Wasco County takes great pride in the preservation of its heritage and culture and embraces the mission of the Oregon Cultural Trust.
Wasco County is truly unique in the depth of history and how that has translated to the arts, humanities, and heritage of the County. We have recently commemorated or celebrated our Sesquicentennial of Wasco County, The Bicentennial and the Centennial of the Fort Dalles Museum. In 2006, we celebrated the Bicentennial of the second Encampment of Lewis and Clark at Rock Fort, and in 2007 the Sesquicentennial of the City of The Dalles.
Art enriches the lives of Wasco County residents through public art projects such as The Dalles Mural and through private collections like the John Englehart collection on display in the historic Baldwin Saloon restaurant. The Dalles Art Center promotes contemporary local artists living in the area.
Within Wasco County was Celilo, the Great Falls. Here the indigenous peoples lived, fished, and traded for more than 10,000 years. Thus, when the Corps of Discovery arrived in this area, they encountered the largest gathering of native peoples since leaving St. Louis. Lewis and Clark camped at Rock Fort and came upon Celilo. Their exploration in 1804 - 05 led to the opening of the region to fur traders. As a result of the longstanding Native tradition in the area, Wasco County is rich in ethnographic artifacts, including beadwork, basketry, fishing and food processing tools, pipes, petroglyphs, mortar and pestles, and projectile points.
On January 11, 1854, the Territorial Legislature created Wasco County and The Dalles became the seat of government of the largest U.S. County ever created. Old Wasco County extended from the crest of the Cascades to the Continental Divide in the Rockies. For many years, the county extended into what are now Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, and included all of Eastern Oregon, part of the present Yellowstone Park and the west slope of South Pass by which emigrants had to make the “Descent at The Dalles” – and the decision to continue their journey west by the Barlow Trail or raft down the mighty Columbia. Oregon Trail Immigrants later contributed to the population growth of the county, particularly when gold was discovered during the 1860’s at John Day and Canyon City. During this formative period in The Dalles, saloons operated 24 hours a day.
The Dalles became the modern trade center for north central Oregon and south central Washington. Railroad construction and fish canneries employed many Chinese laborers adding to the rich cultural history of the region. The development of a network of wagon roads and spur railroad lines brought products from orchards, wheat farms, sheep and cattle ranches in inland communities to the steamboat and rail shipping hub of The Dalles.
The population of Wasco County has become more diverse. The Native American population includes members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the residents of Celilo Village. Additionally, a large Hispanic population helps support the thriving orchard industry. Newer Samoan arrivals and other smaller groups make up rest of the residents.
Some of the early artists who used the grandeur of the Columbia River and views of Mount Hood from Wasco County as their inspiration include:
Eliza Barchus (1857 – 59)
Willam Samuel Parrot (1843 – 1915)
James Everett Stewart (1852 – 1941)
John Englehart (1867 – 1915)