Moxee --Thumbnail History

  • By Linda Holden Givens
  • Posted 5/30/2020
  • Essay 21050

The City of Moxee lies east of the Yakima River in Yakima County between Rattle Snake and Yakima mountains. Long part of the Yakama Tribe's homeland, the Moxee area was temporarily the site of a Catholic mission to the Yakamas. Permanent non-Native settlement began in the 1860s, and Moxee was founded in 1867. The Northern Pacific Railway's arrival in the Yakima Valley promoted Moxee's growth, as did the construction of irrigation ditches, including the Selah-Moxee Canal, that carried water from the Yakima River to irrigate acres of land. Moxee, which incorporated in 1921, became the hops capital of the world before 1930. The annual Moxee Hop Festival continues to celebrate the crop, which Moxee shares with the Yakama Indian Reservation and the lower Yakima Valley.

Chief Kamiakin and the Missionaries

Catholic Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate were the first non-Natives to settle in the Yakima Valley in South Central Washington. In 1847, Oblate missionaries visited the Yakama Indians at the request of Chief Kamiakin (1800-1877). In 1848, Oblates Charles Marie Pandosy (1821-1892) and Eugene Casimir Chirouse (1824-1891) built a cabin not far from Kamiakin's Yakama village. In 1849, Pandosy had a temporary mission during the winter in the Moxee area, but his life was threatened by the son of another Yakama chief, Owhi, so Owhi took Pandosy to Ahtanum Creek, west across the Yakima River from Moxee.

In 1852, Kamiakin allowed the Oblates to open a chapel called St. Joseph Mission at Kamiakin's summer camp on the Ahtanum. The missionaries baptized an estimated 400 people at the chapel, including Kamiakin's children. The missionaries assisted Kamiakin in digging irrigation ditches. One, known as "Kamiakin's Ditch," was 1,300 feet long and watered a large garden where potatoes, squash, corn, and wheat were grown. This could have been the first irrigation ditch in the region and an inspiration for early non-Native settlers.

New Settlers Arrive

In the years after the Yakama Indian War of 1855-1858, non-Native settlers began moving into the Yakima Valley. Among the first were Fielden Mortimer Thorp (1822-1893), Margaret Bounds Thorp (1822-1888), and their family. Originally from Missouri, they decided to pull up stakes and ventured into Polk County, Oregon in 1844. In 1858, they moved on to the Klickitat Valley in Washington.

True to form, in 1860 the frontiersman Thorp decided to move yet again, taking a herd of more than 250 Durham cattle and 60 horses into the Moxee Valley. This time most of the family stayed temporarily behind. He hired Benjamin Snelling, John Zumwalt, and A. C. Myers, and brought two of his sons to assist.

Thorp built a two-story cottonwood cabin for his cattle herders with a dirt roof and floor, with a fireplace in the corner serving as a stove. The cabin had few furnishings. He included a small garden. Four months later on February 15, 1861, after he was established, the rest of the family moved from Klickitat to Moxee. The Thorp homestead was located near the bluff, across the Yakima River from the mouth of Ahtanum Creek. Thorp cared for the cattle with his sons and Charles Amenus Splawn (1831-1908). The unwatered land was covered with sagebrush and bunchgrass four to six feet tall. It was good for grazing cattle and horses. The family first lived in the log cabin until another cabin was built, 25 by 16 feet with a dirt roof and a puncheon floor made of logs hewn flat on one side and placed on sills.

The Thorps were briefly the only non-Native settlers in the area but, before they could enjoy the new home and solitude, word about Moxee spread quickly. Within a few weeks, additional new settlers began arriving. Settlers' wagons followed an Indian trail known as Konnewock (also spelled Konnowak or Konnowac) Pass into the Moxee Valley, marking the beginning of its settlement. The first to arrive, a few weeks after the Thorps, were Alfred (1822-1880) and Martha Bounds Henson (1824-1896) and their five children.

More soon arrived, including four of Charles Splawn's brothers, along with Levi Armsworthy (1829-1914), Andrew C. Gervais (1835-1910), and John Jeffrey. Albert C. and Letitia Flett Haines and their daughter also settled nearby. These families were considered the first permanent settlers who became identified with the history in Moxee.

In the fall of 1861, Charles Splawn married the Thorps' oldest daughter, Dulcena Thorp (1844-1871). Following her death, in 1873 Charles would marry her sister Melissa.

