The PALOUSE (/pəˈluːs/ pə-LOOSS ) is a region of the
United States , encompassing parts of southeastern
Washington , north central
Idaho and, by some definitions, parts of
Oregon . It is a major agricultural area, primarily
producing wheat and legumes . Situated about 160 miles (260 km) north
Oregon Trail , the region experienced rapid growth in the late
19th century and was once Washington's most populous region,
surpassing even the
Puget Sound area.
Palouse is home to two land grant universities , the University
Idaho in Moscow and
Washington State University
Washington State University in Pullman . Just
eight miles (13 km) apart, both schools opened in the early 1890s.
northeast of Walla Walla
* 1 Geography and history
* 2 Geology
* 4 Environment
* 5 Fires
* 6 In fiction
* 7 See also
* 8 References
* 9 References
* 10 External links
GEOGRAPHY AND HISTORY
Palouse hills south of the UI Arboretum in Moscow ,
The origin of the name "Palouse" is unclear. One theory is that the
name of the Palus tribe (spelled in early accounts variously as Palus,
Palloatpallah, Pelusha, etc.) was converted by
traders to the more familiar French word pelouse, meaning "land with
short and thick grass" or "lawn." Over time, the spelling changed to
Palouse. Another theory is that the region's name came from the
French word and was later applied to its indigenous inhabitants.
Palouse region was defined as the fertile hills
and prairies north of the
Snake River , which separated it from Walla
Walla County, and north of the Clearwater River , which separated it
from the Camas Prairie , extending north along the Washington and
Idaho border, south of Spokane , centered on the
Palouse River . This
region underwent a settlement and wheat-growing boom during the 1880s,
part of a larger process of growing wheat in southeast Washington,
originally pioneered in Walla Walla County south of the Snake River.
While this definition of the
Palouse remains common today, the term
is sometimes used to refer to the entire wheat-growing region,
including Walla Walla County, the Camas Prairie of Idaho, the Big Bend
region of the central
Columbia River Plateau , and other smaller
agricultural districts such as Asotin County , Washington, and
Umatilla County , Oregon. This larger definition is used by
organizations such as the
World Wide Fund for Nature , who define the
Palouse Grasslands ecoregion broadly.
The community of
Palouse , Washington, is located in Whitman County,
about 7 miles (11 km) west of Potlatch , Idaho.
Nevertheless, the traditional definition of the
Palouse region is
distinct from the older Walla Walla region south of the Snake River,
where dryland farming of wheat was first proved viable in the region
in the 1860s. During the 1870s, the Walla Walla region was rapidly
converted to farmland, while the initial experiments in growing wheat
began in the
Palouse region, which previously had been the domain of
cattle and sheep ranching. When those trials proved more than
successful, a minor land rush quickly filled the
Palouse region with
farmers during the 1880s. The simultaneous proliferation of railroads
only increased the rapid settlement of the Palouse. By 1890 nearly all
Palouse lands had been taken up and converted to wheat farming.
Unlike the Walla Walla Country, which was solidly anchored on the
city of Walla Walla , the
Palouse region saw the rise of at least four
centers, all within several miles of each other: Colfax (the oldest),
Palouse , Pullman , and on the
Idaho side, Moscow . These four
centers, along with at least ten lesser ones, resulted in a diffuse
urban pattern, relative to the centralized Walla Walla county.
Cities along the borders of the Palouse, and by some definitions
included within it, include Lewiston , Idaho, serving the Camas
Prairie farmlands; Ritzville , serving the eastern edge of the Big
Bend Country; and Spokane , the region's major urban hub. So dominant
was Spokane's position that it became known as the capital of the
Inland Empire , including all the wheat-producing regions, the local
mining districts, and lumber-producing forests. Spokane also served as
the region's main railroad and transportation hub.
By 1910, although local terms like Palouse, Walla Walla Country, Big
Bend, Umatilla Country, and Camas Prairie continued to be common, many
people of the region began to regard themselves as living in the
Inland Empire , the
Wheat Belt, the
Columbia Basin , or simply Eastern
Washington, Oregon, or North Idaho.
