Best Wishes, Chuck


Chuck Williams, Tribal Legacy Project Image

Over the past 12 years I had been in a continuous dialogue with my friend Chuck Williams. We shared a past history of living in or growing up in Petaluma, California, (he lived there with his parents when growing up, I lived there from 1983-1988, and have a long family history there), and we shared an interest in researching and producing tribal histories. Chuck was one of the most active and engaged members of the Cascades Tribe and was a historian for his people. He worked for over 40 years on Native issues along the Columbia and had many friends in all of the regional tribes. He published a book Bridge of the Gods: Mountains of Fire, in 1980. Chuck self-published this volume which was completely written by him and featured historic images and those he took himself. He was a professional photographer and had some 35 years of photos from regional festivals from California, Oregon and Washington mainly. He was a member of the Grand Ronde Tribe for over three decades until the most recent round of dis-enrollments, where now the majority of the Cascades are in the process of being completely dis-enrolled.

Through his life he had many accomplishments, director of Salmon Corps, began the project to create the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area, donated his family land to become a regional park in Skamania, got the pioneer and Indian cemetery to change their name and recognize the Cascades tribe, and fought for the Grand Ronde Tribe to maintain its claim to the Cascade Locks region.

Chuck was among the first tribal people activating in the 1970s to work to protect the cultural heritage of the Columbia Gorge. When his efforts to save the gorge resulting in a takeover of the Gorge Commission, formed to preserve the Columbia Gorge Scenic Act, he continued fighting against their efforts to allow development into the gorge. The powerful special interests, who resided mainly in Portland, made it difficult for Chuck to work with any heritage organization in Portland. For all of his work, he suffered bankruptcy,  betrayal and dis-enrollment, and yet he continued working until his last days. Some of his life’s work is preserved in transcriptions online, Chuck Williams, Columbia River Dissenters Series January 22, 1999,  and in this interview too Document: an interview with Chuck Williams

I first met him as part of my work on the Grand Ronde Culture Committee. At this time I was casting around for tribal folks that would be good to ally with as we worked on projects of tribal history and culture. Chuck was a natural collaborator, the most published tribal member, who’s book was central to the tribal history of the Columbia Gorge. Chuck came to one of the classes I taught in the Many Nations Longhouse at the University of Oregon and gave an amazing presentation with two dueling slide projectors, and talked about his activism and the Cascades tribal history. I came to understand later that he had in fact a huge collection of slides, well over 100,000, documenting many years of native events in the region.

I visited Chuck on occasion. His house just off of The Dalles downtown was an old Victorian and was full of his life’s work. I was amazed that he had been so focused for so long to an ideal of tribal cultural and ecological restoration that few other tribal members have yet to realize.  Chuck knew that the true value is in the natural world of the land of his Cascades people, and that it was very important to work to preserve that environment if we would ever have a chance for cultural restoration. He continued to work for the environment of the gorge and its rivers and streams throughout his life, defending natural spaces every chance he had. Seasonally, he would deliver to me Salmon or Sturgeon as he was able to get good prices for the fish in The Dalles.

I continued to work with Chuck over the years, bouncing questions and ideas off of him when I could. In about 2011, I became involved with reviewing and working with Robert Boyd on the book Chinookan Peoples of the Columbia, and I noted that one of the missing parts of the book was a section addressing the Clackamas to Cascades peoples history. I got together with two other writers, Eirik Thorsgard (who’s people are from Oregon City) and Chuck Williams and we devised a plan to write a chapter for the book that covers these tribes and their history. Eirik and Chuck provided the history of their peoples from their Native perspective, while I served as editor and added the colonization pieces, including treaties and removal. The project came together very quickly, was accepted by the editors of the book and the press, and the whole chapter was done in about 2 months. Chuck and Eirik both wrote their parts well and the chapter came together as we had hoped.

In 2013, I worked with Chuck again to bring a show of his photography to Salem. The Show represented the minority perspectives of peoples in the region and came off very well. Chuck’s imagery  of Native people in regalia at pow wows in the area were well received.

