A covered wagon appears on the left side of the mural; a nod to those who came west before the railroad. However, few Prosser settlers arrived by wagon.
The vast majority arrived by rail after the Northern Pacific extended service to Prosser in 1884.
However, the mural’s wagon is also a tribute to the James Longmire Wagon Train, the first to strike a direct route from the Oregon Trail to Western Washington.
The 36 wagon Longmire Party left Iowa in March 1853, followed the Oregon Trail, and arrived at Fort Walla Walla in early September.
They planned to continue to Puget Sound. Persuaded to take a primitive trail, they followed a route through the Yakima Valley and up the Little Naches River. Upon reaching Summit Hill on Naches Pass, the settlers encountered a cliff hundreds of feet high.
Incredibly, the settlers lowered their wagons down one at a time by rope, with one end tied to the wagon axles and the other looped around a tree and held by several men. The Longmire Party arrived safely at Fort Steilacoom in October.
The Longmire Family later played a major role in the exploration and development of Mount Rainier.
Just below the wagon one sees Native Americans shooting arrows across a railroad track. This scene reflects one chapter in the tale of Prosser’s illustrious and sometimes cantankerous early settler James Kinney.
To make a long story short, Mr. Kinney arrived in Prosser in the early 1880’s and (like Colonel Prosser) platted a town site, which he named Kinneyville.
When the Northern Pacific announced it located its siding on Colonel Prosser’s town site instead of Kinneyville, Mr. Kinney was not amused. He hired six local Indians to use his land as a target range and temporarily delayed the railroad’s construction.
Just below the Kinney scene a train chugs into the Prosser Depot. Western development was accomplished by a powerful marriage of railroads, the federal government, settlers and natural resources.
Railroads enabled large numbers of settlers to enter the region. Settlers produced crops, milled timber and extracted minerals; resources the West offered in abundance. These products were transported by train to the rest of the country.
The U.S. government ensured success when it established the Homestead Act, built large scale irrigation projects, and granted land to the railroads. More about the colorful history of the Prosser Depot in an upcoming column.
Lone Tree School
The small school just above the railroad scenes is the Lone Tree School (est. 1884) - built near the present site of Keene-Riverview Elementary. Lone Tree’s school mistress, Emma Cobb (later Mrs. Fred Warneke) is recognized as Prosser’s first teacher.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries, schools like the Lone Tree were the focus of community life. Besides being used for educating children, they were a venue for church services, holiday parties, dances, potlucks, and lectures.
The community typically provided a place for the school teacher to live (a guest room or cottage) and paid her modest a modest salary in cash and sundries.
A saloon typical of the early 1900’s is shown to the right of Miss Cobb. Early day Prosser featured at least nine saloons.
In addition to libations and comradery, local saloons provided bathtubs for dusty ranch hands. They were lively.
A story in the 1907 Prosser Falls Bulletin describes a dust up at the W.W. Saloon:
It seems a man of Scandinavian extraction, who when sober is a pretty good fellow, had been to Mabton and indulged too freely in something they sell up there which causes the partaker to get a belligerent streak.
Dick Shadduck, who hails from Mabton and who also had taken a nip or two but was not intoxicated, was assaulted by the Scandinavian just after midnight in the W.W. and proceeded to give his assailant a first class thrashing.
The Scandinavian, not long after leaving the saloon, returned and let fly a shot from a 32 caliber revolver into the room where several men were congregated. One of the proprietors jumped out and stopped the row, and the other ducked for safety.
Below the downtown scene is the Prosser Queen, a sternwheeler launched on July 4, 1905. The vessel was intended to haul passengers and freight on the Yakima River, but also offered pleasure cruises.
Prosser resident Ernie Fisk clearly recalled its maiden voyage in a 1979 interview with local historian Cora Mason:
I can still see that vessel steaming up the river. It had just left the dock (at the end of Sheridan Street.) The boat was loaded with people and it had bunting on it.
It bleated a feeble blast on its whistle and took off. Well, it ran up the river about 2 to 3 miles and ran into a sand bar. It couldn’t disengage itself, so all the passengers waded to shore and walked home.
Grass Widow Cigar
The Grass Widow cigar located just above the old time downtown street scene was manufactured by John Weise of Prosser and sold at his downtown cigar store and confectionary in the early 1900’s.
What is a grass widow? It’s an old term for a divorcee or a woman who is less than faithful when her husband is out of town.
According to the social norms of 100 plus years ago grass widows were considered pretty racy, and commercial depictions of racy women helped sell cigars to millions of men.
Cigar boxes were often lavishly decorated with dreamy scenes of scantily dressed femme fatales. Cigars were named accordingly: Chippy, Paramour, Princess Sublime, Mermaid, Blue Stocking, Spicy, Merry Maidens, and La-De-Da.