North West Company builds Fort Nez Perces on future site of Wallula in 1818.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 2/06/2003
  • Essay 5178
In 1818, the North West Company builds Fort Nez Perces (sometimes written "Fort Nez Perce") on the Columbia River at the mouth of the Walla Walla River. The North West Company competes with the Hudson's Bay Company for control of the fur trade in Western Canada and the Northwest. The post will be called Fort Walla Walla (distinct from the U.S. Army's Fort Walla Walla on the site of present-day Walla Walla) and it will operate until 1855, when it will be abandoned due to war with the Native Americans.

Donald McKenzie supervised the erection of a palisade of planks, 20 feet high and six inches thick. Bastions at each corner housed cannon and 200 gallons of water apiece in the event of siege. The establishment was dubbed The Gibraltar of the Columbia. Alexander Ross was the first factor for the post.

The Hudson's Bay Company acquired the North West Company in 1821 and in 1831, it rebuilt Fort Nez Perces. In 1841, the fort burned down and was rebuilt out of adobe brick.

The post was abandoned during the Indian War of 1855-1856. The site became the town of Wallula.

Sources: Robert A. Bennet, Walla Walla, Portrait of a Western Town: 1804-1899 (Walla Walla: Pioneer Press Books, 1980), 13-17; "The Many Fort Walla Wallas," National Park Service Whitman Mission website accessed August 16, 2013 (
Note: This essay was revised on August 16, 2013, to reflect that the fort's name is generally spelled with a final "s."

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