In late February of 2016, Chuck and I appeared on a panel at the UO to discuss Edward Curtis’ photography, Not Your Romantic Indian: Indigenous Photography and the Legacy of Edward Curtis. Chuck discussed how for many years the Portland Art Museum would not work with him and would install exhibits of the Curtis photos of Virginia Miller, yet refused to identify her or her tribe appropriately even though these details were well known. In just the past few months, Chuck’s prospects were improving in Portland as they worked with him on the Curtis photos for the most recent exhibit Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy, currently on exhibit now. In addition, Chuck got a contract to write the Kalliah (Indian Mary) article for the Oregon Encyclopedia which is now published.

I recently years I had begun looking closely at the history of the lower Columbia river.  The Cascades occupied a central place in this region and I was working with Chuck to understand his tribal history. In the last three months I began going through the M2 microfilm collection of Correspondence to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. In this collection is a number of letters discussing the Cascades tribe. Whenever I found something significant I would send that letter to Chuck for his opinion. In the past month, he has been so busy dealing with health issues, that he did not have time to read these letters. These are the last few letters he sent me,

March 11
The Portland Art Museum just put a blurb about Aunt Virginia on its website.  Here’s the link.  The museum is free tomorrow (March 12), and Sunday there’s a talk by Wendy Red Star, the niece of a Crow girlfriend from half a century ago.  Small world.
Also, the next Oregon Historical Society Quarterly will have an article on Virginia and her nephew Capt. Martineau, who was Edward Curtis’ guide through the Gorge.


March 15th

When I sent in my final draft, I made a dumb mistake.  When adding the comment that my great-grandmother is not the same Indian Mary for whom the Rogue River campground is named, I did it at the last minute and said “for which” instead of “for whom,” so please change that.  I think I made the rest of the suggested corrections and edits, including in the first paragraph to stress the Oregon angle.  However, please let me know if there are still any problems or if you need anything else from me, including further documentation.

Best wishes,


March 17th

Dear David,

You probably can’t get it in Salem, but Deana Dartt is going to be on David Liberty’s cable TV show “Native Nations” tonight.  The producer is working on getting the shows online, so I need to check with him to see if it’s going to be posted.

Sorry I haven’t been more in touch, including on the Martineau photos.  But I haven’t been feeling good for over two weeks, and my productivity is way down.



March 21

Hi David,

Here’s a scan of my favorite photo of Kalliah/Mary.  I was going to send you a hard copy of this photo, but decided to send you a scan I previously made.  Please let me know if you want a print to scan yourself.  I’ve also included a scan of President Grover Cleveland’s 1893 proclamation putting Kalliah’s land into trust status to keep settlers from stealing it from her.  Please let me know if you want more graphics, and of course you can use any photos from my Gorge book (if you have a copy).

Best Wishes, Chuck


March 27

Dear Chuck,

This letter is used as source documentation in several books that include short passages about the Cascades. I completely transcribed it to reveal many other facts that we did not have before. A few words I could not make out but the resultant letter is incredibly important. Let me know what you think.

“I called upon Wal-la-chin who claims to the chief of the band referred to, and who is now with the most of this people, residing on the North bank of the Columbia river at the Cascade Falls, but he declined signing the treaty, alleging as a reason that his people could not subsist away from the Columbia River; “I have said that I would not sell my country, and I have but one talk.””


“The country claimed in this territory by the band is between Dog river and the Cascades, embracing only the margins of the shore and with the exception of a small district near the former, where a few claims have already been taken, the country is valueless. The real cause of this band’s deciding{?} to enter into the treaty, is personal difficulties between them and the Wascoes. “


“the Dog Rivers a portion of the band whose chief declined to sign the treaty, and several bands from the North side of the Columbia River, whom Cansiyuchen head chief of the Yackamawas claims as his people, but who allege that they are no allegiance to him.”

