Washington Territorial Legislature creates Klickitat County on December 29, 1859.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 5/27/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7776
On December 29, 1859, the Washington Territorial Legislature passes an act to create and organize the County of Clickitat. (In 1869 the spelling will be changed to Klickitat.) Only about 15 non-Indian families reside within the new county's established borders.

An Illustrated History of Klickitat, Yakima and Kittitas Counties, With An Outline Of The Early History of The State Of Washington, published in 1904, explained reason for the Territorial Government's eagerness to establish the county despite sparse settlement:

"The Klickitat country was so thinly settled in 1859 that it was generally considered by the citizens of the new district that the necessity for county organization had not yet arisen. Few people are anxious to hasten the time when they will be required to pay taxes, especially when no apparent benefit is to be derived from their payment. The territorial government, however, insisted that the settlers must organize and pay taxes" (p. 93).
The organizing Act defined the county's boundaries as "Commencing in the middle of the Columbia river, five miles below the mouth of the Clickitat river; thence north to the summit of the mountains, the divide between the waters of the Clickitat and Yakima rivers; thence east, along said divide, to a point north of the mouth of Rock creek; thence south to the middle of the Columbia river; thence along the channel of said river to the place of beginning" (An Illustrated History of Klickitat..., p. 93).

The county seat was located temporarily on Alfred Allen's land claim at Rockland Flats across from The Dalles, Oregon. Alfred Allen, Robert Tartar, and Jacob Halstead were appointed to the board of commissioners. James Clark was appointed sheriff, Willis Jenkins probate judge, Nelson Whitney county auditor, Edwin Grant assessor, William Murphy treasurer, and John Nelson justice of the peace, thus tapping nearly every family residing within the new county's borders. 

Klickitat County's new officers, little interested in their appointments, failed to qualify by taking oaths of office and thus could not execute their respective duties. No property assessment rolls were made, nor were county taxes levied. 

On January 31, 1861, the Territorial Legislature extended Klickitat County's borders as far north as the northeast corner of Skamania County. The county was enlarged again on January 19, 1868, then decreased on November 13, 1873. When Benton County was established on March 8, 1905, both Klickitat and Yakima counties lost area.

Sources: An Illustrated History of Klickitat, Yakima and Kittitas Counties, With An Outline Of The Early History of The State Of Washington (Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphic, [1904] 1977); Newton Carl Abbott and Fred E. Carver, The Evolution of Washington Counties (Yakima: Yakima Valley Genealogical Society and Klickitat County Historical Society, 1978).

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