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Temporary Reservation for the Clatskanie and Ne-Pe-Chuck

In 1855-56 Oregon Indian Superintendent Joel Palmer established a number of temporary reservations to hold Indians in Oregon. Many tribes had negotiated treaties and were awaiting the ratification of the treaties in Congress. The majority of treaties  were ratified by April of 1855.  With unrest on the Columbia in the final battles of the Yakima Indian War and with new unrest in southern Oregon in the Rogue River region, Palmer acted to remove the peaceful tribes, many of whom did not have treaties. He moved them to preserve them from settler wrath, and to prepare for their movement to the permanent reserve at Grand Ronde.

Some of these peaceful tribes were on the Columbia and they had signed treaties in 1851 which were never ratified. They had been severely reduced in population by a wave of epidemics in the 1830’s and 1840’s which caused at least a 90% decline in population. As such, they were a remnant of their former grandeur. American settlers and other aggressive tribes like the Cowlitz noted the weakness of the Chinookans and moved to claim their villages and lands, the Cowlitz apparently moving into their villages and taking charge.

In December of 1855, Palmer moved the adjoining tribes of the Ne-Pe-Chuck and Clatskanie (Klatskania) into a temporary reservation at Milton, Oregon (as suggested by the letter of Smith 1/8/1856, stating that the tribes had been there a month). Milton at the time was a booming timber town with successful mills on Milton Creek. There were good roads serving the area, and the Willamette Slough offered a ready way to transport the limber to San Francisco by steamer. Milton lumber was fetching as much as $150 per 1000 board feet, an unheard of price at the time.  Thomas H. Smith owned the major land claim at Milton and he was appointed the Special Indian Agent over the Clatskanie and Ne-Pe-Chuck Indians.

1854 Oregon Cadestral Survey 4n1w, depicting mills on Milton Creek

1854 Oregon Cadestral Survey 4n1w, depicting Sawmills on Milton Creek and roads

On January 8th 1856, Smith wrote to Palmer of the situation at the temporary reserve. He sends to Palmer a census list of the inhabitants of the encampment and describes some of their challenges. In January the some of the Klatskanie had returned to the encampment with their provisions. Some of them refused to return. The funding allowed to Smith, $1000, had almost run out and the food provided had run out and now the Indians were subsisting on dried salmon. Some of the tribe had gone to the Cascades and had not returned yet, likely due to the frozen river. Perhaps these Ne-pe-chuck were visiting relatives at the Cascades (I found this letter in the midst of my own research, it has been analyzed previously by others. Its mentioned in the Handbook of North American Indians Volume 7, 184, and is analyzed in The Hudson’s Bay Company 1839 Fort Vancouver Censuses of Indian Population by Daniel L. Boxberger, 2012 ).

The situation with food at the reserve was the same throughout the reservation system in Oregon. The federal government and the agents grossly underestimated the money and food needs of the tribes. The tribes were not allowed to fish, hunt or gather in their traditional manner and were forced to remain at the reserves. They could not have guns or other weapons that could be used in war. As such they could not gather the food necessary to support themselves and their families. The actions of the government cause the death of hundreds of Indians because of this environmental change imposed on the tribes. Hunger and malnutrition continued well into 1860s at the permanent reservations

Smith reports in his letter that the Indians are desiring a treaty and to be paid for their lands. This is suggesting that they had not been treated with since 1851, and they knew this may be their chance. Since we know that the government did not treat with these tribes after 1851, they likely never were paid for their lands. The lands in question are technically covered under the Willamette Valley treaty, but if the tribe was never paid, then there may be some question whether the federal government legitimately acquired the land. (this may or may not have been addressed in the Indian Claims cases)

1866 OR Cadestral Survey 4n1w showing area of Smith Land claim, see below

1866 OR Cadestral Survey 4n1w showing area of Smith Land claim, see below

1866 inset, detailing Smith Landclaim, the likely location of the Milton Encampment, the Temporary reservation of the Clatskanie and Ne-Pe-Chuck

1866 inset, detailing Smith Landclaim, the likely location of the Milton Encampment, the Temporary reservation of the Clatskanie and Ne-Pe-Chuck

Ethnographers in history have not looked very closely at the Clatskanie or Ne-Pe-Chuck. Smith’s census reveal about 47 people for both tribes. The Clatskanie in particular do not have extensive records (J.P. Harrington’s Tlatskanie Notes is the exception). They were an athapaskan speaking tribes, an isolate group in Northwestern Oregon. They apparently lived mostly away from the Columbia in the hilly and mountainous area between St. Helens and the Tillamook region. They are noted as not likely having villages on the Columbia. The Ne-Pe-Chuck are much better described generally, as they are one of the Lower Chinookan tribes who are covered in numerous ethnographic studies.

