Ancient America: The Lower Columbia River Area

In 1805, the American Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark made its way down the lower Columbia River. This area, from Celilo Falls near the present-day Oregon city of The Dalles, to the Wapato Valley (the Portland Basin), to the mouth of the river, was inhabited by numerous Chinookan-speaking Indian nations. The many villages along the river were linked through trade and through intermarriage. As Lewis and Clark traveled along the lower Columbia River, they found that villages and towns were numerous.

The lower course of the Columbia River and the Pacific Coast adjacent to its mouth have changed significantly over time. During the past 5,000 years dunes have formed, creating a ridged topography. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins, in their book Oregon Archaeology, explain:  “The Clatsop Plains is a ridged landform of stabilized dune sand stretching between the Columbia River and Tillamook Head. The sand derives primarily from Columbia River sediment that is returned to the outer coast due to high energy waves.”

Earl Dune Site:

 American Indians first began using the Earl Dune site (35CLT66) about 1,350 years ago. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report:  “The initial occupation appears to have been on an open sandy beach on the ocean side of the dunes, where marine fishes (primarily hake and sculpin) were harvested, and razor clams were opportunistically collected.”

Occupation of Earl Dune site was short-term. As the dune accumulated more sand, occupation of the site became less frequent and use of the site ended about 1,200 years ago.

Palmrose Site:

The Palmrose site (35CLT47) is located at the southern end of the Clatsop Plains. The site was first occupied about 3,900 years ago and by 2,700 years ago the people had constructed a large rectangular plank house. This is the earliest plank house known on the southern Northwest Coast Culture Area. This house was approximately 6 meters (20 feet) wide and at least 12 meters (40 feet) long. The house was probably similar to the plank houses that early European and American explorers saw in the area.

The Palmrose site was a permanent site and is characterized by a large shell midden. The people who lived here were harvesting horse clam, butter clam, and littleneck clam. Archaeologists also found evidence of 23 species of birds, 23 species of fish, and 14 species of mammals. The remains of mammals included both sea mammals (whales, sea otters, sea lions, and fur seals) and land mammals (deer and elk were most common). In general, it appears that sustenance was largely based on marine and littoral resources.

With regard to tools, the archaeologists found a variety of projectile points, atlatl weights, mortars, stone mauls, antler digging stick handles, antler splitting wedges, composite bone harpoon points, and shark-tooth pendants.

Archaeologists also found a number of carved bone and antler artifacts with motifs similar to those found farther north. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report: “These similarities show clearly that close contacts were being maintained over great distances up and down the coast by 2,700 years ago. These ancient connections may be a factor in the presence of Salish languages in Oregon, which otherwise dominate the Washington and southern British Columbia coasts to the north.”

The Palmrose site was abandoned about 1,600 years ago.

Par-Tee Site:

 Indian people were occupying the Par-Tee site (35CLT20) near present-day Seaside, Oregon by about 1,400 years ago. The people were exploiting sea mammals as well as fish and shellfish. They were also hunting elk. Some of their tools were made out of modified whale bones. Houses at this site appear to have been circular.

Avenue Q Site:

While Indian people first began occupying the Avenue Q site (35CLT13) about 3,500 years ago, the most intense period of occupation was between 1,700 years ago and 1,000 years ago. In modern times, the site’s shell midden, which was about 10 feet deep, was mined to obtain material for road building.

Indian people at this site had a subsistence focus on marine environments. Fish, particularly halibut, lingcod, and cabezon, predominate. Among the mammal bones found by archaeologists at the site, 73% were from marine mammals (sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, and whales).

Eddy Point and Ivy Station:

About 25 miles upstream from present-day Astoria are the Eddy Point (35CLT33) and Ivy Station (25CLY34) sites. Both of these date back about 3,000 years. While deer and elk bone was common at both sites, there were also some harbor seal bones. Archaeologists also uncovered evidence of fish (salmon, sucker, sturgeon, and marine fishes), waterfowl (swan, duck, goose), and marine shellfish. While archaeologists found no evidence of house structures, they feel that both of these were village sites.

 Meier Site:

 At the Meir site (35CO5) archaeologists uncovered the remains of a large Chinook-style plank longhouse. It is estimated to have been 14 meters wide and 35 meters long. Radiocarbon dating shows that it was initially constructed about 700 years ago and that it remained occupied until historic times. The archaeological data shows that the main wall and roof support members had been shored up and/or replaced about eight to ten times during the life of the house.

Down the center of the house were a series of formal boxed hearths. The ethnographic record shows that each of these hearths would have served from two to four related families. Houses of this type were generally occupied by several related families. Each family would have a bedroom area which was a platform attached to the outside wall.

The longhouse at the Meier site had storage pits or cellars along both sides of the hearth area. These pits had been dug, filled, and re-dug many times during the centuries that the house had been occupied. When in use, the pits were probably covered by flooring planks. With regard to the archaeological evidence in the pits, C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report:  “The pits yielded an abundance of fire-cracked rock and tens of thousands of bone fragments from elk, deer, salmon, sturgeon, and other animals, the remains of food that was stored, cooked, and eaten in the house.”

Cathlapotle:

When Lewis and Clark journeyed through the Lower Columbia River area, they encountered the village of Cathlapotle which was across the river from the Meier site in what is now the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in the state of Washington. They reported that this was a large village with about 14 houses and a population of about 900. Archaeological investigation of the site began in 1991 and continued until 1996. Dating shows that the site was occupied from the mid-1400s until the 1840s.

The archaeologists found six house sites in two parallel rows on a ridge above the river’s high water level. The houses ranged from 60 feet to 200 feet in length and from 24 feet to 36 feet in width.

As with the longhouse at the Meier site, archaeologists found large storage pits or cellars in the longhouse sites. Some of these were six feet deep and when the houses were occupied, they would have been beneath the sleeping platforms that lined the walls.

With regard to the Cathlapotle site, Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, report:  “So long as a site is not threatened by disturbance, such as from land development or erosion, today’s archaeologists deliberately study only part of it. They leave the rest for the future, a time sure to have new insights, new investigative techniques, and new research questions.”

 

 

Ancient America: Coastal Oregon, 13,000 to 7,500 Years Ago

The Oregon coast is a part of the larger Northwest Coast culture area which stretches from the Tlingit homelands in Alaska to the Tolowa homelands in northern California. The cultures along this coastal ecotone (an area between two biomes) share a number of common features, including a subsistence pattern which is centered on sea and littoral (shore, estuary, and headlands) environments. In the northern portion of this culture area (the Alaska Panhandle and British Columbia), the coastline is highly convoluted with many offshore islands and is bordered with steep, high mountains. The coasts of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, on the other hand are relatively straight which means they are unprotected and pummeled by unimpeded ocean waves.

One of the current hypotheses for the peopling of the Americas, known as the Coastal Migration Hypothesis, envisions early migrations to the Americas by coastal travelers using boats. It is well known that ancient people have been using boats of some kind for a long time. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, write:  “Sea voyages date far back into antiquity. People reached Australia from Indonesia more than 40,000 years ago, and Japanese archaeologists have found obsidian brought to Honshu nearly 35,000 years ago from a small island 20 miles distant.”

The Coastal Migration Hypothesis suggests that archaeologists should expect to find the earliest evidence of the settlement of what is now Oregon along the Pacific coast. Unfortunately, there is little archaeological data along the Oregon coast to substantiate this hypothesis.

Archaeological surveys of early sites along the Oregon coast have yielded very little data regarding human habitation in this area prior to 4,000 years ago. Coastal sites tend to be rare because of two factors of physical geography. First, and perhaps most important, is the fact that sea levels have been rising, particularly over the past 18,000 years. During the last ice age when humans would have been first entering the area, the sea levels were 100 meters (330 feet) lower than they are today. Along the Oregon coast, this means that vast stretches of the continental shelf would have been exposed and the actual coast line would have been several kilometers to the west of its current positions. The camp sites and villages used by the early people are thus underwater today.

A second factor is the nature of the Oregon coast line. It is constantly changing due to the impact of tides and high-energy waves, tectonic uplift, erosion, and landslides. In other words, even more recent evidence of human use is being destroyed by natural forces.

While early archaeological sites are rare on the Oregon coast, data from the north and from the south strongly suggests that this area must have been inhabited. To the north, people were using On-Your-Knees Cave (49PET408) on the northern tip of Prince of Wales Island by about 12,000 years ago. The people were engaged in a coastal marine subsistence pattern which includes fishing and the gathering of shellfish. It is also clear that they were using watercraft and were engaged in long-distance trade.

The human remains in On-Your-Knees Cave have DNA which belongs to the D4h3 haplogroup. Members this haplogroup are found exclusively on the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Chile.

About the same time people were occupying the coastal areas of Alaska and British Columbia, they were also using Daisy Cave in California’s Channel Islands. One again, the archaeological data shows a pattern of using marine resources and knowledge of watercraft.

With people using watercraft living to both the north and the south of the Oregon coast during the period of the Terminal Pleitocene/Early Holocene (13,000 to 7,500 years ago), we would expect human occupation of the Oregon coast during this time. The actual physical data from the archaeological record for this period is, however, a bit scanty.

