconsin to Washington Territory in the early 1800’s. Emilene, a girl of 13 or 14 when the family began their journey with a few belated emigrant wagons, gives this graphic description of the hardships endured by those who made this country a place that future generations could live in peace and plenty. Her account is as follows:
On account of the wagons being too late to start with the regular wagon train, there were no soldiers to accompany them. But they started bravely on, hoping to overtake the others or meet soldiers who would go with them. This they failed to do; however, they continued their journey. But met misfortune when they were attacked by Indians who killed all but two of the men and took their wagons, stock and provisions. Emily Trimble took her baby sister, who was too young to walk, and three or four other children and fled into the wilderness along the Snake River. Later they met others of the party (also refugees) and went on. They lived on roots and buds and occasionally a little meat. Worn and weary they made camp and resigned themselves to death by starvation, fearing that those who had tried to make their way to Fort Walla Walla had failed. It wasn’t long before weaker ones succumbed to the inevitable. The survivors, who were by this time barefoot, nearly naked and faced with the pangs of hunger, resorted to eating the dead. Later soldiers found and rescued the few who survived and took them to Fort Walla Walla.” Mrs. Emily Trimble Whitman Fuller Calhoun
Emily stayed with a lieutenant’s family until her cousin arrived to take her home to Oregon. Her family of twelve that started across the plains from Wisconsin was all gone except for her. In 1863 she married John M. Whitman, and they moved from Oregon to Rosalia in 1872 where she and her husband ran the Whitman Stage. In 1887 Mr. Whitman was killed when he rode out on a handcar to meet the first Northern Pacific Train. After his death, Emily returned to Wisconsin and married a man by the name of Fuller but divorced him four years later. In 1900 she returned to Rosalia and married A. J. Calhoun. After his death she made a final trip back to Wisconsin and never returned to Rosalia. Rosalia – Battlefield to Wheatfield published in 1988 by Edith E. Erickson
The Donahoe Dig
One of the interesting stories told by Tom Donahoe was the discovery made by William and him in 1876. It was recorded many years later in a newspaper called the Whitman County Farmer. The young men heard of a discovery on Hangman Creek in a spring so they decided to probe in their own spring with probing hooks made from twenty foot poles with iron hooks bolted to the ends. Down through the mud and sand they sent the hooks and poked around in the bottom of the spring. At last one of the hooks stuck fast. Tom and William pulled but it was in vain. The object would not budge; neither would the hooks come loose.
The eager young Irishmen were excited and determined to raise the weighty object at the bottom of the spring. For the next two days the brothers worked at freeing the object. They devised an efficient set of levers and at last, exerting all their weight, they brought the object to the surface. Two great tusks emerged, followed by an enormous bony structure. Finally, resting on the bank before them lay the remains of a mammoth.
"We never did find all of it,” Donahue remarked a bit ruefully. “We thought we’d find it all and make a fortune from it. What a beast that must have been! The skull itself weighed 800 pounds and the backbone joints were a foot across. The leg bones were nearly 10 feet long."
About the time they fished out most of the bones, a fellow, heading for Montana with a herd of sheep, came along. When he saw those bones, the fella just went wild. He wanted to trade the sheep, all 700 of them, for a third interest in the bones. However the sheepherder needed to check with his partner before making a decision.
Time went on with no word from the sheepherder. Mr. Donahoe took all the bones in a wagon and went to the Walla Walla County Fair, where he made arrangements to have the mammoth bones on exhibit. He had a special booth and hired a bally-hoer. Everybody came from far and wide to see the exhibit. There had been a big story about the mammoth in the Portland Oregonian and folks were curious. After the fair, the Donahoe Brothers only made $123.00, hardly the fortune they expected. When another fellow came along and wanted the bones, the brothers quickly sold.
Later it was reported this man took them to San Francisco to start a museum. As luck would have it, the man went broke and the bones were confiscated in order to pay his hotel bill. The bones were subsequently shipped east to the Fields Museum in Chicago where you can still see Donahoe’s Mammoth.” Rosalia – Battlefield to Wheatfield published in 1988 by Edith E. Erickson