Brief History of Yakima County
Yakima County is Washington’s second largest by land area and seventh largest in population. Named for the Yakama tribe, it is now home to the Yakama Indian Reservation, which comprises 36 percent of the total area.
The Yakima River and Northern Pacific Railroad are two forces that shaped the county’s development and growth. The river allowed for irrigation and farming, and the railroad allowed the farmers to ship their produce to market. In 1902, Congress passed the Reclamation Act, paving the way for federally funded dam and irrigation construction projects. The Yakima Project, authorized in 1905, was one of the first and largest efforts of the Bureau of Reclamation, and has irrigated the Yakima Valley since 1910.
The Yakima Valley is a very fertile region with an average growing season of 195 days. With 300 days of sunshine, Yakima is sometimes referred to as “the Palm Springs of Washington.” The county ranks first in the U.S. in the number of fruit trees; the county produced more apples, mint, and pears than any other county in the state. Nearly 40 percent of Washington’s yearly wine production is made from Yakima Valley grapes, and Yakima County is responsible for producing nearly 80 percent of all hops grown in the U.S.
Yakima County and the Law
The 1965 history of the Yakima Bar contains several cases related to suits brought by the U.S. government in the years prior to statehood. Cases included selling liquor to Indians, robbing U.S. mails, cutting government timber, stealing cattle and horses, keeping saloons open on Sundays, and running an opium house.
Territory of Washington vs. Northern Pacific Railway, a notable 1884 case, revolved around the railroad relocating the Yakima City station to a stop four miles north near present-day Yakima. The value of land at the new site and the reduction in value at the old site led to the suit, which eventually reached the Supreme Court. The battle between the two cities also led to a case involving two newspapers, the Yakima Signal, which supported the railroad, and the Washington Farmer, which did not. The Signal filed for defamation against the Farmer.
It is noted that U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas has roots in Yakima, where he attended school and delivered newspapers as a young boy, but he never practiced law in the city. As a member of the Supreme Court, Justice Douglas “gained national stature … his national renown has probably exceeded that of any other man of local origin. But from both Bench and Bar throughout the nation, another former resident has also won distinction and lasting fame … Frank Rudkin.”
Rudkin “spent most of his time tilted back in his chair reading U.S. Supreme Court reports. His rather unlucrative practice in Yakima County was, primarily, briefing legal problems for and rendering legal assistance to other lawyers.” He swiftly rose as a member of the bench from Superior Court to the State Supreme Court, then to U.S. District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
At a Yakima County Bar reception, Judge Rudkin said nothing during the entire dinner. Finally, at the end of the evening, Judge Rudkin was asked to make a few remarks:
Mr. Toastmaster, when I practiced law here in Yakima, people said to me, ‘Someday you are going to the Superior Court,’ and that day has come to pass. When serving as Superior Court Judge, people said to me, ‘Someday you are going to the Washington State Supreme Court,’ and that day has come to pass. While serving as a member of the Supreme Court, people said to me, ‘Someday you are going to the United States District Court,’ and that day has come to pass. And while serving on that court, people said to me, ‘Someday you are going to the Circuit Court of Appeals,’ and that day has come to pass. My destiny seems to have been guided through prophesy. I shudder as I recall the many times that people have said to me, ‘Someday you are going to hell.’
The comity of the Yakima Bar was illustrated by the program for their second Annual Banquet, held in 1912 at the Hotel Commercial in North Yakima. The author notes that “speeches were in order, and emphasis was also given to sparkling burgundy and ‘kindred spirits:’”
Each round limited to three minutes
|1. Referee||H.B. Rigg|
|2. The Bar — Twenty Five Years Ago||Fred Parker|
|3. Is There a Bar At Sunnyside?||O.L. Boose|
|4. The Full Bar of Toppenish||D.H. Bonsted|
|5. The Yakima Bar Viewed from The Bench||Judge E.B. Preble|
|6. The Yakima Bench Viewed from the Bar||H.J. Snively|
|7. The Yakima Bench and Bar Viewed By a Lawyer||O.A. Fechter|
Finally, the author, V.O. Nicholson, writes, “Shakespeare long ago visualized the Yakima County Bar, in The Taming of the Shrew, in these words: ‘And do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.’”
See the other counties featured in our Throwback Thursday series: