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Who Built The First Church In Richland? French Catholic Missionaries!

Courtesy of CREHST

According to local experts at the Columbia River Exhibition of History, Science & Technology (CREHST), “The famous Lewis and Clark Expedition met the Chamnapum Indians near the mouth of the Snake River in 1805. Lewis commented in his journal about the stark desert landscape and the amount of salmon that could be seen in the rivers.” But what happened after that?“Over the next forty years traders and trappers frequented the area and forts were built.  The Chamnapum’s next pivotal meeting with white men came in October of 1847 when Father Pascal Ricard and four Oblates arrived in what is now south Richland in one of the earliest and coldest winters of the century.

Their long, tedious, tiresome journey from France had taken them over 11 months to achieve. Armed with nothing but the Word of God, they found themselves face to face with the Chamnapum Indians.

It is unclear whether or not the missionaries expected their final destination to be in the middle of a sagebrush desert, but it became immediately apparent that the priest and his friends were facing a bitterly cold winter on the banks of the Columbia River with no food and no shelter and no wood for fire.

Communicating only through hands gestures, the priest was able to explain their predicament and the Chamnapum immediately set to work constructing a shelter for them. Over the next two months the missionaries worked side by side with the Indians constructing a small mission of logs floated down river from the Cascades.

The exact location of the mission is somewhat obscure. Some say it was at the mouth of the Yakima River at south Columbia Point, while older residents recall the site being further up the river on Van Geisen near where the Richland Riders Club now stands. In any case, the first baptism in the rough church named St. Rose de Lima de Chamna took place on the same day Whitman Massacre occurred. According to Father Ricard’s journal, the missionaries were warned that their mission would be next.

So ended the missionary era to the wild Pacific Northwest for many years.”

To learn more, visit the museum Monday-Saturday from 10am-5pm, and Sundays 12pm-5pm located at 95 Lee Boulevard in Richland. Call (509) 943-9000.



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