At the Indian Sands site (35CU67), there was a scatter of chipped stone artifacts and some burned and broken mussel shells which dated to 12,300 to 8,600 years ago.

At the Neptune State Park site (35LA3) there are a few lithic flakes which were dated to about 9,330 years ago.

The Tahkenitch Landing site (35DO130) has a few stone stools that date to 8,900 to 7,600 years ago. At this time Tahkenitch Lake was an estuary open to the ocean.

Archaeologists Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins, in their book Oregon Archaeology, summarize the early occupation of the Oregon coast this way:  “The early Holocene culture record to the Oregon coast remains impoverished, and while we can anticipate occasional new evidence of great age, the reality is that the early record will never be robust, given the geological history of Oregon’s Pacific coast.”

Ancient America: Great Basin Oregon, 12,900 to 9,000 Years Ago

About 12,900 years ago there was an abrupt change in climatic conditions known as the Younger Dryas which marked the beginning of cooler conditions in the Great Basin area of present-day Oregon. This climatic change marks the beginning of what archaeologists call the Fort Rock Period which dates from 12,900 years ago to 9,000 years ago. During this time, the American Indians in this region focused their economic activities on the natural resources (plants and animals) found in and around shallow wetland settings.

In their book Oregon Archaeology, Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins report:  “The period from about 12,900 to 9,000 years ago was one of continued slow drying during which localized shallow-water lakes and marshes with fringing grasslands replaced the previously vast and deep pluvial lakes of the Pleistocene era.”

During this period, human population increased, but remained thinly distributed across the landscape for most of the year. The large game that was utilized by the people included deer, mountain sheep, antelope, and bison. According to Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins:  “People followed seasonal rounds that took them to many varied locations, sometimes covering long distances, as shown by the common occurrence at archaeological sites of obsidian artifacts made of stone from distant sources.”

During the winter, the people tended to live in caves and rockshelters near lakes and marshes. In the summer, the people would migrate to higher elevations where they would hunt large game and collect nuts, roots, and berries.

Fort Rock Cave:

Fort Rock Cave (35LK1) is located on a low volcanic ridge about 1.5 miles west of Fort Rock State Park. The cave, which faces southwest, is about 20 meters deep and 10 meters wide. This site was first excavated by Luther Cressman and a University of Oregon crew in 1938. Below a layer of volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Mazama, they found sagebrush bark sandals. The sandals were later radiocarbon dated to 10,500 to 9,300 years ago. Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins report:  “After his excavations artifact collectors relentlessly mined the cave, removing an undetermined number of additional sandals and no doubt other materials.”

Later excavations also found a mano which was associated with the preparation of pine and grass seeds for food.

Connley Caves:

The Connley Caves site (35LK50) is located about 10 miles south of Fort Rock. The site is composed of eight rockshelters. The site is located near Paulina Marsh and archaeologists working at this site uncovered large quantities of waterfowl bones which were dated to 13,000 to 9,000 years ago. The pine trees which were in this area during this time were Pinus edulis or Pinus monophylla.

During the Fort Rock Period, the Connley Caves were occupied primarily during the winter. The site provided good access to both marsh resources (waterfowl, fish, cattail, bulrush) and to the resources in the wooded hills surrounding the caves (bison, elk, deer, grouse).

Cougar Mountain Cave:

 Cougar Mountain Cave site (35LK55) was totally excavated in 1958 by John Cowles, an avid artifact collector. While a great many artifacts were uncovered, there is a lack of precisely recorded information on artifact associations and a lack of radiocarbon dates. However, the artifacts are similar to those found at Fort Rock Cave and Connley Caves. The artifacts include stone tools (knives, scrapers, abraders, drills, pipes), bone tools (needles, awls, beads), wooden artifacts, basketry, and sandals. One of the tule sandals was radiocarbon dated to 9530 years ago. Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins report:  “Sagebrush bark sandals were fairly common and frequently muddy, which may indicate wintertime occupation.”

Paulina Lake:

The Paulina Lake site (35DS34) is located about 25 miles northwest of Fort Rock in the Newberry Volcano National Monument. The site is on the boundary between the Great Basin and Plateau culture areas. One of the interesting features of this site is a storage pit which was about one meter in diameter and about 45 centimeters deep. Grass pollen suggests that this pit was probably grass-lined. Pollen also showed the presence of mock oranges (Philadelphus) and willow weed (Onagraceae).

Kenneth Ames, Don Dumond, Jerry Galm, and Rick Minor, writing on the prehistory of the Southern Plateau in the Handbook of North American Indians, report:  “The site also produced a well-defined structure, either a wickiup or windbreak, with a series of radiocarbon dates averaging to 9500 B.C. This is the earliest structure anywhere in the Plateau culture area.”

During the period from about 10,500 to 8,500 years ago, the site appears to have been used as a summer base camp. Here Indian people processed a broad range of plants and animals. The archaeological data suggests that the people stayed at this site for a good portion of the summer. The data suggests that the population was fairly stable, using the Paulina Lake site during the summer and then using the Fort Rock and Connely Cave sites during the winter.

Buffalo Flats Bunny Pits:

Near the east end of the Fort Rock Basin, on Buffalo Flat are four sites (35LK1180, 35LK1881, 35LK2076, 35LK2095) collectively known as the Buffalo Flats Bunny Pits. The pits are hearths or earth ovens which range from as small as two feet in diameter to as large as 8 to 10 feet across. Most of the identifiable animal bones (98%) found at the sites are jackrabbit. The rabbits were probably collected in large drives, such as those described in the ethnographic literature, then processed and cooked. The sites date to 11,500 to 8,900 years ago.

Dirty Shame Rockshelter:

The Dirty Shame Rockshelter site (35ML65) is in southeastern Oregon on Antelope Creek. Occupation of this site began during the Fort Rock period and was a summer-fall based camp. Among the items uncovered by archaeologists were 10 sandals and sandal fragments, matting, cordage, net fragments, small pressure flakes, a lanceolate projectile point, and a flat rock that served as an anvil. The site has been dated to 10,710 years ago.

Early Oregon Sites

The earliest period of human occupation in the Northern Great Basin region of Oregon is called the Paisley Period by archaeologists. The period, which is tentatively dated from about 15,700 years ago to 12,900 years ago, is named after the Paisley 5 Mile Point Caves site (35LK3400) near Summer Lake.

During the Paisley Period, Native peoples in Oregon adapted to the Northern Great Basin environment at a time when the ice ages were ending and the region was undergoing dramatic climatic and environmental changes. Jeff LaLande, writing for The Oregon History Project, describes the environment: “By the time of these earliest arrivals, the region’s glaciers had melted into small remnants, and many of the great Ice Age lakes had begun to shrink into shallow but plant- and animal-rich lakes, marshes, and wetlands.”

The people at this time were hunting and eating bison, camelids, horse, deer, mountain sheep, pronghorn antelope, and sage grouse. They were gathering a wide variety of different plants, including goosefoot (Chenopodiacea sp.), sunflower, cactus, rose hips, and desert parsley. They were making and using a variety of stone and bone tools.

While the Paisley Caves site is the best-known of the most ancient Oregon sites, there are a number of other sites which also date to this era.

Dietz Site:

Located in Central Oregon’s Alkalai Basin to the east of the Fort Rock area near Wagontire, the Dietz Site (35LK1529) dates to the end of the Paisley Period. This is an interesting site as it represents a Clovis intrusion into the region. At one time the Clovis tradition with its characteristic fluted points was thought to represent the earliest people in North America. In their book Oregon Archaeology, Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins write:  “The Dietz site is currently one of only three recorded Clovis-era sites in Oregon where multiple artifacts have been recovered, though Clovis fluted points are reported widely as isolated surface finds.”

The Clovis materials at the site have been dated to about 13,200 years ago. The Clovis artifacts recovered at the site include fluted points, flute flakes, and biface projectile point blanks. Horse Mountain, located about a mile from the site, is the source of much of the obsidian used for the stone tools.

In addition to the Clovis materials, the archaeologists also found large stemmed and shouldered points associated with the Western Stemmed tradition. Also associated with these artifacts were some grinding stones. Some archaeologists feel that the Clovis and Western Stemmed artifacts represent two different groups of people. The Clovis materials generally represent a narrowly focused hunting adaptation, while the Western Stemmed is a more generalized gathering and hunting adaptation. Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins write:  “Based on what we know of broader associations, the Western Stemmed people attested at the Dietz site may have been more broad-spectrum and opportunistic in their subsistence strategies, and the Clovis folk relatively more focused on following and hunting large game.”

The Western Stemmed tradition is older than Clovis in the region.

Sage Hen Gap:

Another  Clovis site is located north of the Dietz site. Artifacts found at the Sage Hen Gap site (35HA3548) include fluted points, a single Western Stemmed point, fluting flakes, gravers, and lots of obsidian flakes. Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins write:  “The site appears to have been a good ambush location for hunting large game as they funneled down from higher terrain through narrow, steep wash bottoms cut into a high ridge.”