The first school established in the Moxee was on the second floor of the Thorp home. In 1862, Letitia Haines became Moxee's first schoolteacher. In 1864, a one-room schoolhouse was built one mile south. Haines taught five Thorp children, her daughter, and other students until 1882.

During the winter of 1861-1862, the settlers' cattle herds were threatened by severe snow that piled up to 18 inches, with snow and ice nearly keeping them from grazing. Despite the harsh first winter, by spring of most of the cattle and horses were in good condition and able to graze. A total of seven cattle, but no horses, were lost.

In 1864 Dr. L. H. Goodwin and his nephew Thomas Goodwin were among new families settling in Moxee. On January 21, 1865, the Washington Territorial Legislature established Yakima County. That same year, John McAllister, moved to Moxee, and the next year saw a slow but steady movement of French Canadian immigrants into the settlement, most of them Roman Catholic. Settlers of Dutch heritage, most from the Midwest, also began settling in the Moxee.

In 1866 the first court hearing in Moxee was held at the Thorp house. The first case was Alfred Henson versus John McAllister, alleging McAllister had threatened Henson's life. It had gotten so bad that Henson had to stay in the Thorp home under protection until McAllister calmed down and gave the required bond.

The new settlement took the name Moxee in 1867. A large warm spring on the Thorp property was called "Moxee" (a word meaning "edible root") by the local Yakama people, and the new settlers adopted the name for the area. Egbert (1830-1884) and Angeline Honney Tawall French (1838-1863) opened and operated the first store in Moxee.

Growth and Changing Times

In late 1868, Charles Splawn made the first attempt getting a post office in the area. At the time mail for Moxee settlers was left at the home of Leonard Thorp (1846-1826) on Taneum Creek in Kittitas County. Leonard Thorp, son of original Moxee settlers Mortimer and Margaret Thorp, was appointed postmaster in Moxee on May 2, 1870. Mailboxes were put up in various locations for weekly delivery. On March 23, 1871, George William Goodwin (1846-1890) was appointed postmaster in Moxee. Many residents over the years would serve as postmaster.

Settlement in the Moxee continued rapidly, but in 1869 Mortimer Thorp made the unexpected decision to move to Taneum Creek in the upper Kittitas, near the present town of Thorp. The first new settler in what became Moxee, Thorp had built a strong relationship with Native Americans and subsequent settlers around Moxee, but then he left and lived out the remainder of his life in the Kittitas Valley.

Charles Carpenter came to the Yakima Valley around 1870. He introduced hops at his homestead in Ahtanum, about 15 miles west of Moxee on the far side of the Yakima River. His father grew hops, used in beer-brewing, at a farm in Constable, New York, and Carpenter used rootstock from his father's farm to produce small hop crops. Little did he know he was unleashing what would become the largest hop-producing area in the world.

While the earliest settlers concentrated on raising stock, increasing experiments were made in growing crops, initially confined, in that very dry country, to areas near streams. The first efforts to divert water for irrigation were mostly for maintaining gardens and small orchards. There were increasing attempts to grow fruit trees. Alfred Henson planted an orchard that took nine years to begin to bear fruit. Thomas Goodwin planted 150 fruit trees on his homestead, and many of the Dutch settlers established orchards.

In 1883, construction began on the Northern Pacific Railway line through Yakima County. In December 1884, the Northern Pacific reached and bypassed the existing Yakima City and built a station and new station where North Yakima (now Yakima) soon grew up.

In 1885, the new rail line brought more French Canadian and Dutch immigrants to the Moxee, transporting many of them from northern Minnesota. As more people moved into the Moxee Valley, those who could afford to buy larger tracts of land from the railroad arrived first. They formed a nucleus, stuck together, shared fellowship, intermarried, and took on new arrivals.

Moxee Plantation

In 1886, Gardiner Green Hubbard (1822-1897), a founder of the National Geographic Society and father-in-law of inventor Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), established the Moxee Company with other members of the interrelated Hubbard and Bell families. Also known as the Moxee Farm and Moxee Plantation, the company was an experimental farm.

It took out sagebrush and bunchgrass and attempted to put the land into agricultural production. The plantation's 6,400 acres were divided between irrigated land in the valley itself and rangeland on the upper slopes. To test the viability of irrigated crops, the Moxee Company built canals and ditches, some still in use in the twenty-first century, bringing water to dry but fertile land. The company raised cattle and hogs and grew crops including tobacco, barley, wheat, oats, cotton, corn, fruit, alfalfa, and hops.

