Washington History Timeline

Washington Territory, 1860

Washington Territory, 1860

1543 Pacific Northwest claimed by Spain

1592 Discovery of Strait of Juan de Fuca claimed by Juan de Fuca

1579 The Washington coast was sighted by Sir Francis Drake and claimed for England

1741-43 Russian explorers reached Alaskan islands and coasts and traded with native peoples for sea otter pelts.

1774 Juan Perez commands the first Spanish expedition to explore the Northwest Coast and sights the Olympic Mountains.

1775 Bruno de Hezeta lands on the Washington coast and claims the area for Spain. On his return south, he sees the mouth of the Columbia River.

1778 James Cook (British) explores and charts the Northwest Coast.

1792 Robert Gray explores the lower Columbia River.

George Vancouver (British) explores and names Puget Sound, and Lieutenant William Broughton explores the Columbia River up to Point Vancouver.

Spain establishes the first non-Indian settlement in Washington at Neah Bay.

Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia River

Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia River

1805 Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traverse southern Washington along the Snake and Columbia Rivers.

1810 The North West Company establishes Spokane House, a fur-trading company.

1811 John Jacob Astor builds Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River as part of his Pacific Fur Company.

1818 United States and Great Britain agreed to joint occupation of the Oregon Territory.

1821 Hudson Bay Company establishes Fort Vancouver.

1823 Monroe Doctrine warns other countries against attempting occupation in U.S. claimed lands.

1824 Bureau of Indian Affairs is set up in the War Department.

Russia sets its southern boundary in the Pacific Northwest at 54 degrees, 40 minutes.

1825 Hudson’s Bay Company establishes Fort Colvile on the Columbia.

Reproduction vintage Oregon Trail Poster Map

Reproduction vintage Oregon Trail Poster Map. Available at Legends’ General Store

1834 The Whitman Party, including Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife Narcissa, Reverend H. H. Spalding, and his wife Eliza, set up a mission at the junction of the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Their travel route would become known as the Oregon Trail and was used by thousands of future settlers.

1839 Fr. Pierre-Jean DeSmet arrives among the Flatheads in the Bitterroot Valley. He and his staff would set up several Jesuit missions in the present-day states of Washington and Idaho.

1842 John C. Fremont leads an Army Topographical Corps Expedition to the Rocky Mountains. He witnesses an eruption of Mt. St. Helens. His maps of this expedition and one the following year are printed by the government and are widely used by pioneers heading west.

1843 The Great Migration, a rush of approximately 1,000 pioneers, headed out on the Oregon Trail, led by Dr. Marcus Whitman.

1846 The U.S. and Great Britain divide the Northwest region along the 49th parallel.

Whitman Massacre

Whitman Massacre

1847 The inhabitants of Whitman Mission are killed by Cayuse Indians.

1848 Oregon Territory was created.

1851 Setters from the Denny Party find what would become Seattle.

1853 Washington Territory was created.

1854-1856 Several treaties are signed between Native Americans living in Washington Territory and the U. S. government.

1855-1858 Yakima Indian War

Columbia River Gorge from Chanticleer Point near Corbett, Oregon by Carol Highsmith.

Columbia River Gorge from Chanticleer Point near Corbett, Oregon by Carol Highsmith.

1858 The first Northwest railroad, the Cascade Railroad Company, begins operation in the Columbia River Gorge. The Walla Walla and Columbia River Railroad became the second Northwest railroad in 1873, and a large number of local railroads subsequently sprung up in the 1880s.

1860s Gold and silver were discovered in the Okanogan.

1862 Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act, giving Central Pacific and Union Pacific Companies permission and land grants to begin constructing a transcontinental railroad line stretching along the 42nd parallel.

1865 Civil War ends. Union Pacific Railroad heads west.

1871 Indian Appropriations Act states that Indians are no longer considered sovereign nations but wards of the federal government.

1872 The Northern Pacific Railroad chooses Tacoma as its western terminus.

The American-British border dispute in the San Juan islands is settled via arbitration by the German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm.

President Ulysses S. Grant established the Colville Confederated Tribes through an Executive Order, not a treaty. The reservation lands are reduced later that year following complaints of Colville Valley settlers.

1883 Northern Pacific Railroad completed to Tacoma, linking Washington to the East.

1887 Dawes Severalty Act is passed. Indian lands are split into individual allotments, with the remaining lands becoming public and, therefore, up for sale.

Washington Postcard

Greetings from Washington Postcard. Available at Legends’ General Store.

1889 Washington is admitted as the 42nd state in the union.

The great fire destroys 25 blocks in Seattle.

1893 Great Northern Railroad completed to Seattle.

1897 The first shipment of gold from the Klondike reaches Seattle.

1899 Mount Rainier National Park was established.

1909 Seattle hosts a World’s Fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.

1910 Women gain the right to vote in Washington.

Compiled by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated December 2022.

Also See:

Seattle & the Klondike Gold Rush

Washington – The Evergreen State

Washington Fun Facts and Trivia

Washington Photo Gallery