It Happened Here: Catholic Mission Established in Yakima Valley in 1852

Oblate History in the U.S.

By Donald W. Meyers, Originally Published at

This 1923 photo depicts a reunion at the St. Joseph Mission at Ahtanum. The mission was first established in 1852 in what is now West Valley. (Diocese of Yakima courtesy photo)

YAKIMA, Wash. — In 1847, a group of Frenchmen came into the Yakima Valley.

But unlike the other Europeans before them, these folks weren’t interested in animal pelts. Their intention was to save souls.

They had come at the request of Chief Owhi, who promised them protection in return for teaching members of tribes that would later form the Yakama Nation.

The Revs. George Blanchet, Charles Pandosy and Casimir Chirouse were members of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and are considered among the first non-Indians to live in the valley. In 1852, at the request of Owhi’s nephew and Yakama Chief Kamiakin, the priests established the St. Joseph Mission on 677 acres near Ahtanum Creek. It was the fifth mission the order established in Central Washington, and the first in the Yakima Valley.

While many of the Yakamas were skeptical of the missionaries, Kamiakin believed the mission would be good for his people in spiritual and temporal ways. While Kamiakin supported the priests, he did not convert to Catholicism because the missionaries insisted he give up all but one of his wives in order to be baptized.

About 400 Yakamas were baptized within a three-year period at the mission, which was described as a hut-like structure with adobe plastered on to a stick frame.