The company owned most of the land in the vicinity. Little by little the land of the Moxee Company was bought up and homesteaded. Stockholders dissolved the corporation in 1955.

Irrigation Ditches and Agriculture

The Northern Pacific's arrival marked the beginning of major agricultural production in the Yakima Valley, including Moxee. Much of the arid land (normal annual rainfall of only 9.33 inches) was still covered in native sagebrush and bunchgrass, but as irrigation water became increasingly available the area proved excellent for farming, with good soils and mild sunny weather. The desert-like climate offered an average of 300 days of sunshine per year. Average temperature in the winter was 37 degrees, 63 degrees in spring, and 64 in fall.

As land was first cultivated, farmers used "rill irrigation," a method today considered to be inefficient and a cause of soil erosion. Water for irrigation came from the Yakima, Naches, and Tieton rivers, and smaller streams that originated in the Kittitas Valley.

In 1884, the Union Gap Canal (or Fowler Ditch), the first of an eventual four irrigation ditches, or canals, carrying water to Moxee, was completed. It was followed by the Moxee Canal in 1888, Hubbard Canal in 1889, and the Selah-Moxee Canal in 1901, all of which continue providing water to the area in the twenty-first century. The elevation of the Moxee area was around 1,000 feet above sea level. The diversions for the canals were at 1,058 feet. With the small drop in elevation, canal waters moved slowly. But by the 1880s, even before all the ditches were completed, some grapevines had been planted in the Moxee. Other crops also benefited, with some of the best hops and alfalfa fields watered by the Moxee and Hubbard canals. The Selah-Moxee Irrigation District was established in 1905.

In 1890, the first artesian well was drilled at Mud Springs, four miles east of Moxee. By 1903, more than 30 wells were operating in the Moxee Valley's artesian well basin, an area of no more than six square miles.

As irrigation expanded and settlers purchased land to begin farming, the cattle ranching that had been a mainstay in the early days moved on to other places. When Moxee Valley became a farming settlement, hops were one of the main cash crops. Hops did well there in both quantity and quality. Fruit orchards were also common.

Hops are a perennial crop, growing back year after year after harvesting. This helped reduce the cost of production as replanting was not required. However, labor was required to trim, train, and pick hops, making them costly and labor intensive. Hops were grown on poles, but when trellis systems were introduced it became fashionable to twine.

After harvesting was over and crops had been distributed, from October to January farmers planned for the next year. Hop leaves and vines were plowed back into the soil, trees were pulled, replaced or planted, and contracts negotiated and approved. Planning continued through February, and livestock was cared for. From March to May, weather was unpredictable, but the soil ready for planting. Sugar beets did well and orchards were grafted. In May, hops were watered and then training hops began as soon as the hop vines were long enough.

From June to August, egg production from hens was at its peak. Hay was cut and stacked. Preparing a field for watering was extremely time consuming. August to October were the busiest months of the year for farmers. That was harvest time and everything had to be ready. Every family member, hired hands, local migrant pickers, and more all had to get the job done before the cold weather came.

Getting ready for a hop harvest was an event in itself. Farmers prepared for pickers before they arrived. Hop picking involved various types of pickers, temporary campgrounds, and a special period of social gathering. Most pickers worked ten or more hours a day. These activities made the hops culture fun for both adults and children. Harvesting hops brought family and community together. Things moved at a much slower pace than today. Horses were used until the mid-twentieth century when tractors became common. Trucks and cars were not prominent. As hop harvesting ended, school started, life slowed down, and preparation for the next year's crops started once again.

Moxee City

In 1905, John Wayenberg (1863-1917) was the first person in the area to get a telephone, a crank type that hung on the wall. The Moxee Telephone Company (later Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company) was formed and lines were extended to the rest of the valley. As Moxee's population grew, businesses increased. Arthur Champoux and Frank Albert Champoux operated a general-merchandise store.

On July 17, 1909, construction began on a 12-mile branch of the Northern Pacific Railway to bring freight and passenger service from North Yakima to Moxee. Work was completed the following year. Trains ran twice a day and schedules were flexible -- if a trainman knew a passenger was to make a trip from Moxee to North Yakima, the train could be held up until that person arrived. In December 1910 a wooden train depot was constructed, 30 by 60 feet and painted red. Half the depot served as a waiting room, with the other half used for freight and as a post office.

