This article was sent by a long time subscriber. A lot of this is from Spokane Historical Robert M. Lambeth, “Saint Boniface Church in Uniontown.” You are looking at Saint. Boniface Church, named after the German apostle. It is the first consecrated Catholic Church in the State of Washington. The church not only represents the spiritual commitment of early Palouse immigrants and their modern-day ancestors, but also the commitment to building, from the ground up, a new society in a strange new place. This spirit would come to personify the people of the Palouse.
One of the most dramatic social changes experienced in the Palouse region was westward migration of Americans of European descent. As Europeans and Americans encroached on Native American lands in the 1860s, they brought with them a new culture. As the United States military forcibly removed area tribes, such as the Palus, Spokanes and Yakamas from their ancestral homelands on to reservations, the region was opened for homesteading by others. With abundant farming lands available after the Indian Appropriations Act in 1871, along with an effective suppression of Native American resistance, thousands of northern European farmers began migrating to the Palouse in search of economic prosperity.
In the late 19th Century, groups of German immigrants (predominantly from the regions of Bavaria, Baden, and Rhineland) settled their own enclaves in areas throughout the Palouse. One of the most prominent and prosperous immigrant communities was in Uniontown, originally settled by German Catholics in 1873. One year before settlement, a “party of young Germans” set out from Minnesota to homestead in Oregon Country. The group arrived in Walla Walla early in 1873, and from there to Palouse Country. Deciding to remain in an area south of Colfax, they named the settlement Uniontown (after the area’s unofficial name of Union Flats). The group even sent one man, Mr. Jacobs, back to Minnesota to send word of their arrival and bring back more German-American migrants.
The group of devout Catholics initially set about establishing a community church, a difficult task due to the lack of building materials. At first, Jesuit Fathers from the Lapwai Mission performed Mass inside homes. By the early 1880s, a Catholic organization was formed and a Dominican Friar, Father Caesary, became the first resident priest. In 1893, construction of the current structure began, at which time only the foundation was made. Financial hard times had befallen both Uniontown and the rest of the nation during the Panic of 1893, which effectively kyboshed the town’s Catholics from continuing the construction of their church for another 11 years. In May, 1904, under direction of Uniontown’s new Pastor, J.A. Faust, construction once again commenced and the grand structure was completed in less than year, opening its doors in April, 1905 at a total cost of around $20,000.
The construction of St. Boniface Church was indicative of the prosperity experienced among the German immigrants who brought their specific knowledge of wheat farming to the region over 140 years ago. It was the introduction of the German-American culture that helped to make the Palouse both culturally diverse and economically successful. They brought with them not just unique social and religious qualities, but they also brought distinct farming techniques from Europe, many of which are still used today. Saint Boniface stands as a testament to the long-standing and positive influence that German immigrants have created in the Palouse. Still to this day, the language most spoken in Idaho other than English and Spanish is German.