Palouse tree

Loose on the Palouse

Some days, it feels like it’s still winter.

In April.

It’s cold.

It’s wet.

It’s windy.

We attempted an escape last Thursday. We got stopped by a snowstorm.

In April.


(Hello to our Calgary readers, who — this very night — are expecting a fresh dump of the white stuff. It isn’t fair. I know.)

When the skies seemed to cloud over gloomily on Sunday but the temperatures rose high enough to avoid frozen precipitation, I knew it was a day I couldn’t pass up.

It came through in spades.

Loose on the Palouse

Bella and I hauled ass for the Washington region called the Palouse. Our American was busy doing taxes. We knew we were on the loose.

Loose on the Palouse.

The origin of the name “Palouse” is unclear. One theory is that the name of the Palus tribe (spelled in early accounts variously as 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” or “lawn.” Over time, the spelling changed to Palouse. Another theory is that the region’s name came from the French word and was later applied to its indigenous inhabitants. ~ Palouse, Wikipedia

Damn Canadians.

Just a barn

Our first stop was a dirt road just south of Fairfield. We found this barn on a similar trip last year but, with new gear, I had to return.

palouse barn fairfield

Bella jumped out of the car, eager to explore and scare away the pigeons.

Maremma sheepdog Spokane

We tootled along, heading south and bound for Palouse, the town. The 27 is a twisty road, winding through farm country and slowing down through towns like Tekoa and Oakesdale that once were bustling centers in the early 1900s.

We stopped just south of Oakesdale when we found the John F. Kelley homestead.

That’s right. We happened upon history, and don’t I love it when that happens.

The barn was my first subject … shocking, I know.

Oakesdale barn

Bella tried her own version of an escape, trying to get through Eddie’s open window.

Maremma sheepdog

I knew I had to get her out of the car, so together we explored the entire property: the official Kelley cabin, the outbuildings, a “carport” with an old lorry still waiting for someone to turn the engine, and another, more modern home on the hill with its own set of outbuildings.

From An Illustrated History of Whitman County, State of Washington, I learn John F. Kelley hailed from New York state and made his way to the Palouse after a brief stop in California.

He arrived in Whitman County in 1872 to acquire as much land as he could and enter the stock business.

Written in 1901, the Illustrated History notes Kelley’s holdings included about 2,000 acres, most of which were farmland.

“At the present time he gives the major portion of his attention to wheat-raising, though he still handles some cattle and other live stock. Of course, Mr. Kelley does not attempt to handle his mammoth domain himself, but rents much of it to other parties. On his home place are many valuable improvements, among them a small orchard.”

The orchard is, of course, untended and overgrown by now. An explorer must be careful to dodge the brambles and keep an eye out for the occasional farming accoutrements scattered around the property.