Brothers Phil and Joe Ditter platted land for a new townsite near the railroad depot on 40 acres Phil Ditter purchased from Leon Charron Sr. This was the birth of Moxee City. After much discussion with residents and the trustees of the church, Catholic parishioners moved their church to the new site, signaling to others they could change their residence. The first business to move into the new townsite was the Champoux & Bro. General Merchandise Store, followed by Paul LaFramboise's blacksmith shop. New buildings sprang up throughout the city, including a community center and drug store, a shoe shop, hotel, tavern, and two lumber companies.

In 1911, electric power lines first reached Moxee; by the 1930s, 13 percent of farms in the area would have electricity. In 1912, the Moxee drainage system was completed. The system lowered the water table, gave plant roots more growing space, and prevented alkali from rising to the surface.

During U.S. involvement in World War I (1917-1918) many young men went off to fight, leaving a shortage of farm labor. Overlapping the war was the 1918-1919 epidemic of what was generally called Spanish Flu, which brought problems to Moxee with a quarantine that lasted up to six weeks. Sources indicate no one in the community was lost to the flu but it did take its toll.

In order for Moxee City to progress, funds were needed, and incorporating as a town allowed tax revenue to be raised and spent locally. On April 27, 1921, the Town of Moxee City was incorporated. Arthur J. Toupin (1891-1953) was elected mayor and city council members were elected.

Toupin had managed a store in Crookston, Minnesota, after serving in World War I. In 1920 he came to Moxee to visit relatives. He purchased the O'Laughlin Hardware Store in February and returned on March 1 with his mother and two sisters. He would later purchase an insurance business and hop supply lines from James O'Laughlin.

Hops Capital of the World

By 1930, the Moxee area became known as the hops capital of the world, a distinction that continued into the twenty-first century with the Yakima Valley producing most of the nation's hops, an estimated 77 percent of the total harvest. Production expanded dramatically from the 1870s when Charles Carpenter started raising hops with some rootstock from his father's hop farm. Six generations later, in 2020 the Carpenter family would still own the farm and still grow hops in the valley. Many other families also operated hops farms over the years, including the Perraults, Smiths, Colemans, Brulottes, Sauves, Van Horns, Housers, Davidsons, Weathers, and Gasselings.

The Loftus family moved to Moxee in 1920 to work on the railroad and began farming a variety of crops and livestock. Twelve years later, B. T. and Leota Loftus established a five acre hop farm. A century after the family arrived, the Loftus Ranch was one of the largest growers of hops in the area.

The Great Depression of the 1930s impacted Moxee and its hop farmers as it did people everywhere around the world. By 1931, the Moxee State Bank closed its doors to its creditors due to the financial panic. Alcohol prohibition also hurt the hop market and prices were hitting rock-bottom. Hops were rejected, contracts broken, two years of unsold crops stacked up. Money was not available.

Still, those living on the farm were not impacted as most in the cities. They were already growing much of what they needed. Money was in short supply but trading was something everyone could do.

Hops production took off again after Prohibition ended in 1933, and the subsequent mobilization for World War II helped end the Depression. The 1940s brought a new phase of agriculture to the Moxee community, as local farming moved to mechanized equipment. In the spring of 1941, Wilfred E. Rivard (1891-1970) began installing a stationary hop-picking machine. This invention could do the work of 50 men to harvest a crop in less time, with only nine people needed to work the machine. After World War II ended in 1945, more and more people were able to afford these conveniences. Hop camps started to disappear with the new mechanized methods, with fewer people needed to harvest the hops.

Hops remained important and the Moxee Hop Festival was formed by a men's business group, with the first festival held in August 1947. Initially, a fundraiser for the community, the festival became an annual celebration of harvesting hops.

Moxee Valley Today

During parking-lot construction near Moxee, a large tusk was discovered in May 2001. It was identified as having come from a Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi). Scientists believe the mammoth did not die in Moxee, but died elsewhere and was washed into the valley.

Hops happen to be in the same family of plants as marijuana. In 2014, following voters' legalization of marijuana in Washington, Moxee allowed marijuana growers and processors to set up shop in town.

As of 2019, the population of Moxee was estimated at 3,812. Every year, the Moxee Hop Festival begins in August to celebrate hop traditions before the harvest begins. The festival includes a parade, music, and lots of family activities.


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