A few years ago, during a period of research on the Internet, I happened upon a collection of photographs of stone bowls and tools recovered from a Kalapuya archaeological site from the Willamette Valley. Generally, when engaged in Google searches I will click on the photo tab and find many images that highlight any research I am engaged in. On this one occasion, I was searching for information about the Kalapuya mounds. There appeared in the photo tab a photo of the original map of the 100 or more mounds that had been discovered along the Calapooia River in the central Willamette Valley (I found later there were additional mounds in the Tualatin area). This map, created in about 1964, is likely archived in the Smithsonian Institution, but someone had taken an image of it and posted it on the Internet. Likewise, there appeared a good number of other photos of artifact displays from the 1930s and later of bowls and stone tool were taken from the Kalapuya mounds and images from Memaloose island in the Columbia Gorge.
I was struck by the amount of information available on the Internet regarding what was essentially illegal pot-hunting activity. For those who are unaware of this term, pot-hunting, here is a bit of history.
During the late 19th and early to mid-twentieth centuries, there were not a lot of professional archaeologists. Archaeology as science was very new and policies, protocols, methodologies, and ethics were just being developed. Early archaeology would appear to professional archaeologists today as what they now call amateur archaeology or pot-hunting. An illegal and unethical activity consisting of individuals interested in collecting native artifacts and curios and selling them. This activity continues today with a vast black market for Indian artifacts that extends to Germany, Russia, and Japan, with the best artifacts fetching a pretty good price. Indian pot-hunting is very active today in Oregon in the eastern, and southern parts of the state. There are scattered reports of this activity around reservoirs and along riverbanks as well.
The Dalles of the Columbia is an amazing place for Indian people to fish for Salmon for over 10,000 years. In 1957 the majority of the fishing site at Celilo was submerged, inundated behind the Dalles dam reservoir. The United States needed more hydropower for the region and much of the power generated along the Columbia went into the Oregon-California grid, feeding the need in California for electric power for development and Growth. The Power of the Columbia helped grow California into the 7th largest economy in the world. But with the loss of the fishing site at Celilo, tribes lost much of their traditional activities. they gained in-lieu sites for fishing at other locations along the river, near the Cascade rapids, and in other territories of other tribes.
Virginia Butler (Professor of Anthropology, PSU) in her 2007 OHQ article Relic Hunting, Archaeology, and Loss of Native American Heritage at the Dalles describes the history of this activity very well. Butler’s article, in summary, outlines how egregious the pot-hunting was in The Dalles and during the period of the decade or so just before the inundation of Celilo Falls when the pot-hunters essentially invaded the whole area and took thousands of artifacts from the river area. They ignored the concerns of native peoples, skirted the law, and professional archaeologist chose to work with them. They became members of professional teams who extracted as many artifacts as possible from the ground before the inundation, including burials, religious and sacred objects. In fact, even the professionals allowed these amateurs to keep their finds as partial repayment for their labors of “preserving” these artifacts. The organization Oregon Archaeological Society was heavily implicated in conspiring with these thieves and even published many of their findings in their publication Screenings in the 1950s and 60s, seemingly proof of the trophies from their activities.
Indiana Jones could have learned a lot from these pot-hunters.
Their activities in the 1920s-1950s essentially was an assault on Indian culture. The Dalles tribes (Wasco, Wishram) who felt the brunt of this assault, were faced with the loss of as much as 10,000 years of their history, desecration of their sacred burial sites, and then in 1957, they lost the use of many of their fishing sites at Celilo after the Dalles Dam inundated their much of their traditional fishing area and original village sites. It is not surprising that they do not trust the Federal government or Americans who are interested in their culture.
Back to the Kalapuyans
In the Willamette Valley, during this same period (1920s-1950s and probably earlier), amateur archaeologists (pot-hunters) were excavating the Kalapuya mounds within the Santiam region, between Corvallis and Sweet Home. These mounds, likely house mounds and burial mounds were of darker soil, perhaps river bottom, and built up several feet in an obvious mound along the Calapooia River. In the early 20th century many were excavated and many artifacts were taken from them, and very little contextual information was preserved. The “treasures” were arranged and photographed and many of the artifacts were likely sold to curio collectors in Portland and elsewhere, just like Butler describes in her article. One noted professional, James Horner, of OSU excavated some of the mounds and his Horner Collection was housed for many years at Oregon State University’s Horner Museum. Between 2006 and 2009 many of the artifacts that were noted as coming from the mounds were repatriated by area tribes. When they returned to the tribes, most had no associated information, they had never been studied, and had simply been collected and displayed, as trophies of that activity and era.
Salvage of Indian Relics begins
The beginnings of this activity are in the 19th century when collecting occurred on American Indian sites. Battlegrounds and burials were subject to collection by individuals interested in curios to sell. There were catalogs and journals published during this time advertising Indian curios, (arrowheads, pottery, etc) for sale, they could be ordered through the catalog, like people used to order from the department store catalogs. This activity was really spurred on by a fear from early anthropologists and folklorists that if Indian people and culture disappeared, then the subjects of their research would disappear.
Native populations at this time were declining dramatically due to federal neglect and mismanagement. Also, there was attrition of Natives living on reservation caused by efforts to assimilate them through federal schools, both on and off-reservation board schools. Finally, many tribes and reservations suffered losses of people who did not match the Federal Indian blood quantum (one half) necessary to gain an “Indian Allotment” which was inculcated under the Dawes Severally Allotment Act of 1887 (a designed federal strategy to eliminate Indian people).
The action of collecting, stealing, Indian artifacts and selling them to museums and collectors is called “Salvage Anthropology”, a practice of anthropologists of all types (during this period). Most of these artifacts were never studied scientifically but instead were simply stored or displayed like trophies in expansive curio cabinets. The worldwide museum sought to create collections from all the cultures of North America, and of worldwide Indigenous peoples. Especially valuable were the expansive artistic structures of the Northwest. Whole longhouses, giant totem poles, carvings of expressive art and masks were especially sought after. Native American culture was subject to “scientific” research, and all Native arts, crafts, culture or human remains were subject to collection, extraction, theft, and purchase. Nothing was too sacred.
Stereotypical Categorization of Native Culture and People
This period of Salvage Anthropology set the stage for how native society has been treated into the 21st century. We, Natives, are still subject to non-native peoples and scientists interested in our “nativeness” seeking information from us, to study our culture, to collect our artifacts, crafts and art forms. Deloria calls out this activity as an interest in the quaint behaviors of minority cultures and writes that while this continues, there will never be any respect (Deloria’s bibliography is a significant Indigenous critical examination of how Native people have been dehumanized and treated like scientific subjects).
In our American society, in many ways, non-native people feel empowered to manipulate our images and cultural art forms in any way they want to, they are empowered by the privileges they enjoy in this post-modern world. As such we Natives are greeted daily with Indian mascots, with non-native recreations of our carving styles and symbols, with erroneous history, and with the persistent use of Indian phrases in the media. How many times do we hear the phrases “chief”, and “off the rez” in films that have nothing to do with Native culture, as well as continue to see filmmakers stereotypical portray redface in their films?
Back to Kalapuya curio hunting
I hunted down the source of the photos and found that they were part of the photographic collections available through the local Public Library. I then arranged for an appointment with the director of the library. This meeting was a bit strained, as the director had their lawyer with them. In this meeting, I explained how the photos aggrandized the illegal pot-hunting activities of the 20th century, which I thought was the wrong image for the library. I also asked that they take down their photos of Memaloose Island (a Traditional burial site for Chinookan Kiksht Peoples). Their photo of the island presented it full of burials (these items are not there today, having been stolen by pot-hunters). I asked that they take this historic image down to respect Native cultural burial grounds, as this may encourage people to visit or seek artifacts from the island.
They did honor my request, and I am grateful. But we still have a long way to go with promoting more respect for native people and culture in the region. Many museums still display these illegally gotten artifacts in vast curio cabinets. They seem to envision the artifacts as their property when at the time they received the artifacts it is likely that there were both federal and state laws that made such activity illegal. Most of the laws protecting native artifacts and site were passed in the 1960s and 70s (NHPA 1966, ARPA1979). NAGPRA was passed in 1990.
Kalapuya Mounds today are rare, most having been destroyed due to farming and construction activities. A few, perhaps a half dozen, remain but their location is not well known.
The project of promoting respect for Native culture and people is important. When we see disrespect in our society we cannot wait for others to act, but its important to confront such images. I have found that if institutions are confronted in a respectful manner they will act to correct the situation.
There is information about the studies of the Kalapuya Mounds at this site, BABY PYRAMIDS ALONG THE CALAPOOIA RIVER: MOUND SITES IN KALAPUYAN PREHISTORY, by Bill Roulette. The essay notes many of the same people were involved in excavations at the Kalapuya mounds as were working in The Dalles during the same era.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.