The Oregon Trail passes through the Frenchtown Historic Site. Beginning in 1841, from St. Louis and Independence, Missouri, emigrants starting in the spring were able to reach the Whitmans’ mission at Waiilatpu, two miles east of here, by fall. After acquiring provisions at the mission, they followed the Walla Walla River to the Hudson’s Bay Company post at its mouth, and then continued down the south bank of the Columbia River to the Willamette Valley.
The British jointly claimed the Oregon Country until 1846, and did not want Americans there. When wagon trains crossed the Rocky Mountains and reached Fort Hall in what is now southeastern Idaho, British officials told them it was impossible for wagons to go further and forced them to proceed on foot using pack animals. In 1843, led by Dr. Marcus Whitman, the first wagon train came from Fort Hall to the mission at Waiilatpu. The roughly 1000 emigrants of that year became known as the Great Migration of 1843. Many more emigrants followed in succeeding years through the Frenchtown Historic Site in the traditional homeland of the Cayuse Nation.
From 1845 on, most travelers on the Oregon Trail followed a southerly route down from the Blue Mountains along the Umatilla River to the Columbia River, although some continued to use the route to the mission at Waiilatpu and down the Walla Walla River. The Oregon Trail passes through the Frenchtown site between the Walla Walla River and the current railroad tracks south of Old Highway 12.