Ancient America: Columbia River Pictographs

For more than 10,000 years Indian people have lived adjacent to the Columbia River. In the Columbia Gorge area, hundreds, if not thousands, of archaeological sites provide silent testimony to this long period of human occupation. Rock art, in the form of petroglyphs and pictographs, is found throughout the area. The area along the Columbia River from the present-day city of The Dalles to the confluence of the John Day River with the Columbia River contains one of the largest collections of rock art in North America. Archaeologists James Keyser, Michael Taylor, George Poetschat, and David Kaiser, in their book Visions in the Mist: The Rock Art of Celilo Falls, report:

“More than 100 individual rock art sites have been found and recorded in the area and others are discovered each year. The smallest of these are single images but the largest contain more than 1,000 different motifs.”

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Plateau Indian Beadwork in the Maryhill Museum

The Maryhill Museum located near Goldendale, Washington, has a display of Plateau beadwork. The Plateau Culture Area is the area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana. From north to south it runs from the Fraser River in the north to the Blue Mountains in the south. Much of the area is classified as semi-arid. Part of it is mountainous with pine forests in the higher elevations.

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Ancient America: American Indians at Rancho La Brea

For thousands of years, American Indians used the asphalt from the tar seeps of Rancho La Brea in what is now Los Angeles, California, for many different things. The displays at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum show many of the Native uses of the tar and display some of the artifacts which archaeologists have recovered from the site.

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Northwest Coast Baskets

The Northwest Coast culture area stretches along the Pacific coast between the Cascade Mountains and the ocean. It extends north of California to Alaska. This is an area which is the home to many Indian nations who traditionally based their economy on the use of sea coast and river ecological resources. The Northwest Coast culture area stretches from the Tlingit homelands in Alaska to the Tolowa homelands in northern California.

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Klickitat Baskets

Long before the European invasion of North America, a number of autonomous, independent, and linguistically related peoples lived in contiguous territories in what would become the state of Washington. These peoples included the Yakama, Kittitas, Klikitat (also spelled Klickitat), Tainapam, and Wanapam. In 1855, the United States government forced a treaty on these people, grouping them together on what would become the Yakama Reservation and later forming the Consolidated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.

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Pomo Baskets in the Maryhill Museums

California Indian baskets are often considered the best in North America, and Pomo baskets are generally considered to be the best of the California baskets. In his book Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, Carl Waldman reports:

“The Pomos created their beautiful baskets for functional purposes, but collectors now value them as works of fine art. In some Pomo baskets, the weaving is so tight that a microscope is needed to count the stitches.”

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Plateau Basketry Hats and Trinket Baskets

In looking at American Indian art, there is a different between tribal art and ethnic art. In his book Native Arts of North America, Christian Feest writes:

“Tribal art was (and is) produced by members of tribal societies primarily for their own or their fellow members’ use.”

One of the classic examples of tribal art is seen in the Plateau basketry hats. The Plateau Culture Area is the area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana. From north to south it runs from the Fraser River in the north to the Blue Mountains in the south. These hats were woven for and used by the women of the tribe.

As tourists began to discover the Plateau area, Indian artists became making basketry items specifically for sale to Non-Indian tourists. These small trinket baskets are a classic example of ethnic: tourists buy and cherish them because they were made by Indian arts, but they are not items which would have been traditionally used by the Indians who made them.

The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles, Oregon has displays of Columbia River basketry hats and small trinket baskets.

Basketry Hats

According to the Museum display:

“Native women of the Mid-Columbia have worn twined basketry hats for generations. Known as Patl’aapa, the hats provided protection from the elements, as well as comfort for cradle boards and gathering basket support straps worn around the forehead. The hats distinguished social hierarchy and expressed personal or family identity. As the tradition of basket making diminished, the basketry hat became a symbol of heritage reserved for special occasions.”

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Trinket Baskets

These small trinket baskets were made by Native woman for trade to non-Natives, primarily tourists.

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Pat Courtney Gold’s Baskets

Basketry is probably the oldest art form, although the archaeological record is devoid of the earliest basketry. In his 1904 book American Indian Basketry, Otis Mason writes:

“In ultimate structure, basketry is free-hand mosaic or, in the finest materials, like pen-drawings or beadwork, the surface being composed of any number of small parts—technically decussations, stitches, or meshes, practically separate from one another so far as the effect on the eye is concerned.”

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The Northern Pacific Railroad and the Sioux

Almost since the foundation of the United States, the westward expansion of the country was guided by Manifest Destiny, the idea that it was the country’s destiny to span the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific. By the middle of the nineteenth century, it was clearly evident that the way of westward expansion would have to involve railroads which could then transport raw materials (minerals, timber, cattle, grain) from the west to the east and manufactured goods from the east to the west.

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A Very Short Overview of the O’odham Indians

The Sonoran Desert which stretches across part of the present-day American state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora is an area of very hot summers (high temperatures may reach 120° F) and relatively little rain. It was here that a culture called Hohokam by archaeologists flourished from 300 BCE until about 1400 CE. The Hohokam were village agriculturalists who developed a sophisticated canal system to bring water to their crops in this desert environment.

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A Very Brief Overview of California’s Achumawi Indians

The aboriginal homelands of the Achumawi (also spelled Achomawi, Achomowi, Achemawi) people of North America was along the drainage of the Pit River between the Warner Range and Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen in present-day California. Achumawi villages were located along the Pit River or its tributary streams. The Achumawi villages, whose names were not recorded in the historical records, do not appear to have been politically united.

Linguistically, the Achumawi language, together with the Atsugewi language, form the Palahnihan branch of the Hokan language family.

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Death Valley National Park

Death Valley, located in California, is the hottest, driest, and lowest place in the United States. It is an area of sand dunes and wilderness. Non-Indian tourism into this desolate region actually began in 1926 and in 1933 President Herbert Hoover created the Death Valley National Monument by Presidential Executive Order. While some saw this act as the first step in transforming one of the earth’s least hospitable spots into a popular tourist destination, for the Timbisha Shoshone, the aboriginal inhabitants of the area, this action made them landless. While the Timbisha Shoshone were not forced from their traditional homeland, the control over their land (and thus over their lives) was assumed by the National Park Service. Death Valley officially became a National Park in 1994.

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