Yakima Training Center

From the 1850s, to the present

By J.M. Simpson on August 18, 2017

Note to reader:  The term "Yakama" is used in the Native American context; the term "Yakima" is used in the English context.

Separated by the Cascade Mountains and 165 miles, the Yakima Training Center is connected to Joint Base Lewis-McChord's century of history.

The connection begins in October 1805 when Cpt. Meriwether Lewis and Lt. William Clark encountered Chief Kamiakin, the war leader of the Yakama tribe.

Both officers led the Corps of Discovery, an Army unit that between 1804 and 1806 became known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition as it explored the western United States.

As the country grew and settlers pushed west, the Washington Territory was established in March 1853. Soon after, Brig. Gen. Isaac Stevens was appointed territorial governor.

Through treaties, he worked to end the Yakama's claim to their ancestral lands to encourage more white settlement.

In June 1855, 14 tribal leaders signed the Treaty of Yakima, ceding 10,828,800 acres of their territory to the federal government.

Distrustful of Stevens' promises to enforce the treaty's provision to protect the Yakamas from white encroachment, Chief Kamiakin had reluctantly signed the document.

The discovery of gold opened wide the door to miners, some of whom did what Kamiakin feared; they stole from the Indians and assaulted their women.

The Yakama struck back by killing miners in isolated incidents. In Sept. 1855, Maj. Granville Haller and 84 soldiers of the 4th Infantry set out from The Dalles in the Oregon territory to find and destroy Kamiakin forces.

The Yakama Indian War began on the afternoon of Oct. 5, 1855, near Toppenish Creek when Haller's force collided with over 300 of Kamiakin's warriors.

With his superior numbers, the Yakama chief trounced Haller's troops. Despite the fact that reinforcements were on their way, Haller and his soldiers retreated under the cover of night.

A month later, Maj. Gabriel Rains set out with over 700 soldiers in an effort to find, engage and destroy Kamiakin's forces.

He found the warriors in an encampment on the banks of the Yakima River at Union Gap Nov. 9.

In the bitter cold of late autumn, Rains' and Kamiakin's forces engaged in a two-day battle.

Outnumbered and outgunned, Kamiakin's forces eventually retreated.

In 1856, the federal government established Fort Simcoe, and by 1858 the Army had extinguished the Yakama uprising through a sustained campaign of attrition and starvation.

Surviving members were settled on reservation land that covers a large area south and west of present day Yakima.

World War I (1914-1918) brought about the establishment of Camp Lewis. By the time of World War II (1939-1945), Fort Lewis had need of more land on which to train.

In 1941, the Army negotiated the lease of 160,000 acres for the Yakima Anti-Aircraft Artillery Range in the green and brown sagebrush covered hills east of Yakima.

Hundreds of soldiers, many from Fort Lewis, trained at the range during the war.

In 1951, the Army expanded the training area when it purchased an additional 261,000 acres, creating the Yakima Firing Center.

Tanks, artillery and maneuver exercises were conducted by the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis and the Washington Army National Guard.

By 1987, the Army acquired another 63,000 acres of land to accommodate, and in 1990, the center was renamed the Yakima Training Center.

Today, the center covers 372,000 acres and is used by Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the Air Force and international forces for maneuver training and live fire exercises.  

Its importance has grown in recent years and will continue to grow into the next century.