Smith describes these tribes a bit in his letter.

The section of country claimed by these two bands extends from Cathlamett on the Columbia River to the head of Sauvie’s Island and back as far as the sumit of the mountains dividing the river bottoms from the Falatuie [Tualatin] plains. In addition to the above the Ne-pe-chuck Indians claim a strip of country on the north side of the Columbia River. They live principally by hunting and fishing but some few of the number cultivate small patches of vegetables. They have quite a number of large Chinook Canoes, and are very expert in navigating them. They have all been more or less instructed in the doctrines of the Christian religion and many of their number believe in the existence of a Supreme being and afutione state of reward and punishment. They have a practice of bathing in the river two or three times a week and keep it up during the most severe cold weather, are harmless and inoffensive  and extremely fond of whiskey. Thomas H. Smith, Local Agent

Native land claims of the two tribes (rough area)

Native land claims of the two tribes (rough area) Location pin is Milton, Google map

Smith letter includes an extensive census of the tribes listing 25 headmen and their families. This census is an anomaly as normally Indian censuses in the time period do not list people’s names.

Census of 1/8/1856 Thomas A Smith, RG75 M2 Oregon

Census of 1/8/1856 Thomas A Smith, RG75 M2 Oregon

The Ne-pe-chuck tribe in 1856 may have been a confederation of several tribes in the region. The original tribal territories of the lower Chinookans included the Skilloot who lived from above Oak Point to south of the Cowlitz river. The next tribe west was the Wakanasisi, essentially the Multnomah on Sauvie Island and up the Willamette a ways, and on the north side of the Columbia. Smith’s description in his letter suggests an overlap of the two territories. In addition, Chona-Chona who is the first chief of the Ne-pe-chuck in the 1856 census, above, appears in the 1839 Fort Vancouver Census of the Cathlacanasese, generally accepted as being the Wakanasisi according to later documents (see Boxberger 2012).

1839 Fort Vancouver census, Boxberger 2012

1839 Fort Vancouver census, Boxberger 2012

Kiesno was the Chief of all of the lower Chinooks until his death in 1848, and it may be that Chona-Chona took over the mantle. Smith’s discussion of the movements of Chona-chona suggest they maintained a close relationship with the Cascades. “Chona-Chona of the Ne-pe-chuck tribe left here on the 17th ult (December) to go to the Cascades, and he has not yet returned.” It is unclear by this account if Chona-Chona was visiting the Cascades at the rapids, the Cascades at Dog River, or the tribe at their winter village opposite Fort Vancouver on Hayden Island.   In 1812, Kiesno visits the Cascades with an Astorian party and visits with his relatives in the Cascades tribe in a private meeting. Therefore, it may be that Chona-Chona maintained their relationships with the Cascades.

Dave Ellis, Scappoose section

Dave Ellis, Scappoose/Milton section, Table S 2.1. Lower Columbia Chinookan Villages

Thomas Smith’s land claim appears to have been right on top of the Wakanasisi village at Milton Creek called Scappoose. Chona-chona was likely the principal chief here. Previously Kiesno was the chief at Scappoose  as it was noted as being his home always in Gibbs 1855-56 (Boxberger 2012).  Dave Ellis notes that St. Helens was Kiesno’s home (Chinookan Tribes of the Lower Columbia, Table S 2.1. Lower Columbia Chinookan Villages). Kiesno was the chief over a broad area of the Columbia and his main “home” was the villages of the Willamette Slough and Sauvie Island where he occupied several different villages. Later in his life he even occupied Fort Vancouver as a guest of Chief Factor John McLoughlin.

