The Palouse is a region of the northwestern United States, encompassing parts of eastern Washington, North Central Idaho and, in some definitions, extending south into northeast Oregon. It is a major wheat-producing agricultural area. Situated about 160 miles (250 kilometers) north of the Oregon Trail, the region experienced rapid growth in the late 19th century, for a brief time surpassing the population of the Puget Sound region of Washington. [Meinig, pg. 248. The 1880 census recorded 3,588 people living in Walla Walla and 3,533 in Seattle.]

Geography and History

The origin of the name Palouse is unclear. One theory is that the name of the Palus Indian tribe (spelled in early accounts variously Palus, Palloatpallah, Pelusha, etc) was converted by French-Canadian fur traders to the more familiar French word "pelouse", meaning "land with short and thick grass". Over time the spelling changed to Palouse. [cite book |last= Phillips |first= James W. |title= Washington State Place Names |year= 1971 |publisher= University of Washington Press |isbn= 0-295-95158-3] Another theory is that the name was in the first place a French word describing the area which was then applied to the indigenous people inhabiting it.

Traditionally, the Palouse region was defined as the fertile hills and prairies north of the Snake River, which separated it from Walla Walla Country, and north of the Clearwater River, which separated it from the Camas Prairie, extending north along the Washington and Idaho border, south of Spokane, centered on the Palouse River. This region underwent a settlement and wheat-growing boom during the 1880s, part of a larger process of growing wheat in southeast Washington, originally pioneered in the Walla Walla Country south of the Snake River. [Meinig, p. 467.]

While this definition of the Palouse remains common today, sometimes the term is used to refer to the entire wheat-growing region, including the Walla Walla Country, the Camas Prairie of Idaho, the Big Bend region of the central Columbia River Plateau, and other smaller agricultural districts such as Asotin County, Washington and Umatilla County, Oregon. This larger definition is used by organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature, who define the Palouse Grasslands ecoregion very broadly. [ [ Terrestrial Ecoregions - Palouse grasslands (NA0813) ] ]

The community of Palouse, Washington, is located in Whitman County, about 11 km (7 mi.) west of Potlach, Idaho.

Nevertheless, the traditional definition of the Palouse region is distinct from the older Walla Walla region south of the Snake River, where dryland farming of wheat was first proved viable in the region in the 1860s. During the 1870s the Walla Walla region was rapidly converted to farmland, while the initial experiments in growing wheat began in the Palouse region, which previously had been the domain of cattle and sheep ranching. When those trials proved more than successful, a minor land rush quickly filled the Palouse region with farmers during the 1880s. The simultaneous proliferation of railroads only increased the rapid settlement of the Palouse. By 1890 nearly all the Palouse lands had been taken up and converted to wheat farming. [Meinig, pg. 510.]

Unlike the Walla Walla Country, which was solidly anchored on the city of Walla Walla, the Palouse region saw the rise of at least four centers, all within several miles of each other: Colfax, Washington (the oldest), Palouse, Washington, Pullman, Washington, and Moscow, Idaho. These four centers, along with at least ten lesser ones, resulted in a diffused urban pattern, relative to the Walla Walla country. [Meinig, pg. 333.]

Cities along the borders of the Palouse, in some definitions included within the Palouse region, include Lewiston, Idaho, serving the Camas Prairie farmlands, Ritzville, Washington, serving the eastern edge of the Big Bend Country, and Spokane, the major urban hub of the entire region. So dominant was Spokane's position, it became known as the capital of the Inland Empire, including all the wheat producing regions, the local mining districts, and lumber producing forests. Spokane also served as the main railroad and transportation hub of the entire region.

By 1910, although local terms like Palouse, Walla Walla Country, Big Bend, Umatilla Country, and Camas Prairie, continued to be common, many people of the region began to regard themselves as living in the Inland Empire, the Wheat Belt, the Columbia Basin, or simply Eastern Washington, Oregon, or Northern Idaho. [Meinig, pg. 406.]


The peculiar and picturesque silt dunes which characterize the Palouse Prairie were formed during the ice ages (Alt and Hyndman 1989). Blown in from the glacial outwash plains to the west and south, the Palouse hills consist of more or less random humps and hollows. The steepest slopes, which may reach 50% slope, face the northeast. The highly productive loess ranges from 5 to 130 cm deep.Williams, K.R. 1991. Hills of gold: a history of wheat production technologies in the Palouse region of Washington and Idaho. Ph.D. dissertation, Washington State University, Pullman.] Large areas of level land are rare.

Higher elevations bordering the prairies such as the Palouse Range support an often dense coniferous forest.