Catlow Cave:

Some ninety miles south of Burns, in the southern end of the Catlow Valley, Luther Cressman found some extinct Pleistocene horse bones at Catlow Cave in the late 1930s. Cressman, lacking any precise scientific dating methods at this time, suggested that this site had been occupied at the same time as the Paisley Caves. Human bones were also found at this site, but they were found in gravel so there was no way to prove their age. In the late 1970s, plans were made for a reinvestigation of the site, but the site was destroyed by mining and artifact collectors before any scientific excavations could be carried out. Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins write:  “This sorry event took place in defiance of signs and barriers erected at the mouth of the cave by the Bureau of Land Management to safeguard its archaeological evidence. The human bones themselves, never directly radiocarbon dated, were repatriated and reburied under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.”

 Fossil Lake Camelid Kill Site:

Located at the northern end of the Fort Rock basin, the Fossil Lake Camelid Kill Site (35LK525) contained camelid bones (probably Camelops hesterenus) and fragments of a projectile point. The collagen from the bones was radiocarbon dated to about 12,000 years ago.

Occupation of Paisley Caves in Oregon

The earliest period of human occupation in what is now Oregon is called the Paisley Period by archaeologists. The period, which is tentatively dated from about 15,700 years ago to 12,900 years ago, is named after the Paisley 5 Mile Point Caves site (35LK3400) near Summer Lake.

The Paisley Caves are located in the Summer Lake basin in south-central Oregon on the highest shoreline of pluvial Lake Chewaucan. The initial archaeology at the site was carried out during 1938 and 1940 by Luther Cressman and his students. In Cave 3, Cressman and his students found a U-shaped living area which had been cleared of stones and outlined with boulders which lay well below a layer of volcanic ash from Mount Mazama (the eruption which created Crater Lake). The Mount Mazama eruption would later be dated to 7,600 years ago.

At the time Cressman was working at Paisley Caves there were no precise chronometric methods for dating archaeological sites. One of the major advances in chronometric dating came with the development of radiocarbon dating. This dating method was developed in 1949 by Chicago chemist Willard Libby as a result of the Manhattan Project (i.e. the development of the atomic bomb during World War II). It is based on the principle that radioactive carbon in the atmosphere is absorbed by all living things. At death this absorption stops and a steady decay of carbon begins. Since the half-life of the radioactive carbon is known (5,568 years), measuring the amount of carbon remaining can determine the age of the material.

In Cave 3, Cressman and his students found the bones of Pleistocene camel, horse, bison, and waterfowl. While Cressman felt that these remains were associated with the human occupation of the site—that is, they had been killed and eaten by these early Indians—many archaeologists at the time were more than a little skeptical, feeling that human occupation of the Americas could not be this ancient.

From 2002 through 2010, new archaeological excavations were conducted at the Paisley Caves by the University of Oregon’s Northern Great Basin archaeological field school. As in the earlier study, the archaeologists found the bones of now-extinct Pleistocene camel and horse and were able to establish a direct link between these remains and the human occupation of the site. The cut marks on the bones of these ancient animals showed that they had been butchered by the Indian occupants of the site.

One of the features found in Cave 5 was a small pit containing camel, horse, mountain sheep, waterfowl, and fish bones. Called the “Bone Pit” by the archaeologists, the pit was covered by a stone slab. A second stone slab stood on end at the southern rim of the pit. Bones can be radiocarbon dated and the bones from inside the pit and near the pit returned dates ranging from 16,190 years ago to 13,030 years ago.

Also present in the cave were coprolites (dried feces). The coprolites were identified as human by DNA analysis and radiocarbon dated to 14,500 years ago. In the news report on this discovery, Tamara Stewart wrote in American Archaeology:   “Rather than the traditional view that first Americans entered the New World via the Bering Strait, these new findings suggest it is more likely that people came down the coast by boat or that they were south of the corridor before the Last Glacial Maximum closed the route.”

DNA from the coprolites shows that the occupants of the cave were Native Americans with close genetic ties to Siberian and Asian populations. Coprolites also provide direct evidence of prehistoric diets. One of the coprolites also gave chemical evidence that meat from bison, fox, and sage grouse had been consumed.

The stone tools at the site belong to the Western Stemmed Tradition. Obsidian hydration dating on some of the tools shows that they were made between 13,500 and 16,500 years ago. A protein residue analysis on a polished hand stone found near the “Bone Pit” showed that it had been used to process horse meat. In other words, this stone tool had been used for pounding or grinding dried horsemeat or had been used to crack open horse bones to extract the marrow.

In addition to stone tools, the site also contained bone tools, including a bear bone with saw-like teeth which was dated to 14,230 years ago.

In their book Oregon Archaeology, Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins sum up the archaeological finds at the Paisley Caves:  “While one could wish there were more artifacts from the deepest and oldest deposits, it is abundantly clear that occupations at the Paisley Caves were always very brief, leaving behind only thin scatters of stone, bone, and fecal matter, of which little survived the depredations of illegal artifact mining to be recovered by archaeologists.”

With regard to the importance of the Paisley Caves site, Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins write:  “In sum, the Paisley Caves site is extremely important because it is the first place in the New World that incontrovertible human traces—including human DNA in dried feces on the one hand, and obvious stone and bone artifacts on the other—have been directly dated in excess of 14,000 years ago.”

An Iroquois in Oregon

In 1857, Enos Thomas, whose tribal identity is simply listed as Iroquois, was transported from Fort Vancouver to Port Orford, Oregon to be tried for war crimes committed during the recent Rogue River War. When the primary witness against him failed to appear, the Justice of the Peace William Copeland ordered the sheriff William Riley to free Enos. As soon as the blacksmith had freed him from his chains, a mob seized him, gave him some whiskey to drink, took him to the historic Battle Rock, and hung him. His body was buried at Battle Rock.

This type of incident—a mob hanging an Indian for “crimes” committed during a “war” with the United States—was common in the nineteenth century West. The interesting question is, however, how did an Iroquois, whose homelands are in the Northeast, come to be a war leader among tribes in southern Oregon?

The answer to this question lies in the early nineteenth century fur trade. The fur trade in the Pacific Northwest (in what would become Washington, Idaho, and Oregon) was dominated by two major fur companies: the London-based Hudson Bay Company (HBC) and the Montreal-based North West Company (the Nor’westers). As the Nor’westers moved into the area, they brought with them a number of Iroquois who were employed as trappers. These Iroquois had been educated by the Jesuits at the Caughnawaga Mission near Montreal in Canada. It was relatively common for these Iroquois to leave their employer and to settle among the tribes in the region.

The designation “Iroquois” does not refer to a single tribe, but is most frequently used to refer to the six Indian nations of the Iroquois Confederacy: Seneca, Cayuga, Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, and Tuscarora. The Iroquois homeland had originally included most of what is now New York and Ontario. Following the American Revolutionary War, many of the Iroquois settled in Canada.

Since many of the Iroquois who came to the Pacific Northwest spoke French as their primary European language, it was common for American settlers in the region to view them as French-Canadian. In most cases, the historic record does not indicate which of the Iroquois nations these trappers came from.

While there are no records regarding the early life of Enos (whose name is also indicated as Enas and Eneas and who is often described as a Canadian Indian), it is likely that he came into the region in the employ of HBC after the merger with the Nor’westers. He may also have grown up in a community of former HBC employees who had settled in Oregon. If this was the case, then his mother was most likely from an Oregon tribe or a Métis whose family was associated with the fur trade.

According to some historians, Enos may have worked as a guide for the 1843-1844 exploring expedition of John Charles Frémont: in 1843 Frémont hired two Indians—neither their names nor their tribal affiliations are recorded—to guide him from The Dalles to Klamath Lakes. According to Frémont’s records, one of these Indians had been to Klamath Lake and bore the battle scars of encounters with the Native people of that area. The physical description of this Indian appears to match that of Enos.

By 1855, Enos was living among the Tututni and had a Tututni wife. He was also friends with Benjamin Wright. In 1852, Wright had organized a party of volunteers in northern California for the purpose of killing Modocs. The Americans wanted to punish the Modoc for supposedly attacking wagon trains as they passed through Modoc territory. Wright then invited 46 Modocs to a peace conference. They first attempted to poison them with strychnine, but the Modoc declined the feast which was offered to them. The volunteers then opened fire with rifles on them. The Modoc had no guns. Only five of the Modoc, including Schonchin John and Curly Headed Doctor, escaped. The bodies of the dead Modoc were scalped and mutilated. The volunteers were proclaimed heroes and the state of California paid them for their services.

The following year, a group of Indians were invited into Wright’s camp under a white flag in order to negotiate peace. In a well-planned attack, Wright’s volunteers killed 38 Indians and scalped them.

In 1854, Benjamin Wright was appointed as special sub-Indian agent to handle affairs in the Port Orford, Oregon district. Enos and his wife gained Wright’s trust and he brought them into his confidence and sought their counsel.

