The Saint Joseph’s Catholic Mission was founded at the Yakama summer camp in the Yakima Valley in April 1852, at Yakama Chief Kamiakin’s request. For several years, the priests and the Yakama worked side by side to dig primitive irrigation canals and raised various crops. Relations with the Catholic Fathers were sufficiently warm that Chief Kamiakin brought his children to the mission to be baptized into the Catholic faith. Other Yakama people soon followed. Yakama children also attended school at the mission, and one Father compiled a dictionary in the Yakama language.
On November 14, 1855, faced with advancing U.S. soldiers, both the missionaries and Indian families fled, as Yakama warriors protected their retreat. The next day, on November 15th, Major Gabriel Rains and his troops arrived at the mission grounds. After the soldiers discovered a cask of gunpowder buried in the missionaries’ garden, they assumed the Catholic Fathers were aiding the Yakama in their struggle with the soldiers. They then set fire to the mission and burned it to the ground. The destruction of other Catholic missions throughout the Yakama region soon followed.
Saint Joseph’s Mission was re-established in September 1867 and, a few months later, was rebuilt with the help of the Yakama people. The rebuilt mission was finished in 1870.
© Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated December 2020.