Moxee: An influx of farmers

April 22, 2010

French Canadian and Dutch families settled in Moxee to start new jobs and new lives.

The Gideon Champoux family poses for a photo while picking hops on the John South ranch in Moxee in 1900.

They arrived in the dark during the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 1897.

The Gamache and Sauve families, each with eight children — as well as contingents from the Dulude, Regimbal, Dumas, Fortier, Riel, Patnode, Trepanier, Toussaint, Houle and Simon families — came by train to North Yakima, their belongings loaded into boxcars.

They shared a language — French — and a religion — Catholicism.

There were about 50 of them migrating west, first from Québec, then from Polk and Red Lake counties in northern Minnesota.

And they stuck together, intermarrying and taking in new arrivals until they, too, could buy tracts of land from the Moxee Co.

The company, owned by Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone, and his father-in-law, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, founder of the National Geographic Society, had started the 6,400-acre experimental farm in the Moxee Valley in 1886.

Along with a number of relatives, they grew tobacco, alfalfa, cotton, hops, corn and fruit, and raised a variety of livestock. And their farm drew an influx of immigrants.

Many French-Canadian families, came west to work for the company, then branch off, doing business on their own.

The Moxee Valley’s French-Canadian connection dates to the late 1800s, when lack of work in Québec forced large numbers of people, even entire villages, to move south and west, becoming part of the largest and most continuous influx of French-Canadians to the United States.

Students of the French school in Moxee are shown in this photo taken about 1905.

And, with the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in Yakima in 1884, they migrated steadily to the Moxee Valley for more than a quarter of a century.

They weren’t the only ones.

Dutch immigrants, known as “Hollanders,” migrated here, too, forming a colony of their own. At one point, there were both a “Holland School” and a “French School.”

Early settlers in what was known as the Holland District included the Gerritsen, Van Wechel, Den Beste and families.

The Champoux and Brother General Merchandise Store in about 1901. The first store was built in Moxee City by Arthur Champoux and Frank Albert Champoux. Gideon Champoux is in the horse-drawn buggy. Other men in white shirts are Albert Dupree, Theophile Champoux and Arthur Champoux. There is no name for the man seated on the porch.

Like the French-Canadians, many had migrated for a second time, having come from the Netherlands to Iowa, then to the Moxee Valley.

They were tired of the tornadoes and crop failures in the Midwest. And many came before the French-Canadians arrived.

In the eastern reaches of the valley were the Meeboer, Bronkhorst, Whitmore, Van Diest and other Dutch families, many of whom traveled here in 1886, a decade before the night train pulled into the station.

More than 100 years later, the Moxee Valley’s French-Canadian and Dutch connection endures. You can see it in the surnames of early settlers on country road signs.

It’s preserved in a 20-page book at the Yakima Valley Regional Library titled “The Enchanting Moxee Valley: Its History and Development,” by the late Alice Toupin, a longtime Moxee resident.

And many descendants of those Dutch and French-Canadian families still live in the area, including those of Melina Gamache and Wilfred Sauve, who arrived with their families on that night train in 1897. They met on board during the journey west and married two years later, eventually raising 13 children.

By Adriana Janovich

A group of pickers poses for a photograph in 1913 in a hop field at the Morrier Ranch in Yakima.

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