In 1855, the so-called Rogue River War broke out between the Americans (particularly gold miners) and the various Indian nations along Oregon’s Rogue River. In 1856, Enos asked Benjamin Wright to meet with him at the Tututni village to discuss a possible peace. Wright, together with John Poland who represented the mining communities in the area, went upstream to meet with Enos and the Tututni. Both men were then killed and their bodies mutilated. Their bodies were never found by the Americans. These murders were the first step in a well-planned Indian uprising. The following day, the Indians attacked a volunteer regiment on the north side of the Rogue River and then went downstream to attack the community of Gold Beach. Under the leadership of Enos, the Indians burned about 60 non-Indian cabins and killed 31 people. The Americans branded Enos as a war criminal.

The siege of Gold Beach lasted for about a month and the Americans easily recognized Enos riding a white horse and encouraging the Indians in their fight. When U.S. Army troops reached the area, the Indians retreated upstream. According to one account, Enos was wounded in the thigh at a skirmish at Pistol River.

In late July, 1856 (perhaps the 26th or 27th), Enos was at the camp of Tututni Chief Taminestse at Port Orford where the Indians were awaiting transportation to the Siletz Indian Reservation. Indian agent William Chance describes his arrest:  “He made no resistance, said he could not keep away. He did not know why but it appeared to him that he had to come to the reservation.”

Among the Indian leaders of the Rogue River War, only Enos was arrested and singled out for trial. While Indian Superintendent Joel Palmer advocated the execution of all Indians who were known to have killed non-Indians during the war, only Enos was chosen for punishment. Enos was transferred from the coast reservation to Fort Vancouver where he was to be held awaiting a civil tribunal. The charges against him were murder and inciting to massacre.

In the spring of 1857, Enos was transported from Fort Vancouver to Port Orford by steamer. Due to bad weather, the ship had to dock to Crescent City to the south, when Enos was held in the local jail. When the weather cleared, he was taken north to Port Orford where he would be hung without a trial.

While it seemed to be important to the Americans to have a legal ritual (trial) before executing an Indian, in reality most Indians accused of crimes at this time were simply killed without this formality.

Christian Missionaries in Oregon Country

The European invasion of the Oregon Country began in the late eighteenth century and intensified in the early nineteenth century. In 1818, the United States and the United Kingdom, ignoring any possibility of the sovereignty of Indian nations and relying on the legal concept of the Discovery Doctrine (stating that Christian nations have a right, if not an obligation, to rule over non-Christian nations), signed a treaty declaring Oregon Country to be a joint occupation area. Under this treaty, both the United States and the United Kingdom could claim land and both were guaranteed free navigation throughout.

Oregon Country was the American name for the region; the British called it the Columbia District. The area stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Continental Divide; it was bounded in the north at Fort Simpson in what is now British Columbia; and in the south at what would now be the Oregon-California border. It encompassed the present-day states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho; western Montana; and the Canadian province of British Columbia.

While the initial invasion of the Oregon Country was led by fur traders, the English Hudson’s Bay Company, the Canadian Nor’Westers, and the American Astorians, by the 1830s the missionaries began to arrive.

The first of the missionaries was Jason Lee who had been originally sent by the Methodist Missionary Board to establish a mission among the Flathead in western Montana. The Flathead had astonished the Christian world by sending expeditions to St. Louis asking for missionaries. The Flathead had learned about Christianity, and more importantly, about the power of the Black Robes (Jesuit priests) from Iroquois employed by the fur trade. They had come to St. Louis specifically seeking a Black Robe, but the Methodists had decided to reach the Flathead first and bring them the true Christian religion.

Jason Lee met with the Flathead and the Nez Perce at the Green River Rendezvous in Wyoming. He found the Indians deeply unsettling. He concluded that the Indians were slaves to Satan and to alcohol. Instead of establishing an Indian mission, he continued his journey west to Fort Vancouver, a Hudson’s Bay trading post. From here, he went to the Willamette Valley just north of present-day Salem, Oregon where he established a mission and a school in an area with relatively few Indians. There were, however, about a dozen Canadian settlers, former employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company, with Native American wives living in the area.

The Flathead’s request for a missionary was answered in 1840 with the Jesuit Pierre-Jean De Smet. In 1840, he was welcomed into a camp of Flathead and Pend d’Oreilles. De Smet envisioned a new Indian society similar to medieval Europe in which the Indians would become Catholic farmers subservient to the Church.

In Oregon, Methodist missionaries set up a mission and farm on the Clatsop Plains west of Fort Clatsop in 1840. The wife of an American settler in the area, Celiast Smith, was the daughter of Clatsop chief Coboway and was able to translate for the missionaries. Ideally, the missionaries wanted to be able to preach to the Indians in their own language, but they soon found learning the Chinookan languages such as Clatsop was beyond their abilities. The Chinookan languages include sounds which are difficult, if not impossible, for English-speaking adults to master. The missionaries, therefore, turned to Chinook Jargon, a pidgin language with a reduced vocabulary and no complexities of verb conjugation or noun declension. As a pidgin language, Chinook Jargon was designed to be learned by adults and to facilitate trade. It lacked vocabulary to translate spiritual concepts.

In 1840, Methodist missionaries Gustavus Hines and Jason Lee decided to visit the Umpqua in an attempt to bring Christianity to them. The Hudson’s Bay Company trader at Fort Umpqua, however, informed them of recent Indian attacks. He warned them not to visit the Umpqua villages. When the missionaries insisted, the trader and his Indian wife accompanied them. The trader later insisted that only the presence of his Indian wife kept them from being killed.

Like the Flathead in western Montana, the Coeur d’Alene in Idaho had heard about the powers of the Blackrobes from fur traders. In 1841, three Coeur d’Alene men traveled to western Montana to see the Jesuit missionary Father DeSmet. They asked him to send the Black Robes (Jesuits) to their people. The following year, the Jesuits sent Father Nicholas Point to establish a mission among the Coeur d’Alene. Jerry Camarillo Dunn, in his The Smithonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States, writes:  “The mission had some success, although Father Point himself was dismayed by what he saw as his flock’s dirtiness, idolatry, and ‘moral abandonment.’”

In the nineteenth century there were several competing kinds of Christianity. The Protestant missionaries in Oregon Country resented the presence of Catholic missionaries whom they regarded as atheistic papists. In 1841, the wife of a Protestant missionary among the Nez Perce complained:  “Romanism stalks abroad on our right hand and on our left and with daring effrontery boasts that she is to prevail and possess the land.”

Two years later, a Protestant missionary to the Nez Perce blamed his failure to convert Indians on the opposition of the Catholics.

In 1843, the Canadian missionary Father Bolduc established a mission among the Cowlitz in Washington. Bolduc wrote in his journal:  “One must develop a strong spirit here. It is important to be kind to the savages, to make them laugh now and then so as not to frighten them, and give them a favorable impression of religion. It is not necessary to show them the severe side at first, but in time and successively to introduce everything, or the end will not be accomplished.”  Bolduc also reported:  “Since being with the Cowlitz tribe, I have converted only a few. They are unwilling to submit.”

According to Balduc, polygyny, slavery, and gambling were obstacles to conversion to Christianity.

In 1843, Father Nicholas Point and the Jesuit brother Charles Huet established a mission on the St. Joe River in Idaho to serve the Coeur d’Alene. Father Point noted that the Coeur d’Alene were living in 27 villages around Lake Coeur d’Alene.

In 1845, the Jesuits under Father De Smet established a mission at Chewelah, Washington. The mission was called Saint Francis Regis and was intended to serve the Kalispel as well mixed blood trappers who were living in the area.

While the Flathead had asked for a Blackrobe (Jesuit priest), what they were actually seeking was the spiritual power to enable them to defeat their traditional enemies, the Blackfoot who controlled much of the buffalo hunting grounds on the Northern Plains. After five years of living with them, Father De Smet had gained little real understanding of Flathead culture. Feeling that he had been successful in converting the Flathead, he crossed the Rocky Mountains and attempted to convert the Blackfoot. When he returned to the mission among the Flathead he found them angry with him and openly challenging his Christianity. Many of his converts left the church.

In 1846, the United States and the United Kingdom negotiated the Oregon Treaty which divided the territory between the two countries. Oregon Country thus became Oregon Territory.

The Astorians and the Indians

John Jacob Astor came to the United States following the Revolutionary War and through his contacts with the North West Company in Canada soon entered into the fur trade. By 1800 he was one of the leaders in the American fur trade. He also began trading furs and other items in China.  

Astor envisioned a chain of trading posts on the upper Missouri River and a fleet of trading ships that would supply posts on the Columbia River. These ships would also be able to trade along the coast and supply the Russian trading posts in Alaska. The ships would then carry the furs to Canton, China where they would be traded for prized Chinese merchandise which would then be transported to the northeastern United States.

In 1808 he established the American Fur Company which sought to control the fur trade in the Great Lakes area.  The Pacific Fur Company was then created as a subsidiary of the American Fur Company with the idea of controlling the fur trade along the Columbia River and providing a direct link between American furs and the Chinese market. Two decades earlier, American traders had discovered that there was an exceptionally high demand for sea otter fur in China and this could be translated into huge profits. The working partners in the new venture included three former partners in the Canadian North West Company: Alexander McKay, Donald McKenzie, and Duncan McDougal.