Early farming was extremely labor-intensive and relied heavily on human and horse-power. An organized harvesting/threshing team in the 1920s required 120 men and 320 mules and horses. Teams moved from farm to farm as the crops ripened. By this point, the combine had been invented and was in use, but few farmers had enough horses to pull such a machine, which required a crew of 40 horses and six men to operate on level ground. Because of this, use of combines on the Palouse lagged behind use in other farming communities in the United States.

It was only when the Idaho Harvester Company in Moscow, Idaho began to manufacture a smaller machine that combine harvesting became feasible. By 1930, 90% of all Palouse wheat was harvested using combines.

The next step in mechanization was development of the tractor. As with the combines, the first steam engine and gasoline-powered tractors were too heavy and awkward for use on the steep Palouse hills. The smaller, general use tractors introduced in the 1920s were only marginally used. As late a result, by 1930, only 20% of Palouse farmers used tractors.


Once an extensive prairie composed of mid-length perennial grasses such as Bluebunch wheatgrass ("Agropyron spicatum") and Idaho fescue ("Festuca idahoensis"), today virtually all of the Palouse Prairie is planted in agricultural crops. The native prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States (Noss et al. 1995), as only a little over one percent of the original prairie still exists.

People have taken their toll on wildlife. Once abundant birds and small mammals are few. The intensive roadbed-to-roadbed farming practiced today across the Palouse leaves few fences and fewer fencerows. Many once intermittent streams are farmed; many perennial streams with large wet meadows adjacent to them are now intermittent or deeply incised.

Riparian areas offer breeding habitat for a greater diversity of birds than any other habitat in the U.S. (Ratti and Scott 1991). Loss of trees and shrubs along stream corridors means fewer birds and eventually fewer species. The majority of riparian areas have been lost across the bioregion.

Lately, conversion of agricultural lands to suburban homesites on large plots invites a new suite of biodiversity onto the Palouse Prairie. University of Idaho wildlife professor J. Ratti has documented changes in bird community composition over the past 10 years as he converted a wheat field into a suburban wildlife refuge. His 40 mile square yard now attracts 86 species of birds, an increase from 18.

Intensification of agriculture has affected both water quantity and quality. Agriculture has changed the hydrograph, increasing peak runoff flows and shortening the length of runoff. The result is more intense erosion and loss of perennial prairie streams. As early as the 1930s soil scientists were noting significant downcutting of regional rivers (Victor 1935) and expansion of channel width. Higher faster runoff caused streams to downcut quickly, effectively lowering the water table in immediately adjacent meadows. On the South Palouse River, this process was so efficient that by 1900 farming was possible where it had been too wet previously (Victor 1935). Replacement of perennial grasses with annual crops resulted in more overland flow and less infiltration, which translates at a watershed level to higher peak flows that subside more quickly than in the past. Once perennial prairie streams are now often dry by mid-summer. This has undoubtedly influenced the amphibious and aquatic species.

As population grew, towns and cities appeared changing the complexion of the area. By 1910, there were 22,000 people scattered in 30 communities across the Palouse Prairie.

Crop production increased dramatically (200 - 400%) after the introduction of fertilizer following World War II.

Since 1900, 94% of the grasslands and 97% of the wetlands in the Palouse ecoregion have been converted to crop, hay, or pasture lands. Approximately 63% of the lands in forest cover in 1900 are still forested, 9% are grass, and 7% are regenerating forestlands or shrublands. The remaining 21% of previously forested lands have been converted to agriculture or urban areas.

The impacts of domestic grazers on the grasslands of the Palouse and Camas Prairies was transitory because much of the areas were rapidly converted to agriculture. However, the canyonlands of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers and their tributaries with their much shallower soils, steep topography, and hotter, drier climate, were largely unsuitable for crop production and were consequently used for a much longer period by grazing domestic animals (Tisdale 1986). There, intense grazing and other disturbances have resulted in irreversible changes with the native grasses largely replaced by annual grasses of the genus Bromus and noxious weeds, particularly from the genus Centaurea. The highly competitive plants of both of these genera evolved under similar climatic regimes in Eurasia and were introduced to the U.S. in the late 1800s.


While there is some debate over how frequently the Palouse prairie burned historically, there is consensus that fires are generally less frequent today than in the past, primarily due to fire suppression, construction of roads (which serve as barriers to fire spread) and conversion of grass and forests to cropland (Morgan et al. 1996). Historians recount lightning-ignited fires burning in the pine fringes bordering the prairies in late autumn, but the extent to which forest fires spread into the prairie or the converse is not known. Some fire ecologists believe the Nez Perce burned the Palouse and Camas Prairies to encourage growth of Camas (Morgan, pers. Comm); but there is little historical record to solve the mystery. European-American settlers used fire to clear land for settlement and grazing until the 1930s. Since then, forest fires have become less common. One result has been increasing tree density on forested lands and encroachment of shrubs and trees into previously open areas. Consequently, when fires occur in the forest, they are more likely to result in mixed severity or stand replacing events.