The peculiar and picturesque loess hills which characterize the
Palouse Prairie are underlain by wind-blown sediments of the Palouse
Loess that covers the surface of over 50,000 km2 (19,000 sq mi) on the
Columbia Plateau in southeastern Washington, western Idaho, and
northeastern Oregon. The
Loess forms a fine-grained mantle of
variable thickness that lies upon either the
Miocene Columbia River
Basalt Group , non-glacial
Pliocene fluvial sediments of the Ringold
Pleistocene glacial outburst flood sediments that are
known informally as the Hanford formation. At its thickest, the
Loess is up to 75 meters (246 ft) thick. It consists of
multiple layers of loess separated by multiple well-defined calcrete
paleosols and erosional unconformities . The degree of development of
individual layers of calcrete together with thermoluminescence and
optically stimulated luminescence dating of the loess indicate that
each calcrete layer represents a period of thousands to tens of
thousands of years of nondeposition, weathering, and soil development
that occurred between episodic periods of loess deposition. A
consistent sequence of normal-reverse-normal polarity signatures
demonstrates that the older layers of loess accumulated between 2 and
1 million years ago. Detailed optically stimulated luminescence dating
has shown that the uppermost layer of
between 15,000 years ago and modern times and the layer of loess
underlying it accumulated episodically between about 77,000 and 16,000
years ago. Regional trends in the distribution, thickness, texture,
and overall composition of the
Loess indicate that it largely
consists of the wind-blown sediments eroded from fine-grained deposits
of the Hanford formation that were periodically deposited by repeated
Missoula Floods within the Eureka Flats area.
Although superficially resembling sand or other types of dunes, the
loess hills of the
Palouse are of far different origin. Internally,
they lack any evidence of cross-bedding or erosion of interbedded
layers of loess and calcrete that characterize dunes formed by moving
currents. Instead, these hills consist of alternating layers of loess
and calcrete that are more or less concordant with the modern surface
of these hills. This layering demonstrates that the
loess accumulated from the airfall of wind-silt from suspension. In
addition, the ubiquitous homogenization of the loess by innumerable
plant roots and insect burrows as it accumulated further supports the
conclusion drawn from numerous thermoluminescence and optically
stimulated luminescence dates that individual layers of loess
accumulated over an extended period of time in terms of thousands of
years. Finally, the calcrete horzons are paleosols that represent the
periodic cessation of loess accumulation for periods of thousands of
years during which they formed within the surface of a loess layer.
Early farming was extremely labor-intensive and relied heavily on
human and horse-power. An organized harvesting/threshing team in the
1920s required 120 men and 320 mules and horses. Teams moved from
farm to farm as the crops ripened. By this point, the combine had been
invented and was in use, but few farmers had enough horses to pull
such a machine, which required a crew of 40 horses and six men to
operate on level ground. Because of this, use of combines on the
Palouse lagged behind use in other farming communities in the United
It was only when the
Idaho Harvester Company in Moscow began to
manufacture a smaller machine that combine harvesting became feasible.
By 1930, 90% of all
Palouse wheat was harvested using combines.
The next step in mechanization was development of the tractor . As
with the combines, the first steam engine and gasoline-powered
tractors were too heavy and awkward for use on the steep Palouse
hills. The smaller, general use tractors introduced in the 1920s were
only marginally used. As a result, by 1930, only 20% of Palouse
farmers used tractors.
Palouse fields from Kamiak Butte , early summer
Palouse fields from Kamiak Butte , fall
Palouse region is the most important lentil -growing
region in the USA.
Map of the
Palouse grasslands ecoregion
Once an extensive prairie composed of mid-length perennial grasses
Bluebunch wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum) and
(Festuca idahoensis), today virtually all of the
Palouse Prairie is
planted in agricultural crops. The native prairie is one of the most
endangered ecosystems in the
United States (Noss et al. 1995), as only
a little over one percent of the original prairie still exists.
People have taken their toll on wildlife. Birds and small mammals,
once abundant, are now few. The intensive roadbed-to-roadbed farming
currently practiced across the
Palouse leaves few fences and fewer
fencerows. Many intermittent streams have been plowed over; many
perennial streams with large wet meadows adjacent to them are now
intermittent or deeply incised.
