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Chancery Courts as a Window on Social History

By Shannan Kain

“Consumer Goods In Walla Walla County: Bring A Bunch Of Cash”

Growth of the railroads during the period Washington was a territory created a surge in industrial growth. Until the Civil War liquid assets were relatively low across the American population. Wartime profiteering prompted several fortunes. Additionally, the nation as a whole began to extract and capitalize on huge quantities of natural resources.

Moreover, labor was cheap and manufacturers took advantage of the need for jobs working laborers for twelve hours often seven days a week. This time period also brought about many new inventions. Over 440,000 patents were issued is a thirty year period that started in 1860, Ely Whitney invented mass production equipment that made a increase in American goods possible. With mass industrialization the nation moved form a population of farmers and self-sufficient people to a nation that depended on earning wages. Even women were entering the workforce in greater numbers. Wages increased and created the ability and the need to “consume.” A nation that once focused on capital improvements and products (railroads and telegraph) began producing consumer goods.

Industry in the east did not always mean goods in the west. The towns located along railways received both imported and domestic goods but those further away had less to live with. As Walla Walla County was so vast in the territorial period the availability of goods likely fluctuated dramatically. Towns nearly always had a bakery and a restaurant and railroad stops had hotels.

Those living “out” had a meager diet that consisted most of what they hunted and were able to grow seasonally. In the town of Walla Walla many items were available. I found several advertisements in the local paper for groceries. Some of the items offered include: crushed and powdered sugar, China and Sandwich Island Sugar, green and black tea, pickles and spices, flavoring extracts, syrups. Liverpool and dairy salt, candies, raisins, apples, peaches, coffee, soap, tobacco, snuff, chocolate yeast, pepper, mustard, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger, mace, flour, bacon, butter, lard, beans, rice, starch, saleratus, cream of tartar, and soda. In the ads pork was the prevalent source of meat. No food in colonial Anglo-America declared gustatory adequacy at the world table more forcefully than ham. Travelers to the English territories, such as Rev. Andrew Burnaby, declared American pork superior in flavor to any in the world (Shields), Shop owners offered ham, bacon, lard, mutton, pork and bolognas while residents offered eggs, chickens, turkeys and baked goods. Drinking alcohol was commonplace in 1860s Wall Walla county. Newspapers carried ads asking “Why do you use an inferior article when you can but genuine liquors at Kyger and Reeces at the same price? Offering Fine Old Otard Brandy, James Henisey, Biscuit Balouche, Seignette, Pellevoison, and United Proprietor’s. Whiskeys included Cutter, Miller, magnolia and more. They offered rum and gin as well as paints and varnishes, a humorous combination to me. Alcohol, then as now, created problems for society. Wyoming Territorial John A, Campbell said this to the second territorial legislature:
“The expenses of the courts in conducting criminal prosecutions for offenses
against the territorial laws during the past two years, have absorbed a large share of the revenue collected. I have been assured by officers of the court that in every case that has been tried, in at least one of the counties, the origin of the crime could be directly or indirectly traced to the use of intoxicating liquors”(emayzine).
I am sure the problem was the same in Walla Walla County as evidenced by the overwhelming number of alcohol related crimes in the archives,

An interesting discovery is that men’s clothing appeared to be ready made. Shops like Brown Bros, and Company offered men’s superfine black and brown cloth coats, men’s cashmere suits, overcoats, pea coats, business coats, doeskin pants, Harrison pants, cassimere pants, satinet pants, duck and drill overalls, gray and fancy over shirts. For women they did not advertise dresses, overcoats and hats but silks, satins, fancy prints and fancy plaids (fabrics), fancy coburgs, blankets, balmorals, shawls. Lindseys, jeans, ticking, drills, fancy delaines, fancy alpacas, French chinteses, flannels, bonnets, crinolines, checks, denims, toweling, tablecloths and covers, ladies’ collars and sleeves, edgings, ribbons, trimmings, laces. Finally, for men and woman they advertised fine boots and shoes and heavy brogans (a heavy ankle high work shoe).

Two other categories remain that showed plentiful products. The first is hardware and house wares. My research turned up a good list of items due to the concentration of farmers and gold miners. In 1859 gold was discovered in Walla Walla County. As a result, the city of Walla Walla became a supply town for the miners. The city attracted many merchants dependent on sales and services to the men. Prices went sky high. Mr. H. Ackley is quoted in the Washington Statesmen as saying that on his return from the gold mining area he ran into several pack animals on their way to supply miners. Flour was worth $36 per cwt, coffee 60 cents a pound, potatoes 65 cents a pound, and bacon 75 cents per pound (November 1864). Profits ran high, with staples like coffee and cured meat selling for as much as four times their price in other nearby cities.

In town stores offered: nails, shovels, spades, sluice forks, collins’ picks, ax handles. pick handles, miner’s pans, chopping axes, camping axes, hammers, hatchets, mining hoes, field hoes, door butts, door locks, files, screws, manilla rope, iron and steel squares, handsaws, butcher’s saws, tenon saws, spirit levels, ox bows, candlesticks, razors, knives, knives, forks, shears, scissors, horse cards, wool cards, augurs, braces and bitts, gold scales, planes and chisels, crockery, glassware, lamps, and Howe and Co sewing machines. Also found were carpets, floor oilcloths, matting, window shades, paper hangings, threshing machines, mowers and reapers form a SF importer, Timothy hay, oats and barley (horse feed). The ads stressed that they offered grain sacks and that grain would be taken in payment for goods.

The final area of interest was the equivalent of today’s drug store. Just like modern equivalents they offered prescription medications along with the over-the-counter variety. One ad I found offered to “Cure Your Cold And Save Your Lungs. Newell’s Pulmonary Syrup has cured thousands and it will cure you… a cough… when it proves obstinate there is always a reason to fear the consequences.” Like the sellers of fine spirits, the pharmacist also offered chemicals, paints, oils, varnishes, and brushes. In the drug store one could find the perfumery offering a selection of French perfumes and milled soaps along with jewelry, cutlery, plated goods, and watch repair.

The amount of available goods was rather astounding. My assumptions led me to believe that supplies were limited and of poor quality. While much of the available goods were imported by the end of the 1860s more American made or local goods were available. This personal discovery is a great example of how archival documents can teach us about our past.