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We may be in Eastern Washington, but we’re as Western as they come


A cougar taxidermy, along with tule mat lodges and other traditional dwellings, are on display at the Yakama Nation Cultural Heritage Center Museum in Toppenish. (JAKE PARRISH/Yakima Herald-Republic)

Roy Rogers and Annie Oakley ain’t got nothin’ on us.

Yakima Valley is command central for cowboys and cowgirls as well as Native Americans, pioneer families, farmers and ranchers. In other words, we’re still the wild and woolly Old West.

For starters, there’s the elegant and informative Yakama Nation Cultural Heritage Center Museum in Toppenish, which tells the story of the first Americans, in this case, the Yakamas.

As you walk through the door, their affecting history unfolds with the sound of sacred river water flowing, the lifeblood of the tribe.

Displays of ancient artifacts, cultural foods, baskets, beadwork and the depiction of tribal legends tell the story of life along the river and on Mount Adams. A tule mat longhouse is a highlight, while historical photographs of Yakama children, lined up at boarding school, is a sight to ponder.

Go to U.S. Highway 97 and Buster Road, Toppenish. 509-865-2800.

Then, came the pioneers. Through sweat and grit, they converted arid desert into fertile agricultural land. Cattle ranches and family farms took hold and spread, as did irrigation. To appreciate pioneer beginnings, head to Snipes Cabin in Sunnyside. In 1859, cattleman Ben Snipes was the first white settler to build a cabin in the area. When he wasn’t kicking up his boots in the one-room log home, he ran cattle — as many as 250,000 head — through Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. He was wildly successful and made a fortune, not necessarily reflected in his humble abode. Originally located 7 miles from what is now Sunnyside, it was moved to 321 Grant Ave. in Sunnyside more than 60 years ago.

A lovely sight and site is the 107-year old W.P. Sawyer House at 6451 Yakima Valley Highway, north of Wapato. It’s a private home, but it’s worth driving near to admire the fine mansion that Sawyer, one of the first orchardists in the area, created. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it can be viewed by pulling over on the road just to the south. Then across the highway from the Sawyer House is another historic edifice, this one significantly more modest. The 1864 Mattoon cabin is the Valley’s oldest settler-built cabin still in its original location.

Also on the National Register of Historic Places, Fort Simcoe Historical State Park tells the story of Army life in the West and how it affected local Native American culture. Five original buildings on the 1850s military site still exist, while several others have been re-created with period furniture. Kids always gravitate to the stockade. It’s located 45 miles south of Yakima at the end of State Route 220 (Fort Road), at 5150 Fort Simcoe Road, White Swan. 509-874-2372.

Finally, any trip back in time to the Old West has to include a visit to Toppenish, “Where the West Still Lives.” There’s a rip-roarin’ rodeo around the 4th of July, but no matter what month it is, there are more than 75 dazzling murals painted all over town to see, all depicting an actual event in the history of the town. They portray early planting of hops, Yakama women twining cedar baskets, cattle branding, farm workers harvesting crops or settlers plowing the land.

You can’t get more Western than that.