Riparian areas offer breeding habitat for a greater diversity of
birds than any other habitat in the U.S. (Ratti and Scott 1991). Loss
of trees and shrubs along stream corridors means fewer birds and
eventually fewer species. The majority of riparian areas have been
lost across the bioregion. The
of north central
Lately, conversion of agricultural lands to suburban homesites on
large plots invites a new suite of biodiversity onto the Palouse
Prairie. University of
Idaho wildlife professor J. Ratti documented
changes in bird community composition over a 10-year period as he
converted a wheat field into a suburban wildlife refuge. As of 1991,
his 15-acre (61,000 m2) yard attracted 86 species of birds, an
increase from 18 (Ratti and Scott 1991).
Intensification of agriculture has affected both water quantity and
Agriculture has changed the hydrograph, increasing peak
runoff flows and shortening the length of runoff. The result is more
intense erosion and loss of perennial prairie streams. As early as the
1930s soil scientists were noting significant downcutting of regional
rivers (Victor 1935) and expansion of channel width. Higher faster
runoff caused streams to downcut quickly, effectively lowering the
water table in immediately adjacent meadows. On the South Palouse
River , this process was so efficient that by 1900 farming was
possible where it had been too wet previously (Victor 1935).
Replacement of perennial grasses with annual crops resulted in more
overland flow and less infiltration, which translates at a watershed
level to higher peak flows that subside more quickly than in the past.
Once perennial prairie streams are now often dry by mid-summer. This
has undoubtedly influenced the amphibious and aquatic species.
As population grew, towns and cities appeared changing the complexion
of the area. By 1910, there were 22,000 people scattered in 30
communities across the
Crop production increased dramatically (200–400%) after the
introduction of fertilizer following
World War II
World War II .
Since 1900, 94% of the grasslands and 97% of the wetlands in the
Palouse ecoregion have been converted to crop, hay, or pasture lands.
Approximately 63% of the lands in forest cover in 1900 are still
forested, 9% are grass, and 7% are regenerating forestlands or
shrublands. The remaining 21% of previously forested lands have been
converted to agriculture or urban areas. A farm in Whitman
The impacts of domestic grazers on the grasslands of the
Camas Prairies was transitory because much of the areas were rapidly
converted to agriculture. However, the canyonlands of the Snake and
Clearwater rivers and their tributaries with their much shallower
soils, steep topography, and hotter, drier climate, were largely
unsuitable for crop production and were consequently used for a much
longer period by grazing domestic animals (Tisdale 1986). There,
intense grazing and other disturbances have resulted in irreversible
changes with the native grasses largely replaced by annual grasses of
Bromus and noxious weeds, particularly from the genus
Centaurea . The highly competitive plants of both of these genera
evolved under similar climatic regimes in Eurasia and were introduced
to the U.S. in the late 19th century.
With the adoption of no-till farming practices in the
in the early 2000s, the negative environmental impact of agriculture
has visibly decreased.
While there is some debate over how frequently the
burned historically, there is consensus that fires are generally less
frequent today than in the past, primarily due to fire suppression,
construction of roads (which serve as barriers to fire spread) and
conversion of grass and forests to cropland (Morgan et al. 1996).
Historians recount lightning-ignited fires burning in the pine fringes
bordering the prairies in late autumn, but the extent to which forest
fires spread into the prairie or the converse is not known. Some fire
ecologists believe the Nez Perce burned the
Palouse and Camas Prairies
to encourage growth of Camas (Morgan, pers. Comm); but there is little
historical record to solve the mystery. European-American settlers
used fire to clear land for settlement and grazing until the 1930s.
Since then, forest fires have become less common. One result has been
increasing tree density on forested lands and encroachment of shrubs
and trees into previously open areas. Consequently, when fires occur
in the forest, they are more likely to result in mixed severity or
stand replacing events.
Patriots Novel Series by
James Wesley Rawles
* The 1998 movie Smoke Signals was filmed on the Coeur d\'Alene
Reservation in Plummer,
Idaho , at the north end of the Palouse.
* Many outdoor scenes for the 1992 movie Toys were filmed on the
Palouse, in the area of
Rosalia, Washington .
* Rural scenes in
Talent for the Game were filmed in 1990 in
Idaho , and
Garfield, Washington .
* Part of
Neal Stephenson 's
Cryptonomicon takes place in Whitman
County, Washington .
* Josie Poe:
Palouse, Washington 1943 by Kathleen Duey is set
entirely in the town of Palouse.
* Spokane-Coeur d\'Alene-Paloos War (
Battle of the Palouse - college football rivalry game
* ^ Meinig, pg. 248. The 1880 census recorded 3,588 people living
in Walla Walla and 3,533 in Seattle.
* ^ Phillips, James W. (1971). Washington State Place Names.
University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-95158-3 .
* ^ Meinig, p. 467.
* ^ "
Palouse grasslands". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife
* ^ Meinig, pg. 510.
* ^ Meinig, pg. 333.
* ^ Meinig, pg. 406.
* ^ Busacca, A.J., 1989. Long Quaternary record in eastern
Washington, U.S.A., interpreted from multiple buried paleosols in
loess. Geoderma. 45:105-122.
* ^ Busacca, AJ, and EV McDonald (1994) Regional sedimentation of
late Quaternary loess on the Columbia plateau: sediment source areas
and loess distribution patterns. Washington Division of Geology and
Earth Resources Bulletin. 80:181-190.
* ^ Gaylord, DR, AJ Busacca, and MR Sweeney (2003) The Palouse
loess and the Channeled Scabland: A paired Ice-Age geologic system. In
Quaternary Geology of the United States, INQUA 2003 Field Guide
Volume. DJ Easterbrook, ed., pp. 123-134. Reno, Nevada: Desert
* ^ A B Sweeney, MR, DR Gaylord, and AJ Busacca (2007) Evolution of
Eureka Flat: A dust-producing engine of the
Palouse loess. Quaternary
* ^ Lewis, PF (1960) Linear Topography in the Southwestern Palouse,
Washington-Oregon. Annals of the Association of American Geographers.
* ^ McDonald, EV, and AJ Busacca (1990) Interaction Between
Aggrading Geomorphic Surfaces and the Formation of a Late Pleistocene
Paleosol in the
Eastern Washington State.
* ^ A B C Williams, K.R. 1991. Hills of gold: a history of wheat
production technologies in the
Palouse region of Washington and Idaho.
Ph.D. dissertation, Washington State University, Pullman.
* ^ St. George, Donna (1997-09-24). "National Origins:
Idaho Border; America\'s Golden Land Of Lentils". The New
York Times .
The New York Times
The New York Times Company . Retrieved 2009-08-17.
* Chapter 10: Additional Figures - Biodiversity and Land-use History
Palouse Bioregion: Pre-European to Present - Sisk, T.D.,
editor. 1998. Perspectives on the land-use history of North America: a
context for understanding our changing environment. U.S. Geological
Survey, Biological Resources Division, Biological Science Report
USGS/BRD/BSR 1998-0003 (Revised September 1999)..
* Meinig, D.W. 1968. The Great Columbia Plains: A Historical
Geography, 1805-1910. University of
1995). ISBN 0-295-97485-0 .
* Morgan, P., S.C. Bunting, A.E. Black, T. Merrill, and S. Barrett.
Fire regimes in the Interior
Columbia River Basin: past and
present. Final Report, RJVA-INT-94913. Intermountain
Laboratory, USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station,
* Noss, R.F., E.T. LaRoe III, and J.M. Scott. 1995. Endangered
ecosystems of the United States: a preliminary assessment of loss and
degradation. U.S. National Biological Service. Biological Report 28.
* Ratti, J.T., and J.M. Scott. 1991. Agricultural impacts on
wildlife: problem review and restoration needs. The Environmental
* Tisdale, E.W. 1986. Canyon grasslands and associated shrublands of
Idaho and adjacent areas. Bulletin No. 40. Forestry,
Wildlife and Range Experiment Station, University of Idaho, Moscow.
* Victor, E. 1935. Some effects of cultivation upon stream history
and upon the topography of the
Palouse region. Northwest