Seat of Whitman County, the town spreads along both sides of the Palouse River. Hemming in the town are rounded hills. Main Street, nearly a mile in length, parallels the river, which occasionally goes on a rampage, when the spring runoff is exceptionally rapid, and floods the lower levels of the town.
Colfax is an old town with a vigorous past. When the ban against settlement in this region was lifted in 1858, settlers swarmed in over the trails that trappers, traders, missionaries, and soldiers had worn through the Palouse hills; but it was not until 1870 that the first settler, J. A. Perkins, took up land in the part of the Palouse River valley where Colfax is located. Perkins was soon joined by H. S. Hollingsworth, Captain James Ewart, and others. The settlement, at first called Belleville, was renamed in honor of Schuyler Colfax, Vice President of the United States during Ulysses S. Grant’s first term. For a few years, it was almost exclusively a cattle center, and during this period gun fights were everyday events. By the end of the 1880s, however, Colfax was deriving its main income from wheat, leaving behind its turbulent youth.