*The Palouse region is home to the giant Palouse earthworm, a three-foot long white worm that smells like lilies.
*Washington State University is located in Pullman, Washington, on the Palouse; as a result, sports writers often describe teams visiting Washington State, be it Martin Stadium, Beasley Coliseum or other venue, as visiting "the Palouse". The same goes for the University of Idaho, located 9 miles away. The rivalry game between these two schools is called the Battle of the Palouse.
*Regional Theatre of the Palouse is the first non-profit theater company to offer theatrical entertainment and creative outlets for the entire Palouse population.
*The Palouse region is the most important lentil-growing region in the USA.
*Outdoor scenes for the 1992 film "Toys" were filmed in the Palouse region.

ee also

* Spokane-Coeur d'Alene-Paloos War (Palouse War)
* Palus (tribe)
* Appaloosa



* [ Chapter 10: Additional Figures - Biodiversity and Land-use History of the Palouse Bioregion: Pre-European to Present] - Sisk, T.D., editor. 1998. "Perspectives on the land-use history of North America: a context for understanding our changing environment". U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, Biological Science Report USGS/BRD/BSR 1998-0003 (Revised September 1999).
* Alt, D.D., and W. D. Hyndman. 1989. Roadside geology of Idaho. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Id. 403 pp.
* Meinig, D.W. 1968. "The Great Columbia Plains: A Historical Geography, 1805-1910." University of Seattle Press, Seattle (Revised 1995). ISBN 0-295-97485-0.
* Morgan, P., S.C. Bunting, A.E. Black, T. Merrill, and S. Barrett. 1996. Fire regimes in the Interior Columbia River Basin: past and present. Final Report, RJVA-INT-94913. Intermountain Fire Sciences Laboratory, USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Missoula, Mont.
* Noss, R.F., E.T. LaRoe III, and J.M. Scott. 1995. Endangered ecosystems of the United States: a preliminary assessment of loss and degradation. U.S. National Biological Service. Biological Report 28.
* Ratti, J.T., and J.M. Scott. 1991. Agricultural impacts on wildlife: problem review and restoration needs. The Environmental Professional 13:263-274.
* Tisdale, E.W. 1986. Canyon grasslands and associated shrublands of west-central Idaho and adjacent areas. Bulletin No. 40. Forestry, Wildlife and Range Experiment Station, University of Idaho, Moscow.
* Victor, E. 1935. Some effects of cultivation upon stream history and upon the topography of the Palouse region. Northwest Science 9(3):18-19.

External links

News from Palouse
* [ The Boomerang! - Local newspaper]
* [ Palouse grasslands (World Wildlife Fund)]
* [ Dept. of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Washington State University]
* [ Palouse grasslands images at] ( [ slow modem version] )
* [ Palouse River] , The Columbia Gazetteer of North America. 2000.
* [ National Lentil Festival]
* [ The Appaloosa Museum]

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Palouse — Palouse, WA U.S. city in Washington Population (2000): 1011 Housing Units (2000): 471 Land area (2000): 1.070075 sq. miles (2.771482 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1.070075 sq. miles (2.771482… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Palouse, WA — U.S. city in Washington Population (2000): 1011 Housing Units (2000): 471 Land area (2000): 1.070075 sq. miles (2.771482 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1.070075 sq. miles (2.771482 sq. km) FIPS… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Palouse — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Palouse peut signifier : Palouse, une région de l Idaho, de l Oregon et de Washington, aux États Unis Palouse, une tribu amérindienne des États Unis… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • palouse — pəˈlüs noun (plural palouse or palouses) Usage: usually capitalized 1. a. : a Shahaptian people in the Palouse river valley, southeastern Washington and northwestern Idaho b. : a member of the Palouse people 2 …   Useful english dictionary

  • Palouse — Pa·louse (pə lo͞osʹ) n. pl. Palouse or Pa·louses 1. A Sahaptin speaking Native American people formerly inhabiting an area of southeast Washington and northwest Idaho, with present day descendants in northeast Washington. 2. A member of this… …   Universalium

  • Palouse — n. Native American people who originally inhabited the region of southern Washington and northwest Idaho and whose descendants now live in northern Washington (USA); member of the Palouse people …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Palouse — [pə lu:z] noun (plural same or Palouses) a member of an American Indian people inhabiting the Palouse River valley in SW Washington and NW Idaho …   English new terms dictionary

  • Palouse — geographical name 1. river about 140 miles (225 kilometers) NW Idaho & SE Washington flowing W & S into Snake River 2. fertile hilly region E Washington & NW Idaho N of Snake & Clearwater rivers …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • palouse — pa·louse …   English syllables

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