Wasco County is named for the Wasco (or Wascopam) tribe of Indians that lived south of the Columbia River, near The Dalles. When Wasco County was created from portions of Clackamas, Marion, Linn, and Lane Counties on January 11, 1854, it consisted of all of Oregon Territory between the Cascade Range and the Rocky Mountains and from latitude 42deg. (the California border) to latitude 46deg. (the Washington border). This was the largest county ever formed in the United States, originally consisting of 130,000 square miles.
Portions of Wasco County as it was originally drawn now lie in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Over the years, seventeen other counties in eastern Oregon were created from Wasco County, which now consists of 2,387 square miles. It is bordered by two rivers, the Columbia to the north and the Deschutes to the east, and by the Warm Springs Indian Reservation on the south and Mt. Hood National Forest on the west. Wasco County shares political boundaries with Sherman, Wheeler, Jefferson, Clackamas, and Hood River Counties.
The Dalles was designated the county seat when the county was formed in 1854. Courthouses were built in 1859, 1884, and in 1914. All three buildings are standing today and the 1914 building is still in use as the county courthouse.
County officials include three commissioners, district attorney, assessor, clerk, sheriff, surveyor, and treasurer. In 1969 the county court ceased to have any judicial functions and became a purely administrative body.
The 2000 Wasco County population of 23,791 was an increase of 9.72% over 1990.
The falls on the Columbia River near The Dalles served as a gathering place and major trading center for many Indians, including the Wasco, Paiute, and Warm Springs. The falls had been named Le Grand Dalles de la Columbia (The Great Falls of the Columbia) by French Canadian fur traders. The Indians of the region were moved to the Warm Springs Reservation in 1855.
The Dalles had served initially as a way station on the emigrant road to the Willamette Valley. The construction of a pioneer road over the Cascades in 1845 and the Donation Land Act of 1850 brought families to the area to settle. Wasco County became a major transportation hub for both river traffic and inland traffic. River traffic on the Columbia River was profoundly affected in 1935 by the building of Bonneville Dam in Multnomah County and by The Dalles Dam in 1957 in Wasco County. The county's economy is based upon agriculture (orchards, wheat farming, livestock ranching), lumber, manufacturing, electric power, transportation, aluminum, and tourism.
Did You Know?
Wasco County residents were seeing red during the 1980s. In one of the more bizarre chapters of Oregon history, guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his red garbed followers built the Rajneeshpuram commune on 64,000 acres of remote land near the John Day River in 1981. Friction soon developed between the Rajneeshees and long time county residents and officials. The Bhagwan's followers developed a penchant for buying him Rolls Royce cars (27 in the fleet) and for flaunting land use ordinances and election laws.
The commune took control of the nearby community of Antelope, which they renamed Rajneesh, and attempted to manipulate the county government by registering to vote homeless people brought in from outside the county and state. The ensuing investigation in 1985 led to the arrest of the Bhagwan's personal secretary on charges of theft and attempted murder. The Bhagwan was indicted on federal immigration charges and deported to India.