St Rose Mission

St Rose Mission


The first of three Saint Rose missions in the area was established in 1847 at the confluence of the Yakama and Columbia rivers by Father Eugene Chirouse and was vacated the same year during the Cayuse War. In 1853, Saint Rose of the Cayouse Mission and Cemetery were established several miles southeast of here along Yellowhawk Creek, and that mission was burned in 1855 during the Yakama War. A log chapel was moved to the vicinity of the Frenchtown site in 1863 and a cemetery was established there along the Walla Walla River. In 1876 the river burials were moved to a hill at the Frenchtown site and the Saint Rose of Lima Mission Church was erected on the lower portion of the site, which served the French-Canadian community in the area until about 1900.

Two miles southeast of here, the American Protestant missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman began a mission in 1836. In 1838, Catholic fathers Modeste Demers and Francois Norbert Blanchet were the first Catholic missionaries to pass through this area. They baptised willing local tribal people and employees at Fort Nez Perces.

For his Saint Rose of the Cayouse Mission, Father Eugene Chirouse applied for a donation claim on 160 acres near the confluence of Yellowhawk Creek and the Walla Walla River adjoining the claim of William McBean. Though the Saint Rose claim was not granted, in 1863 William McBain built a log chapel on his land, which was then moved the same year down the Walla Walla River to this vicinity. Around 1870, church services were held in a log school house built near the river in the vicinity of the Frenchtown site. In 1876, the St. Rose of Lima Mission Church was established by Fr. Charles Augustin Richard and a framed church building was erected on the lower portion of the site on land donated by Marcel Gagnon. The church building was removed in 1911, and the wood was used to build a grocery at Ninth & Chestnut in Walla Walla.




by Frank Bergevin Munns

The St. Rose Mission in the Walla Walla valley was located on three different sites during its existence from l853 to 1911. The mission itself can be taken as an icon representing a clash of cultures. The rivalry between the French and English did not end in l764 with the French and Indian War. St. Rose represents a subtle continuation of this rivalry through the work of the Roman Catholic Church with the Native American population.

In l853, St. Rose of the Cayouse [1] was founded by Fr. Eugene Chirouse, O.M.I. on the bank of or near Yellow Hawk Creek next to the McBean donation claim. It was the sister mission to the St. Anne Mission located on the Umatilla river, founded by Bishop A.M.A. Blanchet in l847, when there were approximately l500 French Canadians in the greater northwest territory. St. Rose of the Cayouse existed only until l855 when it was burned in the course of the Indian uprising. Church records show that there were l7 burials at the original site, the last entry being Dec. 11, 1855. The interred were all Native Americans who had converted to the Catholic faith. The exact location of this original cemetery has not been identified.

In l863, the Walla Walla Statesman mentioned that a chapel was being built by William McBean on his land donation. This chapel was a simple log cabin and was dedicated to St. Rose. After a short duration on the McBean donation, it was moved to Frenchtown along the banks of the Walla Walla River.[2] At that time there were over 200 FrenchCanadians living in the Walla Walla area. The relocation of the chapel was not far from the LaRoque cabin, where Chief Peopeomoxmox had been killed in 1855. The exact site of the chapel relocation is unknown. The year l863 was when Church records begin recording burials at this second Frenchtown cemetery. Due to flooding, by l876, the remains from this cemetery were moved to the hill on the NarcisseRaymond land donation claim where the present cross and monument are located.[3]

In l876, the third and final St. Rose Mission was dedicated. Its full title was St. Rose of Lima. The pastor of this small mission was Rev. Charles Augustin Richard. The mission property was only 60 yds. by 400 yds. It was originally part of the Narcisse Raymond land donation which was then owned by Marcel Gagnon who donated this small portion of land to the Catholic Church. The Frenchtown cemetery lies on a small hill adjacent to the mission property but was never owned by the mission. The cemetery lies on private property, and the land was later sold without protective covenants.

The St. Rose of Lima Mission was short lived. By 1900, it was seldom used, and on March 29, l911 the mission property and church were sold by Ed. J. O’Dea, Bishop of Nisqually. The church building was moved to Walla Walla, and reused as a grocery.

The former mission property, now intersected by Old Highway l2, lies just east of the Terry Bergevin ranch, the site of the Laroque cabin. Byerley Farms is the most recent land owner of the cemetery and mission sites, prior to their transfer to the Frenchtown Historical Foundation.

According to church records,[4] approximately 62 graves remain on the hill where the final Frenchtown cemetery is located, the last officially recorded interment being Marcel Gagnon in l893. The Bergevin family alone has eleven relatives buried in this cemetery. Six Bergevin relatives were initially buried in the second cemetery by the river, and then moved to the final cemetery on the hill. Five Bergevin relatives died after the cemetery was transferred and were buried directly on the hill. This includes ancestral grandfather Joseph Forestwho died in l889 and his wife Marguerite Pichet who died in l881. Three Native American women are buried at the Frenchtown cemetery along with a number of French metis.

The history that emerged along the banks of the Walla Walla River is a significant part of our Northwest heritage. The story of Marcus Whitman is only a small part. In 1818, Alexander Ross with 96 men constructed Fort Nez Perce at the mouth of the Walla Walla. In l821, the Hudson Bay Company took over Fort Nez Perce from the Northwest Fur Company. There was constant dialog between the fur companies and Native Americans resulting in cross cultural fusion with intermarriages, rivalries, suspicions, and eventually war. All this and much more is waiting to be told and interpreted at the St. Rose site along the Walla Walla River.

J. Frank Bergevin Munns, October 13, 2005

[1] French spelling for cayuse.

[2] From the M.A. thesis of Sr. Anna Clare, F.C.S.P.

[3] Catholic Church records translated by H. Munnick

[4] ibid