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Astor is shown above.

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Shown above are some of the Chinese goods which the traders would bring back to the United States.

In order to create his Pacific coast fur trading empire, the Pacific Fur Company John Jacob Astor established Fort Astoria near the mouth of the Columbia River in 1811. The American traders and trappers who worked out of Fort Astoria became commonly known as Astorians. In the Pacific Northwest, the Astorians would enter into competition with the long-established Hudson’s Bay Company (whose investors lived in England) and the North West Company (the Nor’westers made up of working partners based in Montreal, Canada).

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While Astor provided the capital for the new company, several partners were given a small ownership of the company and would be in command in the field. With one exception, the other partners were Canadians who had once worked for the rival North West Company.

To establish his new trading post at the mouth of the Columbia, Astor sent out two groups: one traveled by ship and the other came overland. Astor purchased a first rate ship-the Tonquin-for the voyage and filled it with $54,000 in trade goods. On its way to Oregon, the Tonquin stopped at the Hawaiian Islands where the Astorians engaged in some local trade. When they sailed for Oregon, they carried pigs, goats, sheep, and poultry which they had acquired in Hawaii as well as 24 native Hawaiians.

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The Tonquin had been originally built in 1807 and prior to being purchased by Astor, the ship had made two trips to the Pacific and China. The ship was 94 feet long, 25 feet wide, and 12 feet deep.

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Shown above is a drawing of the Tonquin crossing the Columbia River Bar.

The ship arrived first and the Astorians set about building their new fort. As they were setting up the fort, a party of Nor’Westers under the leadership of David Thompson arrived. Thompson told the Astorians that he had already taken possession of the country upstream and had established a permanent post on the Spokane River.

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The map above shows the location of the Indian nations near Fort Astoria.

After dropping the Astorians at the mouth of the Columbia River, the ship was instructed to sail north to Alaska. Astor had been negotiating with the Russians for supplies and furs and wanted to stop the British from establishing any posts on the Pacific coast. Somewhere near Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the ship’s captain managed to insult a Native chief. The following day, a war party of more than 200 Native warriors attacked the ship. During the battle, the ship exploded killing everyone on board. The Astorians, who were counting on the ship to resupply them, were essentially marooned.

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Shown above are displays of the trade goods the Astorians brought in. These displays are at the Heritage Museum in Astoria, Oregon.

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The map above shows the outline of the original fort and its buildings and the current city park commemorating the fort.

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Shown above are photographs of the reconstructed blockhouse and the mural of the fort at the city park which commemorates Fort Astoria. The designation “Fort George” and the Union Jack in the mural show that the fort is depicted after the takeover by the North West Company. Notice the cranial deformation on the natives. The high forehead, achieved by binding the skull of an infant, was considered a mark of beauty.

Fort Astoria was constructed in Chinook territory, though the Americans simply ignored any possible Indian land claims. The traders dealt primarily with Chief Comcomly’s band. The American traders soon found that Chinook women were as active in the trading process as were the men.

Following the establishment of Fort Astoria, the Astorians quickly spread out to establish other trading posts along the Columbia River and its tributaries. They soon established Fort Okanogan to serve the people in the Upper Columbia River area and to provide competition with the North West Company.

In 1812, the Pacific Fur Company overland party under the leadership of Wilson Price Hunt arrived at the trading post in Astoria. The party left their goods and began the overland trip back with orders for the supplies for the coming year.

By May 1812, the Astorians had purchased 3,500 pelts for the local Indians, including 1,750 beaver, 15 sea otter, 15 squirrel, and 1 red fox.

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Shown above are beaver pelts which are on display at the Heritage Museum in Astoria, Oregon.

In 1812, the Pacific Fur Company established Fort Spokane a short distance from the Nor’wester trading post. It was not uncommon for rival trading companies to set up next door to each other. While they competed for furs, the two groups mixed socially. The American post boasted a dance hall where the Nor’westers and Astorians would mix.

In 1812, Pacific Fur Company trader Donald McKenzie established a fur trading post at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers near present-day Lewiston, Idaho in Nez Perce country. McKenzie soon became discouraged by: (1) the reluctance of the Nez Perce to trap for the company, and (2) the relative lack of fur-bearing animals in the area. Historian Alvin Josephy reports the trading post failure this way:

“The Nez Perce were willing to trade things they owned or produced, like clothing, food, and horses, but they were not willing to become beaver trappers and laborers for the whites.”

In addition, while the Palouse and Nez Perce were interested in the manufactured goods, they felt that the prices were too high.

In 1813, Pacific Fur Company trader Duncan McDougall married the daughter of Chinook chief Comcomly. From Comcomly’s perspective, having McDougall as a son-in-law increased his access to goods which in turn increased his prestige. From the Astorian viewpoint, the marriage into one of the most powerful Native families in the region provided the company with economic and physical security.

In 1813, Pacific Fur Company trader John Clarke traveled from the Spokane River area to the Palouse village of Palus where he prepared his canoes for the journey down the Snake and Columbia Rivers. In order to impress the Indians, he brought out two silver goblets, poured a little wine in one of them, and had a chief drink from it. The next morning, the trader found that one of the goblets was missing. After the goblet was recovered, traders then hung the man believed to have taken the goblet. The incident provoked hostility toward the Americans from all of the neighboring tribes. Americans would later find that Indians have long memories.

In Idaho, the Pacific Fur Company established a trading post at the confluence of the Snake and Boise Rivers. The post was located at a traditional Bannock summer camping area where the people fished for salmon. The Bannock were not happy about the post’s location.

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In January 1813, Donald McKenzie, one of the “working” partners arrived at Fort Astoria with the news that the United States was now at war with Great Britain. There were rumors that two British warships were sailing to Astoria to take over the post. The two working partners at the post, McKenzie and Duncan McDougall, began making plans to abandon Astoria.

In October 1813, 75 Nor’westers arrived at Fort Astoria and set up camp outside the stockade. The Nor’westers and the Astorians were long-time veterans in the fur trade and knew each other well. Talks between the two groups were friendly and soon they struck a deal to sell Astoria to the Nor’westers for $58,000. When the British corvette Racoon arrived in Astoria two months later with orders to seize Fort Astoria from the Americans, Captain William Black was surprised to find the British flag already flying over the fort. He was also surprised at the size and construction of the fort:

“What, is this the fort I have heard so much of? Great God, I could batter it down with a four-pounder in two hours!”

Captain Black was under orders to seize the fort, so he insisted on a formal surrender ceremony. The American flag was once again run up the flagpole, then taken down and once again replaced with the Union Jack. Captain Black officially named Astoria Fort George, after King George.

With the takeover by the Nor’westers, Fort Spokane was also transferred to the new owners and was designated Spokane House. Most of those who worked there, however, continued to refer to it as Fort Spokane.

The Nor’westers continued to operate Fort George until their merger with Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in 1821. At the time of the merger, the Nor’westers had 97 trading posts and HBC had 76. In 1825, the post was abandoned when HBC moved its quarters to Fort Vancouver. Part of the reason for abandoning Fort George was to break Chinook chief Comcomly’s monopoly on trade in the lower Columbia.

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Comcomly, Chinook Chief

The river known to the Chinook Indians as Hyas Cooley Chuck collides with the Pacific Ocean to create the worst wave conditions on the planet. While Native people crossed the Bar in their large ocean-going canoes, the rough water stopped many of the early European explorers who were looking for the mythical River of the West. In May 1792, the American fur trader Captain Robert Gray waited out nine days of adverse conditions on the Bar before finally crossing into the river. He named the river for his ship, the Columbia Rediviva.  

The ship’s young fifth mate kept a journal in which he recorded:

“The Indians are very numerous, and appear’d very civil (not even offering to steal).”

He described the Indians:

“The Men, at Columbia’s River, are strait limb’d, fine looking fellows, and the Women are very pretty. They are all in a state of Nature, except the females, who wear a leaf Apron.”

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A replica of a Chinook longhouse is shown above.

Among the Chinook men who met with the American fur traders was a young man known as Comcomly, who would later become a major chief.

In 1795, the British trading ship Jane under Captain John Myers sailed into the Columbia River. The ship carried a cargo of axes, chisels, hammers, copper sheets, small bells, paints, clothing, china beads, buckets, firearms, and ammunition to trade with the Chinook.

Soon after Jane, the British ship Ruby under Captain Charles Bishop sailed into the Columbia. The ship traded for furs for eleven days. When the Chinook ran out of furs, the British traded for clamons, a kind of body armor made by the Chinook. These were in high demand by the Indian nations farther up the Pacific coast. The captain noted in his journal:

“The Sea Otter skins procured here, are of an Excellent Quality and large size, but they are not in abundance and the Natives themselves set great value on them.”

Captain Bishop invited Chief Comcomly to spend the night aboard the ship and provided him with a fine coat and trousers. Comcomly then led a Chinook expedition 300 miles upriver to obtain more clamons. Some of these were obtained by less than peaceful trading.

