Lost Apple Project
David Benscoter, a retired FBI and IRS Criminal Division agent, has ties to Pullman, having graduated from Pullman High and WSU, heads the Lost Apple Project. He became interested in apples after a Chattaroy, Washington, neighbor asked for help with the old trees on her property. Since then David has been on the lookout for apple varieties that have become extinct. His investigative nature led him to search for the origin of these heirloom trees throughout the Palouse and solicit to become associated with the Whitman County Historical Society.
In 2016 WCHS partnered with Benscoter and the Lost Apple Project (LAP) in their mission to identify and preserve heritage apple trees and orchards in the Inland Empire. It is the goal of the LAP volunteers to identify and map apple trees and orchards planted prior to 1920 in eastern Washington State. LAP volunteers seek to work with land owners to encourage the preservation of these trees.
The LAP aims to search for a specific list of apple varieties that were known to have been grown in this area and are now considered extinct or lost. When lost varieties are rediscovered, steps will be taken to propagate the trees and make them available again to the public.
Benscoter's searches took him to the lower slopes of Steptoe Butte, on the former homestead property of Robert E. Burns. Burns and his wife Mecie began farming in 1888. It was on this land that the couple farmed, raised their family, and planted a huge orchard of fruit trees. The family hit hard times following the economic crash of 1893 and they finally lost their farm. Benscoter has found other promising sites for heritage apples. A local legend, James “Cashup” Davis, who built a short lived hotel on top of Steptoe Butte in the late 1800’s, also planted hundreds of apple trees on the butte. In nearby Oakesdale, banker and horticulturist, Edwin H. Hanford built a spacious three-story Victorian home on his 480-acre property in the late 1890s. He was a pioneer in agricultural experimentation and diversification. By 1901, he had one of the area's largest producing orchards and nurseries. The Hanford orchards and Hanford nurseries encompassed at least 220 acres. In 1900, the orchards included approximately 50 varieties of prunes, 60 varieties of pears, 4 varieties of cane fruits, 3 species of nut trees, and 145 varieties of apples.
Part of the Burns orchard and the entire Davis orchard are included in land recently purchased by two couples who recognized the importance of preserving one of the largest and last known portions of native Palouse prairie. Ray and Joan Folwell, Pullman, together with Kent and Elaine Bassett, Bellevue, teamed their resources to acquire 437 acres surrounding the base of Steptoe Butte when it came up for auction in October, 2016. Most of the original Palouse prairie has been plowed for farming, leaving only small pockets of native vegetation in gullies or steep hillsides. It is the hope of the Folwell's and Bassetts to save this land in its native state.
Grafting and Purchasing
In 2017 a total of 200 apple varieties were sent to experts in Oregon for testing, resulting in five new re-discovered apples and many considered heirloom types. Since 2016 four lost (thought to be extinct) apple varieties from the Palouse have been located and identified: Nero, Arkansas Beauty, Dickinson, and McAfee. The Fall Jeneting, located in Colfax, became the second known re-discovery of this variety. Additionally four other lost apples from locations in Washington and Idaho have been re-discovered through the efforts of LAP.
We were fortunate that many newspapers (including the New York Times), websites, and TV and radio stations ran stories about the rediscoveries. In addition, Dave Benscoter told the story of why so many lost apple varieties are believed to still exist in our region to seven civic and community groups in the past year. Two grafting classes as well as a scion (grafting wood) exchange were held in eastern Washington and organized by the Lost Apple Project. Fifty-five people received training on how to graft apple and other fruit trees.
In 2017 the LAP sold nearly 100 apple trees, including 80 once lost varieties, to the people of eastern Washington. This year there will be a limited number of once lost trees available for sale. If you would like to purchase a tree email Dave Benscoter at . Also, if you purchased a tree in 2017 and it did not survive, please contact Dave and he will make sure you get a replacement tree. The cost is $25.00 to general public and $20 to WCHS members. These trees are on M111 rootstock which can grow to twenty feet.
All proceeds help to fund further apple research and the WCHS.