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Ancient Art and Culture

Native America have inhabited Washington and the Pacific Northwest region for thousands of years according to artifacts found in archaeological sites and practice of traditional culture by present-day tribal members. Ancient petroglyphs-images carved into rocks and pictographs-images painted onto stone are some of the most interesting evidence. Likewise is oral tribal history that has been handed down from generation to generation. Added to these, precious totems, baskets and weaving patterns-represents some of the earliest documentation of ancient cultures.

European Exploration

Washington's early history can’t be separated from the history of the Oregon Territory. Initial interest in the area surrounded the perennial search for the Northwest Passage. Early Spanish explorers of the Pacific coast, Juan Pérez (1774) and Bruno Heceta (1775) are the first known Europeans to visit the coast of what is now Washington. Just years later, in 1778, maritime fur trade with China was started by Capt. James Cook's English expedition. British fur companies soon encountered Russians pushing southward from posts in Alaska. In 1787, Charles William Barkley discovered the inland channel, which named the Juan de Fuca Strait by John Meares. In 1792, convinced of the existence of a great river that the other explorers rejected, British explorer George Vancouver sailed into Puget Sound and up the Columbia River, establishing U.S. claims to its drainage basin.

Early Settlement and Boundary Disputes

America’s claim to the area was solidified by the arrival of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 and further established by John Jacob Astor's settlement in Astoria. However, in 1807 Canadian trader David Thompson traveled the length of the Columbia, mapping the region and establishing British counterclaims.

Native American Resistance and Territorial Status

Peace with the British did not preclude conflicts with Native Americans. Embracing the Washington area, the Oregon Territory was created the following year as a protective measure. The territory was divided in 1853 with Isaac Stevens as the first governor. At the same time, pioneers on the Oregon Trail turned northward settling New Market or Tumwater near present-day Olympia.

Settlers poured into the area as they recognized the commercial potential of the Puget Sound country as it related to sustaining the Gold Rush in California. During this period, many lumber and fishing industries arose to satisfy the demands of miners to the south. Among those was Seattle.

During this period, Governor Stevens persuaded many Native Americans to sell their lands and settle on reservations. This resulted in treaties with the coast tribes at the expense of hostilities with the Cayuse, the Yakima, and the Nez Percé tribes.

Current Native American Presence

Over the years, Native Americans remained a small but significant presence in the state. Currently, their numbers are approximately 85,000.