Over the next two decades, Comcomly solidified his leadership among the Chinook bands using a combination of trading skills, diplomacy, and marriage. Some writers report that he had a wife from nearly every tribe in the confederation as well as some outside of the confederacy. With regard to his physical appearance, Comcomly is generally described as being short and blind in one eye.

In 1805, the American Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark reached the mouth of the Columbia River and established their winter camp, Fort Clatsop, on Chinook land. Thanks to the cooperation of the Chinook and the Clatsop, the Americans were provided with the food that enabled them to survive the winter.

While Comcomly did not greet the Americans when they first arrived, he did sit in council with them at his village later. The Americans provided him with a medal and an American flag. Both Clark and Lewis admired Comcomly’s sea-otter robe and tried to bargain for it. Comcomly pointed to Sacagawea’s belt of blue beads and indicated that is what he wanted for the robe. One of the captains then gave Sacagawea a blue coat for her belt and she gave the belt to Comcomly. The journals do not indicate who finally got the robe.

The Americans generally expressed mistrust and contempt for both the Chinook and the Clatsop. There is some indication that Comcomly also mistrusted the Americans as evidenced by the fact that he did not visit their camp.  

In 1810, the Boston ship Albatross under the command of Nathan Winship sailed up the Columbia River past Chinook chief Comcomly’s trading headquarters. About 45 miles upstream, the Bostonians built a fort. As an old hand in the Pacific fur trade, Winship wanted to bypass Comcomly’s monopoly on trade with the Indians of the Columbia River and to establish direct trade with the Indian nations upstream.

Comcomly was insulted by this action, and a delegation of warriors, all fully armed, paddled to the newly established fort. There was some hostile confrontation in the form of shooting and shouting. One of the Bostonians recorded:

“Much to our chagrin we find it impossible to prosecute the business as we intended, and we have concluded to pass farther down. On making this known to the Chinooks they appeared quite satisfied and sold us some furs.”

The Bostonians abandoned their enterprise after eight days.

The first permanent settlement of American traders at the mouth of the Columbia River came in 1811when the Pacific Fur Company established Fort Astoria. The first group of Astorians arrived on the ship Tonquin. Two of the American partners, Duncan McDougal and David Stuart came ashore in a small boat and met with Chief Comcomly. They found Comcomly agreeable to the idea of a trading post for his people.

When the Americans set out to return to their ship, Chief Comcomly pointed out that the rough conditions on the river would make the trip across the Bar difficult in their small vessel. The Americans didn’t listen and set out anyway. Chief Comcomly, knowing that they couldn’t make it, simply followed in one of his canoes. When the traders’ boat capsized, Comcomly rescued them. Comcomly took the wet men ashore, built a fire, dried their clothes, and then took them to a Chinook village. He advised them to wait until conditions were more suitable for the return to their ship.

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The Americans found that the Chinook village consisted of about 30 very large, wood houses. For three days they were entertained in the village (it is assumed that this included having sex with Chinook women). Then Comcomly took his guests back to their ship in his royal canoe. This helped firm up the good relations between Comcomly and the traders.

The trading alliance with Fort Astoria added to the prestige and wealth of the Chinook in general and Comcomly in particular. The power which Comcomly held over the trade along the Columbia can be seen in the log of the Pacific Fur Company. Fort Astoria was visited by few Clatsop and Chehalis and when asked about why they didn’t trade directly:

“They told us that being cautioned by the Chinooks, against coming, as we were very inveterate against their Nation, for their conduct to former Visetors they did not wish to put themselves in our power. This we made them sensible to be an egregious falsehood imposed upon them by the Chinooks, merely to monopolize the Trade….”

In order to solidify the alliance even further, McDougal dispatched one of his clerks with an important message for Comcomly: he wanted to marry one of Comcomly’s daughters. Comcomly, who had many daughters, was pleased to oblige.

Comcomly made almost daily visits to Fort Astoria and was admitted to the most intimate councils of his son-in-law. He was also given his own quarters in the fort.

Word that the United States was at war with Britain reached the Astorians in 1813 along with a party of Nor’westers (traders from the North West Company-owned by the British). The Nor’Westers informed the Astorians that a British war ship was on its way to take over the fort and consequently the Astorians hastily sold the fort to the Nor’westers.

When the British warship Racoon arrived, Fort Astoria was renamed Fort George. Comcomly was soon aboard the Racoon telling the captain that he was delighted to see a British ship on the river. He left with a British flag, coat, hat, and sword. The following day, he wore his new regalia to Fort George. Duncan McDougal, the working partner of the Pacific Fur Company who sold the company to the Nor’Westers, stayed on at the fort in the employ of the Nor’Westers. This meant that Comcomly retained his connections with the trading post.

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In 1821, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and the Nor’westers merged. In 1824, HBC governor George Simpson and Dr. John McLoughlin, the new chief factor for the fort, arrived at Fort George. Simpson was not pleased with either the fort or with Comcomly’s relationship to it. With regard to Comcomly and the Chinook, Simpson said:

“They never take the trouble of hunting and rarely employ their Slaves in that way, they are however keen traders and through their hands nearly the whole of our Furs pass, indeed so tenacious are they of the Monopoly that their jealousy would carry them the length of pillaging and even murdering strangers who come to the Establishment if we did not protect them.”

HBC moved their trading operation 90 miles upriver where they established Fort Vancouver. This moved deprived Comcomly of his role of middleman, thus diminishing his prestige and wealth.

Comcomly had an excellent understanding of the Columbia River and its dangerous Bar. With the increasing number of ships attempting to cross the Bar bringing in trade goods and supply, Comcomly’s skill as a pilot was soon in great demand. His skill as a pilot earned him the respect of the HBC captains as well as Chief Factor McLoughlin.

In 1830, the epidemic known as the “cold sick” (possibly malaria) swept through the Native populations of the region. One of the victims of this epidemic was Comcomly. He was estimated to be in his mid-sixties when he died. His body, together with his war weapons, ceremonial dresses, and other possessions, was placed in a canoe. The canoe was placed on a raised platform near Point Ellice.

The Cedar People (Photo Diary)

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The Heritage Museum in Astoria, Oregon has one gallery devoted to displays and interpretation of the Native peoples of the Columbia River: Clatsop, Chinook, Kathlament, Klatskanie, and Tillamook. The Clatsop occupied the areas of Astoria, Warrenton, and down the coast to Seaside. The Klatskanie lived inland along the coastal range. The Kathlamet lived farther upriver. The Tillamook and Nehalem lived on the coast south of Seaside. To the north of the river lived the Chinook, Wahkiakum, and Shoalwater. Shown below are photographs of some of the displays.  

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Fishing was an important economic activity. Shown above is a fishing spear.

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Shown above is a net weight used for anchoring fishing nets.

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The Indian nations of the lower Columbia were well-known for their basketry skills (see above).

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One of the unique features of the Indian cultures of the Northwest Coast is the basketry hats such as the one shown above, often used to protect the wearer from rain.

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Shown above is a picture of food preparation.

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One of the cultural practices of the Indian people of the Lower Columbia was cranial deformation: the flattening of the head. As an infant, the child would be placed in a cradleboard which had a board that came down over the child’s forehead. The board would then be tied firmly in place. The result, seen in the painting above, was the high forehead. This custom was practiced especially by more prestigious members of the tribes.

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The Indian nations of the Lower Columbia traditionally buried their dead in raised canoes along with all their worldly possessions. The name of the dead person was never spoken again. A burial in a raised box is shown in the painting above.

Language:  

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The Chinook, Clatsop, and Kathlamet languages all belong to the Chinookan language family. The Tillamook language, spoken farther south, belongs to the Salish language family, and the Klatskanie language, spoken to the east, belongs to the Athapascan language family.

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Shown above is Charles Cultee (1850-1897). According to the display:

“Little would be known about the Lower Chinook proper and Kathlamet languages once spoken along the Lower Columbia River if not for Charles Cultee. He was one of the last speakers of those two languages.”

Franz Boas, often regarded as the “Father of American Anthropology,” interviewed Cultee over a period of several years beginning in 1890.  Cultee told Boas the old stories in Chinook proper and in Kathlamet. Boas wrote these stories down and published them along with an English translation as Chinook Texts (1894) and Kathlamet Texts (1901). As a result of their collaboration, the languages, myths, and traditions of both groups were preserved.

Housing:

The Indians of the Lower Columbia River lived in villages of 5 to 20 permanent longhouses. The houses, made from cedar planks and cedar logs, ranged in size from 20 to 60 feet in length and from 14 to 20 feet in width. The roof was a pitched gable with a long overhanging eve. The houses were built over a pit that was 4-5 feet deep and roughly the same size as the dwelling.

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The doorway to the house (shown above) was an oval shaped opening just large enough for one person to pass through at a time.

Several families would live in a single longhouse. Bunks made from cedar planks lined the interior of the outside walls and served as shelving and storage areas as well as providing sleeping quarters. A single house might be home to 20 to 50 people. Cooking was done over a large fire pit in the center of the house. Large houses might have more than one hearth.