Thank you,

David G. Lewis

(To this Chuck never responded and soon after stopped using email altogether)


These last few weeks went quickly. Chuck likely never read the letters I sent him as he continued to fight for a few more weeks to settle his affairs, including plans to manage his legacy by deciding the fate of his massive and important collections.  As late as April 17th Chuck was still planning to publish a second edition of his book with a update of the past 30 years of work in the gorge. It is with sadness, respect, and gratification that I look back over the years that I knew Chuck, as he transcended the negativity in his life and taught us all what it means to love the place of your people, and even if you never seem to gain the respect you deserve, to continue working toward the goals that you believe in.

Chuck Williams (1943-2016), descendant of  Chief Tumulth, signer of the ratified Willamette Valley treaty (1855) for the Cascades (Watlala) Tribe.

4 thoughts on “Best Wishes, Chuck

  1. I am Tumulth decent also…from a different wife. I spent 2 years with Chuck fighting against dis enrollment with The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde….we were all dis enrolled in Sept of 2014 after many lengthy hearings, so called emergency ordinance changes to make sure ‘they’ would win, etc…. I believe Chuck’s battle with the other 65 decent of his family are still tied up in appeals court. My family of 13 stopped at the first appeal. Thank you for this tribute to and thank you for your continued work with him….being dis enrolled has been devastating to him and for him. He was very proud of his heritage…there was no honor in what Grand Ronde has done to our families…but Chuck continued his work with honor. Thank you for honoring him in this way. Many blessings to you.

  2. Chuck was a cousin and a friend whom I only saw occasionally in the last years. I would love to know where some of the quotes regarding my Great Great grandfather Chief Tumulth came from which you include in your article on Chuck. Thank you.

  3. David Lewis,

    Only a true anthropologist/historian such as you are could capture the essence of my cousin Chuck, without embellishment or muting the truth and value of his work and Chuck himself. He felt very privileged to work
    with you throughout the years and frequently sought your guidance as well as opportunities to exchange ideas.

    Cousin Chuck devoted his adult life to securing the rightful place in history of the Cascade people which included Chief Tumulth and his descendants. The Chief, murdered as a young man by the United States Government left an extraordinary legacy as did his descendant Chuck. It was the Chief who negotiated with the Federal Government, obtained a permanent land base for all his people and signed the Treaty of 1855 to preserve the transaction. The Treaty led to the establishment of the Grand Ronde Tribe which actually never did exist and doesn’t today except by government fiat. It is an amalgamation of five Tribes and at least twenty-three bands that were assigned to a
    defined territory in the Grand Ronde Valley of Oregon. The Cascades were primary among the new dwellers but the Federal government did allow many of the Cascades as well as other tribal members to continue residing in their ancestral abodes along the Columbia River where they had been peaceful dwellers since time immemorial.

    Chuck knew his history well. He was a published author and regarded as the strongest link to the pre-reservation history of the Cascade people and the Columbia River Gorge including aboriginal fishing rights. Therefore, when the Warm Springs Tribe wanted to build a casino on their own trust land in the vicinity of the Cascade Locks, the Grand Ronde Tribe ( aka Spirit Mountain Corporation) asked Chuck to be their point person. Even though he had many friends and some relatives on the Warm Springs Reservation, he felt loyalty to his own tribe took precedence so he gave his support unstintingly. Then he was betrayed and suffered the degradation of dis-enrollment along with all the descendants of Chief Tumulth. .

    Dis-enrollment broke Chuck’s heart but not his spirit. As David has stated, Chuck’s final efforts were to gain more time so he could finish a book, re-publish a book, participate in an exhibit of his work in August at the Yakama Nation Museum, and catalog his huge photograp collection. He was an excellent professional photographer whose pictures tell the stories of many Indian Nations’ traditions, historical significance and the faces of their people.

    As time passes, Chuck’s legacy will only become greater and more appreciated. Chuck is now in the New Jerusalem. His moccasins have climbed the Mountain top and he is at the campfire of a family reunion with his loved ones who have walked ahead of him. Chief Tumulth is rejoicing with Chuck. May the blessing of peace be yours Chuck. You are missed. Love, Cousin Colleen Meachem Reimer

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