Farm fields from Steptoe Butte in the Palouse region of eastern Washington state. The Palouse is a region of the northwestern United States, encompassing parts of southeastern Washington, north central Idaho and, in some definitions, extending south into northeast Oregon. It is a major agricultural area, primarily producing wheat and legumes. Situated about 160 miles north of the Oregon Trail, the region experienced rapid growth in the late 19th century, and at one time, the population of the Palouse surpassed even that of the Puget Sound area as the most populous region of the state. The region is home to two land grant universities, the University of Idaho in Moscow and Washington State University in Pullman. Located just eight miles apart, both schools opened in the early 1890s.The origin of the name "Palouse" is unclear. One theory is that the name of the Palus tribe (spelled in early accounts variously Palus, Palloatpallah, Pelusha, et cetera) was converted by French-Canadian fur traders to the more familiar French word pelouse, meaning "land with short and thick grass" or "lawn." Over time, the spelling changed to Palouse. Another theory is that the name was in the first place a French word, describing the area which was then applied to the indigenous people inhabiting it.
Traditionally, the Palouse region was defined as the fertile hills and prairies north of the Snake River, which separated it from Walla Walla Country, and north of the Clearwater River, which separated it from the Camas Prairie, extending north along the Washington and Idaho border, south of Spokane, centered on the Palouse River. This region underwent a settlement and wheat-growing boom during the 1880s, part of a larger process of growing wheat in southeast Washington, originally pioneered in the Walla Walla Country south of the Snake River.
While this definition of the Palouse remains common today, sometimes the term is used to refer to the entire wheat-growing region, including the Wal