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Shown above is the inside of the longhouse at the Heritage Museum.

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The Heritage Museum is shown above.

Indian Water Rights on the Klamath

In Oregon, the Klamath tribes are making what is known as a “call” on their water rights for rivers flowing into Upper Klamath Lake. The tribes want to maintain river flows for fish. The tribes have the oldest water rights in the basin and therefore they have first say over controlling it.

The tribes will use their water to maintain flows in the Wood, Williamson, Sprague, and Sycan rivers for fish. The fish include endangered suckers which are held sacred by the tribes, redband trout, and ultimately salmon when the dams on the Klamath River are removed.

According to one news story:

The calls authorized the local water master, who works for the Oregon Department of Water Resources, to start checking river flows and telling ranchers with junior rights to turn off pumps and shut headgates on diversion dams until enough water remains in the rivers to meet the bureau and tribes’ rights. That process is likely to take several weeks. The state Department of Water Resources sent in extra personnel so three two-person teams will handle the shutoffs. Each team will notify the sheriff where they are at all times for safety. As the summer continues and rivers continue to drop, even more ranches will be shut off.

Non-Indians have suggested that there could be violence over this.

Water rights in the west are not riparian-that is, you may not have the right to use water flowing through your property. In the west, water law is based on use and users with superior water rights-i.e. first in time-get first call on the rights. A century ago, the Supreme Court in the Winters Doctrine ruled that water rights for the tribes must be dated to the formation of the reservation. In most areas, tribes have superior water rights. The water does not have to be on the reservation for the tribes to claim it.  

The Warm Springs Reservation

Joel Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Oregon Territory, met in council with the Indian nations of the Mid-Columbia Region with the purpose of establishing an Indian reservation which would get the Indians out of the way of American settlement.  This was an area that was the traditional homelands for two primary tribes: (1) the Wasco who were the eastern-most group of Chinook-speaking Indians, and (2) the Warm Springs (described in the treaty as Walla Walla) who were Sahaptin-speaking.  

In 1855 at a treaty council at Wasco, near The Dalles, several western Columbia Sahaptin bands of the Walla Walla (Tygh, Wayampam, Tenino, Dock-Spus) and Upper Chinook bands of the Wasco (The Dalles, Ki-gal-twal-la, Dog River) signed a treaty in which they agreed to move to the Warm Springs Reservation. The tribes were given the rights to take fish from the streams running through and bordering the reservation; to hunt, gather roots and berries, and to pasture their stock on all unclaimed lands.

At the time of the treaty council, many of the Indians were away from the area preparing for the annual root harvest and the Americans had been informed that this was not a good time for the meeting. At the beginning of the council, one American-John Edwards-warned the Indians that the purpose of the council was to rob them of their land. He was arrested and placed in the guardhouse.

At the council, Mark Chinook and William Chinook of The Dalles and Iso and Stocketly of the Deschutes strongly opposed the treaty.

At the council, the Americans tell the Indians:

“We have found that the white man and Indians cannot long live together in peace, that it is better that lines should be drawn so that the white man will know where his land is and the Indian where his land is, we may then live without quarreling.”

The Americans told the Indians that the reservation designated for them contained good farming land and that it was close to their fishing stations on the Columbia River. Both statements were false. The negotiator had the translators read the prepared treaty to the Indians. The Americans had come to the council not for the purpose of negotiating, but rather to intimidate the Indians and to force them to accept the dictates of the United States.

Under the treaty, the bands gave up ownership rights to about 10 million acres of land which had been their homelands for at least 10,000 years. The United States, of course, agreed to pay the bands for this land. According to the treaty:

All of which several sums of money shall be expended for the use and benefit of the confederated bands, under the direction of the President of the United States, who may from time to time, at his discretion determine what proportion thereof shall be expended for such objects as in his judgment will promote their well-being and advance them in civilization; for their moral improvement and education; for building, opening and fencing farms, breaking land, providing teams, stock, agricultural implements, seeds, &c.(sic); for clothing, provisions, and tools; for medical purposes, providing mechanics and farmers, and for arms and ammunition.

In other words, the government would control what the money would be used for.

Under federal law at this time, Indians were not allowed to have or consume alcohol and thus the treaty also stated:

In order to prevent the evils of intemperance among said Indians, it is hereby provided, that if any one of them shall drink liquor to excess, or procure it for others to drink, his or her proportion of the annuities may be withheld from him or her for such time as the President may determine.

During the early years of reservation life, the traditional ways changed greatly. First of all, salmon, which had been important to the traditional economy, weren’t as plentiful as they had been on the Columbia River. The climate was harsh and the soil was not good for farming.

In 1865, the tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation agreed to a treaty which relinquished all of their off-reservation rights: hunting, fishing, gathering, curing, and grazing. The tribes were to be given $3,500 in compensation.

The new treaty came about because the Indian agent was annoyed because the Indians spent so much time off the reservation fishing rather than tending their crops. He told the chiefs each Indian needed to have a pass signed by the agent which would show non-Indians, including the Army, that they had a right to be off the reservation. The chiefs, who could not read or speak English, thought this sounded reasonable and put their marks to the paper. The agent then inserted a clause about relinquishing their fishing rights and submitted it to Congress as a treaty.

When Congress sent the $3,500 in goods to the reservation in payment for the treaty rights, the agent simply “borrowed” them and headed for California. He was not heard from again.

In 1870, Tygh prophet Queahpahmah had a dream in which he left the Warm Springs Reservation. Citing this dream as a reason, he asked the reservation superintendent for a pass to leave the reservation. The agent refused. Queahpahmah left the reservation without a pass and avoided capture.

In 1879, the U.S. government decided to move a small group of Paiute to the reservation. Traditionally the Paiute had lived in southeastern Oregon and spoke a Shoshonean language unrelated to any of the other languages spoken by the Warm Springs tribes. The government was either unconcerned or unaware that the Pauite and the tribes of the Columbia River area had a long history of conflict. The government seemed unaware of the cultural differences between the Paiute and the other tribes on the Warm Springs Reservation.

The 38 Paiutes who were moved to the Warm Springs Reservation had been involved in the Bannock Indian war and had been taken first to Fort Vancouver and then to the Yakama Reservation.

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Shown above are some women on the Warm Springs Reservation in 1902.

The Indian Reorganization Act (Wheeler-Howard Act, often re¬ferred to as the IRA) was passed by Congress in 1934. The IRA has three objectives: (1) economic development of the tribes, (2) organization of tribal governments, and (3) Indian civil and cultural rights. Under the IRA, tribes were able to create a federally chartered corporation which could borrow money, enter into contracts, and sue. In 1937 the tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation organized under the IRA as the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon.

Since reorganization under the IRA, the tribes have pursued economic self-sufficiency by establishing several businesses including the Warm Springs Lumber Company (1942), the Warm Springs Power Enterprise (1982), and the Indian Head Casino (1996).

American Indian Place Names in Oregon

The etymology of Oregon begins in 1765 with a petition to the British King regarding Ouragon, the mythical River of the West. According to the petition, Ouragon was the name given by the Indians to this great river. By 1778, the spelling had shifted to Oregon. While the 1765 petition seems to imply that Oregon has its origins in a Native American language, there are others who feel that its roots are in French (“ouragan” which means “windstorm” or “hurricane”) or in Portuguese (“Aure il agua” meaning “hear the waters.”)

When the Europeans first began their invasion of Oregon, it was occupied by many different Indian nations with different languages and histories. Part of Oregon’s Indian heritage can be seen in some of the place names in the state.  

Champoag: known in Oregon histories as the “Birthplace of Oregon Government,” the Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post at this location in 1821 because it was a part of the Kalapooian Indian territory and it was a place where Indians gathered to trade. The name “Champoag,” according to some sources, comes from Cham-poo-ick which was the name for some type of unidentified edible plant.

Clatskanie: this town is named for the Klatskani Indian tribe (also spelled Klats-kani, Tlatskani, Klaatshan, and Klatsskanine), an Athabaskan-speaking group related to other Athabaskan groups on the Northwest Coast such as the Haida, Tlingit, Eyat, Tututni, and others. In 1851, the tribe signed a treaty with the United States in which they ceded their land to the United States. In exchange, they were to be paid in goods and service. The U.S. Senate, however, did not ratify the treaty and so tribal members were never paid even though the U.S. assumed title to their lands.

Imnaha: this community is named after the Nez Perce chief Imna and the name means “land where the Imna lives.”

Klamath Falls: this community is named after the Klamath Indian tribe, who are linguistically related to the Modoc. They called themselves Eukshikni which means “people of the lake.”

Molalla: this community is named after the Molalla (also spelled Molala) Indian tribe. Some people feel that the name means “deer berries.”

Necanicum: this community started off as Ahlers in 1896, then changed its name to Push and then to Necanicum. The name may come from Ne-hay-ne-hum which describes an Indian lodge.

