By Luke Ellington
Women hanging Palisades sign on new train depot
Once called “Beulah Land,” the small farming community of Palisades was renamed nearly one hundred years ago for the steep colorful cliffs that form the walls of the Moses Coulee. How the deep coulee was carved out and palisades exposed was a matter of dispute in the geologic community until the 1940s, when the truth about the gargantuan Lake Missoula was discovered. It is now agreed upon that glacial flooding from Lake Missoula, between 10 and 15 thousand years ago, carved out the Moses Coulee and transformed the land on its way toward the Pacific Ocean. The flood water that broke free from immense glacial dams in Idaho and Montana is said to have traveled at a rate of flow 60 times greater than that of the Amazon River. Layers of volcanic basalt were stripped away to expose the giant cliff walls. The effect this force of nature had upon the face of central and eastern Washington is no less impressive today.
Agricultural scenes from the beautiful Moses Coulee stretch near Palisades
Though it is rarely discussed, the community of Palisades began four miles northeast from its current location. The first Palisades post office was even established in this section of the coulee known as “Upper Ranch,” where there was a small store. The first three families to homestead in this area of the coulee were the Christianson, Owens, and Smith families.
On February 15, 1909, the Spokesman Review published an ad for Palisades that read: “Palisades is the name of a new post office established in Moses Coulee, M. W. Russell, post-master, 16 miles up the coulee from Columbia, on a new branch of the Great Northern being built into the Waterville country. The Moses Lake Land Co. has platted a townsite where the new post office has been established. The grading on the new road is nearly complete, and is expected to be finished by April 1, and the entire line by May 1. The Moses Coulee has become a large orchard. Big companies have set out large tracts of fruit trees. The Beulah Land Co. will have 500 acres in fruit this spring.” Though most of the article was correct, “M. W. Russell” was never the postmaster of Palisades or any other post office. Established September 10, 1908, the Palisade post office’s first postmaster was John P. Hunt.
Around this time, Palisades began to boom. A. Z. Wells and George A. Virtue bought land in the Moses Coulee on which to plant orchards. Increases in population caused a local land-buying company to build a two-story general store near the Palisades railroad siding (short offshoot of railroad track running to the modern sight of Palisades). The post office was also moved into the new building with Miss Elizabeth J. Virtue, George A. Virtue’s daughter, as postmaster The store supported the increases in population until it burned down in 1936. Lillian “Peg” Gutschow, teacher at Palisades Elementary and later owner of the Palisades Country Store, was living out of the upstairs portion of the store when it burned down. The store was rebuilt, however, with only a single floor. The depression of the 1930s had hit Palisades hard and times were tough for everyone. Additionally, a severe winter in the 1930s killed nearly every tree in the coulee, devastating the orchard community.
Found by J. E. Proctor in a Moses Coulee cave in 1932, the Moses Coulee Pipe is one of the most highly-prized archeological finds in North Central Washington. The bell-shaped pipe was found 4 ½ feet below the surface of a blackened cave, protected by a wooden case decorated with images of people. The one-of-a-kind pipe is thought to have been the property of a chief from long ago.
Moses Coulee Pipe replica and display at Rocky Reach Dam Museum
Some of Palisades’s historically remembered family names include the Goldys and the Gutschows. Robert J. Goldy, World War I veteran in the Army Tank Corp, arrived in Palisades in 1924, where he operated a ranch with his family until his death in 1950. For his farming practices, he was selected as one of the 12 outstanding conservation farmers in the state by the State Junior Chamber of Commerce. The Gutschows are known in Palisades for being the longtime owners of the Palisades Country Store. For 41 years, the store was run by Leroy, who came to Palisades in 1925, and his wife Lillian, who also served as the postmaster for roughly 33 years.
Palisades post office and empty Country Store Sign on post office door
In the late 1970s, the Palisades country store closed and stayed closed. Though several families have tried to re-open the store, the low level of traffic and business in town has made it impossible. Since the railroads stopped running through town in 1985, Palisades has not changed much, however. Though there are many farms and ranches in the Palisades area, the majority of traffic through town, especially in the summer months, seems to be from those heading to Douglas Creek. Though few people in the county know of Douglas Creek, it should be known that the locals themselves avidly avoid the area. The beautiful mountain trails, falls and pools have been a gathering place for teenagers and “hippies” for as long as those in Palisades can remember.
View of coulee looking east View of coulee looking west
Driving through the Moses Coulee, it is no wonder why pioneers settled there and why modern farmers have upheld the tradition. Chief Moses, for whom the coulee was named, was called Sulk-stalk-scosum, or “a place split from the sun.” The sun beats down and the wind can blow hard, but there is always a sense of protection from the massive cliff walls jutting up high toward the sky.
Fran Roth of Palisades has lived in the Moses Coulee her whole life, and boy does she have stories to tell. When asked about what goes on in Palisades today, however, Fran was quick to respond with a laugh, “not much!” Palisades’s ex-postmaster of 30 years may be one of the few faces in Palisades that knows a detailed history of her hometown’s past. That is partly because her mother, Mrs. Art Allen, was the Palisades area writer for the Wenatchee World newspaper for many years. Fran remembers a time when the store was still open, the trains still ran through, and even when bands of Indians would travel through town and occasionally have pow-wows.
Growing up in Palisades, Fran remembers attending the original single room Palisades schoolhouse. “There were 15 kids in school when I went,” she said. “One room, one teacher!” After graduating from the Palisades school system, Fran began traveling to East Wenatchee. The high school she attended was across from the East Wenatchee City Hall, in a building more commonly referred to as the “old junior high.” Fran is proud to say that her class was the first to graduate from the “new” 12th grade system at Eastmont High School in 1956. On top of that, Fran was the first to walk and receive her diploma. In Fran’s class there were two girls who shared her maiden name of Allen, but “F came before P so I graduated first.”
Palisades Elementary School today
It is clear when talking to Fran Roth that she would not want to live anywhere else in the world. She says she once thought about living in Ellensburg, but after traveling there and seeing the sideways trees she decided it was just too windy. Fran’s home is hidden from the road and surrounded by acres of land, which she leases out. “No one can get any closer than they already are,” she said confidently. And that’s just the way she likes it.
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