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Exploring Frenchtown: A Brief History of a Northwest Settlement

Frenchtown, situated in Walla Walla County, Washington, USA, emerged as a settlement in the 19th century, established by Métis and French Canadian fur traders. Initially dubbed “le village des Canadiens,” it eventually became known as “Frenchtown,” akin to similar settlements like Frenchtown, Montana. Also referred to as “Walla Walla Frenchtown,” this area is now preserved as a historical site managed by the Frenchtown Historical Society.

The settlement’s origins trace back to 1823 when Michel Pellissier and Catherine D’Aubuchan erected the first cabin. Joseph LaRocque and Lizette Walla Walla followed suit in 1824, marking the inception of a community that attracted retired Canadian Métis fur traders and intermarried with local tribes. By 1847, it boasted around fifty Métis families living in log cabins and Indian camps across approximately 50 square miles.

In 1855, amid Indigenous uprisings and mounting pressure from settlers arriving on the Oregon Trail, the US Army declared martial law in the Walla Walla valley, demanding all residents, including Métis, to evacuate immediately. Despite resistance, culminating in the Battle of Frenchtown, the community dispersed, with many families scattering across the Pacific Northwest. Although Americans subsequently claimed the vacated land, some former residents remained, sustaining a French-speaking Catholic community until the 1880s.

Frenchtown WA- Saint Rose Cemetery

The historic Saint Rose Cemetery, originally established in 1853, underwent relocations before settling at the Frenchtown site, serving the French-Canadian community until the early 20th century. As neighboring Walla Walla burgeoned into a significant settlement, Frenchtown transitioned into Lowden in 1915.

Nestled within the rich tapestry of Frenchtown’s history lies the intriguing tale of the “Prince’s cabin.” Believed to be the oldest standing cabin in Washington state, this rustic abode carries the legacy of a Cayuse Indian known as “The Prince.” Constructed circa 1837 near the Whitman Mission by the Hudson’s Bay Company, the cabin was relocated to Frenchtown in a remarkable restoration effort completed in 2016. Its humble walls whisper stories of a bygone era, offering a tangible connection to the region’s vibrant past.

Efforts to preserve Frenchtown’s heritage began with the establishment of the Frenchtown Historical Foundation in 1992. In 2010, a formal re-dedication of the Saint Rose of Lima cemetery took place, and the relocation and restoration of the “Prince’s cabin,” believed to be the oldest standing cabin in Washington state, concluded in 2016. Presently, the Frenchtown Historic Site is overseen by the Frenchtown Historical Foundation of Walla Walla.