Neskowin: this was the aboriginal home of the Nestucca band of Tillamook Indians. When the first American settlers moved into the area in the 1880s, they often used wood for their homes which had been stolen from the Nestucca burial canoes. The bones in the canoes were simply dumped on the ground.

Netarts: By 1400 CE, archaeological findings show that the Tillamook Indians were inhabiting the Netarts area. The Tillamook called the area Ne-Ta-At which then became Netarts.

Scappoose: the Chinook used Scappoose Plains area for their potlatches. The Hudson’s Bay Company moved into the area in 1828 looking for land for their livestock. Scappoose supposedly means “gravelly plains.”

Siletz: the Siletz Indian Reservation was established in 1856 as the new home for 26 bands of Indians. The traditional territories of the bands were being invaded by gold miners and the government wanted the Indians out of the way of the miners. There are two possible origins for the designation “Siletz.” Some people feel that the name comes from a Rogue River Indian word, “silis” which means “black bear.” Another source says that “Siletz” comes from “Se-La-Gees” meaning “crooked rope” which refers to the many bends in the river.

Tillamook: this community is named for the Tillamook Indian tribe, a Salish-speaking group related to the Nehalem, Netucca, and Siletz. The name means “land of many waters.”

Umatilla: this community is named for the Umatilla Indian tribe, a Sahaptian-speaking groups related to the Celilo and Tenino-Tygh. There are some reports that indicate the name means “water rippling over sand.”

Yachats: the Alsea Indians, a Penutian-speaking group, had lived in this area for thousands of years. In Alsea “ya” refers to “water” and a number of possible meanings for Yachats have been advanced: “silent waters,” “little river with the big mouth,” “dark water between the timbered hills,” and many others.

Yoncalla: this community is named for the Yoncalla Indian tribe, a Salish-speaking group, linguistically related to the Alsea, Cathlamet, Chinook, Clackamas, Clatsop, Coos, Hanis, Kalapyan, Kiksht, Miluk, Multnomah, and others.  

Plateau Indian Beadwork (Photo Diary)

In American Indian cultures, art is not separate from daily life. Traditionally, the things people used in their everyday life-clothing, tools, housing, containers-were often decorated to enhance their beauty and their spirituality. Prior to the European invasion, the Indian people of the Plateau area-roughly the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest-decorated their clothing and other items with paintings, with beads made from shell, animal teeth, bone, and other items, and with porcupine quills. With the European invasion, new decorative elements became available to the Indians: glass beads. These beads were quickly adopted into the cultures and began to replace and supplement both painting and quilling. The Plateau Indians soon became well-known for their fine bead work. Shown below are some example of Plateau Indian beadwork which are on display at the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum.  

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Beaded bags are made and used throughout the Plateau area. The beaded bags are usually made from cloth and beaded on one side only. The beadwork is an appliqué technique in which the beads lie evenly over the surface of the bag in straight rows that extend from one side of the bag to the other. The main design is beaded first and then the background is beaded around it.

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Plateau Indian Art

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The area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana is known as the Plateau Culture area. From north to south it runs from the Fraser River in the north to the Blue Mountains in the south. One of the most important geographic and culture features of the region is the Columbia River. American Indian people have lived along the Columbia River in permanent and semi-permanent villages for thousands of years. As with other American Indian people, art was not a separate category in their lives, but was a part of everyday life. In museum collections, such as that of the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum, their art is often categorized as carvings (stone, bone, wood), beadwork, and basketry.  

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While it is common for people to assume that basketry refers to containers, shown above are some typical examples of Plateau basketry used in making hats.

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Cylinder Bags:

Also called Sally Bags and Corn Husk Bags, these bags were made from cornhusk, hemp, string, and yarn using a continuous weave that eliminates seams. Originally, these bags were used for storing foods, such as roots, as the tightness of the weave keeps out dust and dirt.

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Columbia River Stone Carvings (Photo Diary)

In a few instances stone carvings have been found in the archaeological sites along the Columbia River. Carved from the abundant basalt many of these figures are relatively small and they are stylistically similar to the many petroglyphs found along the river, These carvings are depict animals found in the area, such as bighorn sheep, condors, seals, beavers, and owls. Many of these figures have small bowl-like depressions in them which may indicate that they were used to hold something. In rare instances, Columbia River stone carvings represent human figures or human-like figures. Shown below are some of the stone carvings on display at the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum.

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A Taste of Native America (Photo Diary)

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During 2012, the Clark County Historical Museum in Vancouver, Washington had a display exploring the food and related cultural artifacts of the Native American people throughout Washington. Indian people traditionally harvested, prepared, and shared meals together and thus food was, and still is, an integral part of cultural unity.  

The traditional Indian diet was diverse and based on the seasons. According to one of the displays:

“Our ancestors ate more complex foods and received a greater variety of vitamins and minerals in their diet. Eating many types of foods also preserved the diversity of the environment, which helped uphold the entire ecosystem by avoiding overharvesting of any one resource.”

Shown below are some of the items from this display.

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Berries were an important part of the diet of the Indians of the Lower Columbia River area. Shown above is a basket used for gathering berries and some dried Huckleberries (Vaccinium membranaceum). Huckleberries are small to medium sized shrubs which are found in the moister mountain areas, particularly in areas with acidic soils and areas which have been burned by forest fires. Women usually did the gathering of the huckleberries and could gather one or two basketfuls in a day’s work (about 2-4 liters). Huckleberries were often dried over a slow fire that had been set in a rotten log. This drying created a raisin-like product that could be kept indefinitely.

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Shown above is an old photograph of an elder filleting salmon so that it can be cooked on a plank.

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Shown above is an old photograph of an elder drying the huckleberries in the traditional way.

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Another important food was bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva), shown above with a gathering bag (known as a sally bag). In the Upper Chinook Kiksht language bitterroot is known as ibi-uk-ee. The taste of the bitterroot (it’s “bitterness”) is determined by where it is grown. The stored starch in the root makes the roots both nutritious and tender. The white fleshly interior (seen in the photos above) is easily exposed by peeling the outer root coverings. The white interior is then boiled, baked, or powdered to make meal.

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Camas (shown above) was also an important food plant. Camas (Camassia quamash) is a lily-like plant whose bulb can be fire-baked to make a sweet and nutritious staple. Camas is very high in protein: 5.4 ounces of protein per pound of roots. In comparison, steelhead trout (Salmo gairdneri) has 3.4 ounces of protein per pound.

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Wapato or Indian potato is shown above.

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Shown above is a digging stick used in gathering root plants such as bitterroot and camas.

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Shown above is an open weave Salish basket which was used for gathering clams and mussels.

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Fish were an important food source and shown above is a model of a traditional fish drying rack.

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Shown above is an old photograph of a fish trap.

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Shown above is an old photograph of the fish being cooked in the traditional manner.

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Shown above is a drawing of Governor Isaac Stevens at a traditional meal with the Nez Perce in 1855.  

Woven History, Part 2 (Photo Diary)

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Old baskets are fascinating. They reflect traditions and skills, as well as changes to culture and lifestyle. They speak to us from the past and can tell us much about the weaver’s life and society’s values.

The display of Native American baskets at the Clark County Historical Museum in Vancouver, Washington, includes baskets from many of the tribes of the Pacific coast, Columbia Plateau, and Northern California areas. Shown below are some more of the items which the museum has on display.  

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Weaving was used not only in making baskets, but also in making hats as can be seen in the woven woman’s hat shown above.  

Woven History, Part 1 (Photo Diary)

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Old baskets are fascinating. They reflect traditions and skills, as well as changes to culture and lifestyle. They speak to us from the past and can tell us much about the weaver’s life and society’s values.

The display of Native American baskets at the Clark County Historical Museum in Vancouver, Washington, includes baskets from many of the tribes of the Pacific coast, Columbia Plateau, and Northern California areas.  

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One of the primary First Nations who lived along the Columbia River and along the Pacific Coast in the Vancouver area are the Chinook. Shown above is a drawing of a typical Chinook village scene.  

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Shown above is a stone mortar and pestle which was used in processing some foods.

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The people living in the lower Columbia River area were fishing people. Shown above are some of the stone net weights that were used to hold their fishnets down.

Shown below are some of the items which the museum has on display.

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More items from the museum’s collection will be shown in Part 2.  

Woven History, Part 1 (Photo Diary)

CM4775

Old baskets are fascinating. They reflect traditions and skills, as well as changes to culture and lifestyle. They speak to us from the past and can tell us much about the weaver’s life and society’s values.

The display of Native American baskets at the Clark County Historical Museum in Vancouver, Washington, includes baskets from many of the tribes of the Pacific coast, Columbia Plateau, and Northern California areas.  

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One of the primary First Nations who lived along the Columbia River and along the Pacific Coast in the Vancouver area are the Chinook. Shown above is a drawing of a typical Chinook village scene.  

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Shown above is a stone mortar and pestle which was used in processing some foods.

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The people living in the lower Columbia River area were fishing people. Shown above are some of the stone net weights that were used to hold their fishnets down.

Shown below are some of the items which the museum has on display.

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More items from the museum’s collection will be shown in Part 2.