By Luke Ellington


(Source: Blogger (MB Line). Image by Unknown, 1909)

Timeline of Palisades

1883Douglas County established
1886Waterville voted county seat
1908Palisades post office established with John P. Hunt as postmaster
1909Townsite of Palisades platted; Great Northern Railway builds its Mansfield spur line through the coulee
1930sDepression causes decline of prosperity for Palisades
1936First Palisades store burns down
1977Gutschows close Palisades country store
1985Mansfield spur line abandoned, trains stop running through town

Founding Family Names

Many families and individuals took part in the formation of Douglas County settlements in the late 1800s. Some names appear in many historical accounts and biographical sketches, while others have been lost to time. These are some of the names which have survived in books about Palisades:

Allmendinger, Christianson, Drebis, Goldy, Gutschow, Hunt, Owens, Smith, Wells, and Virtue.

A Look Back

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.

valley covered in low green shrubs between flat top mountains

(Source: Panoramio. Image by Chris Metz, 2010;

Attribution No Derivative Works license, no changes)

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.”

railroad tracks through a valley headed into a town

(Source: Blogger (MB Line). Image by Unknown)

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, several communities were established along Moses Coulee. Travelers entering the coulee from the Columbia River could pass through Vulcan, Behula (originally Dutcher and later Columbia River), Appledale, Palisades, Moses Coulee, and McCue (Hopewell) before climbing the grade onto the Waterville Plateau.

Origin of the Name

The name “Palisades” was issued by George A. Virtue in 1906 in reference to the steep basaltic rocks characterizing the Moses Coulee.


(Source: Panoramio. Image by Nemlander, 2009;

Attribution Noncommercial No Derivative Works license, no changes)

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 Moses Coulee Pipe

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.

The depression of the 1930s 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.

1930’s prices in Palisades

Loaf of bread 10-15 cents

Canned milk 8 cents

Soda pop 5 cents

Candy bar 5 cents

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 over 30 years.

small house used as a country store, two chairs on the front porch

In the late 1970s, the Palisades country store closed and stayed closed. Since the railroads stopped running through town in 1985, Palisades has not changed much. There are many farms and ranches in the Palisades area, but the majority of traffic through town, especially in the summer months, seems to be from sight-seers and others traveling to Douglas Creek. The dramatic variety of terrain and unique geologic features make the area a draw for many types of outdoors enthusiasts.

In the Moses Coulee, bird watchers may spy

Lazuli Bunting, Common Goldeneye, Sage Thrasher, Sage Sparrow, Poorwill, Mountain Bluebird, Loggerhead Shrike, Canyon Wren, White-Throated Swift, and Golden Eagle.

freight train traveling through the valley

(Source: Blogger (sdp45). Image by Blair Kooistra, 1983;

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, “a place split from the sun.” The sun beats down here 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.


Many Palisades residents still remember a time when the general store was open and trains ran through regularly. Some may even recall bands of Indians traveling through the area and occasionally having pow-wows in the coulee. Today, the elementary school is the heart of the community. Students benefit from small class sizes and educators who are dedicated to their success and the preservation of the Palisades way of life. Palisades School stands true to its motto. It truly is “where happy happens.”