I now know more about Cheney, Washington and Eastern Washington University then I ever intended to know. But that’s okay. I put Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass’ Whipped Cream & Other Delights on in the background as I read and the proceedings were sweetened, if made slightly comical by my choice of soundtrack. The history of Cheney will be forever tied to the dulcet sounds of trumpet in my mind. But the truth is, Cheney and EWU have a delightful little history that’s worth reading. From big hopes of being the regions major Metropolis to a school for teachers, Cheney made its own way. Sometime in the future when I am speeding across the post-apocalyptic landscape in my custom Mustang I will run into someone, figuratively, and I will say to them, “Jonathan. My name is Jonathan. Let me tell you a story of the place called Cheney.” Because, naturally, that is what we would all say upon meeting someone out in the middle of nowhere.
A major stand-out, in my opinion, in the history of Cheney is the shenanigans surrounding the county seat. I was filled with joy upon reading this story because it confirmed my suspicion that Cheney is full of nefarious evil-doers. (*Note to Cheney citizens: I don’t actually think this. I love you dearly.) The story goes, in 1881, after an undesirable recount, a group of Cheney men snuck into Spokane Falls at night and, as Jim Kershner puts it, “took custody of the auditor and the county books, did their own quick recount, declared Cheney the winner, and bundled books and auditor off to three waiting wagons.” They even had six-shooters. It’s perfect. If I ever have spare time I will write the screenplay. It will be called, The Grand Steal. Of course, Cheney’s victory did not last long as Spokane won the county seat back in a landslide a few years later. And that, my friends, is what they call karma.
Poor small Cheney. They had such high hopes of being eastern Washington’s crown jewel, they even named their city after Benjamin P. Cheney, a director of the Northern Pacific rail line, in an attempt to flatter their way into the railroad’s good graces. But, like all good losers, Cheney lost. Spokane Falls grew into the region’s largest city while Cheney was left in the dry eastern Washington dust. That is, until Cheney was chosen as one of three locations that would host a State Normal School. This school for teachers would eventually be known as Eastern Washington University.
Of course, universities need buildings and buildings need to be named something or other hall. Eastern did just that. For example, some buildings in the Historic District of EWU include Showalter Hall, “the oldest and most important building on the Eastern Washington University campus” and named after the first president of Cheney Normal School, Noah Showalter; Monroe Hall, named after Cheney Normal School Board of Trustees member Mary A. Monroe; and Senior Hall, prophetically named after me because I am a senior. (*That last part is not true). Speaking of naming conventions, one of my favorites comes from this EWU timeline that points out that, in 1977, a new field house was built and named for Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe who was “a native of Pennsylvania, who had no affiliation with Eastern.” What?
Cheney and Eastern Washington University contain many buildings and landmarks that provide neat historical stories. In addition, early Cheney antics have inspired in me a wonderful idea for the next great western film, although it’s probably sixty years too late for that. However, whatever your preferred method for consuming Cheney history, I recommend doing it while listening to Herb Alpert. I wouldn’t say its transcendental, but it’s certainly amusing.