Dave Ellis St Helens village section

Dave Ellis St Helens village section, Table S 2.1. Lower Columbia Chinookan Villages

These tribes were to be moved with some 24 other tribes to the Grand Ronde reservation in the late winter and Spring of 1856. By January 21, Palmer begins ordering the movement of the tribes from the temporary reservations to Grand Ronde. Most tribes would be transported by steamer to Oregon City, they would traverse the falls and then load onto another steamer to Dayton. From Dayton they would walk overland to the Grand Ronde valley. The tribes would have to leave most of their belongings behind, and these they would lose. Many of the American settlers would take whatever was left behind.


1854 WA Cadestral Survey showing sawmill and Milton 4n1w

Former Location of the town of Milton, area of Thomas Smith Landclaim and likely location of the encampment/reserve Google map

Former Location of the town of Milton, area of Thomas Smith Landclaim and likely location of the encampment/reserve Google map

The town of Milton, an early timber boom town, has passed from existence. Once the county seat, the title has since passed to St. Helens to the north. The Thomas Smith land claim remained in existence well into the 20th century and much of it appears intact and undeveloped on the contemporary map.

Thanks to David Heath for helpful comments to push this narrative along.

Categories: columbia river General History Grand Ronde Reservation Oregon indians Uncategorized

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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.

9 replies

  1. Thank you for the wonderful write-up discussing the Ne-Pe-Chuck people. I’m of the opinion that the “Ne-Pe-Chuck” Band (Chinookan) where most likely the remaining families Multnomah (Wapato, not proper) Tribe. The 1839 HBC census for Cathlacanasese (near present day Hewett’s Point, Clark Co., WA) records both Chief Kiesno and Chona Chona. T. Smith’s 1856 census records Chona Chona as Chief, which strongly suggests he assumes the role of principle man among the Wakanasissi after Kiesno’s death in 1848 (see Boxberger “HBC 1839 Ft. Vancouver Census, V46:2012 Journal of NW Anthropology). Kiesno, the Cathlacomumup Band (Nipitchak?) and some of families of the Cathlaminamin Band relocate to Cathlacanasese on the N. shore of the Big River (….about the time HBC moves their center of operations to the bluffs above present day Ft. Vancouver). William McKay states, “the Wakanassisi were of the Multnomah people, which consisted of numerous bands from villages below the Washougal and extending as far as Kalama.” The territory described for the Wakanasissi (McKay) is essentially the same territory described for the Ne-Pe-Chuck {Multnomah (Wapato) => Wakanassisi => Ne-Pe-Chuck}.

    Discussion of the Cowlitz Tribe on the N. shore of the Big River and claims to territory historically documented as belonging to the Multnomah Tribe is interesting and even has implications to this day (ilani). The historical record regarding Chief Umtux at Cathlapotle in 1855 is confusing at best, with references that claim affiliation to the Cowlitz, the Klickatat (Xwalxwaipam), and sometimes the Taidnapam. I’m of the opinion that Umtux was likely Xwalxwaipam and this perhaps accounts for why Umtux and the Cathlapotle families headed towards the open valley at the head of the Klickatat trail east of Battle Ground Lake and near Bell Mountain (note the families did not turn west towards the Cowlitz River or North to Walupt Lake on the upper Upper Cispus). They were headed towards Mount Adams and would have had the ability to reach the Yakima reservation or the Watlala Bands of the lower Cascades. Wawalux and Wahlla-Luk Umtux, decendants of Umtux stated the Cathlapotle tribe were Klickitat. In 1915, George Umtux (George Charley), the grandson of Umtux, was reported as hereditary chief of the Cathlapotle. The Cowlitz also claim Umtux as a hereditary chief, but the information I’ve reviewed suggests Cathlapotle was a Multnomah Chinook village that later came to be occupied by Xwalxwaipam people.

    Thanks and keep-up the great work!


    1. The territorial description of the Ne-pe-chuck here in the 1856 letter appears to me to closely parallel the Skilloot (various spellings) territory. I will look into the various territorial descriptions but the lands from Cathlamet to just south of the Cowlitz river on the Columbia, and Milton is just south of that also, and appears to match Skilloot territory closely. By this time it may have been the case that the Multnomah and the Skilloot had already confederated together. In 1855-56 confederation may have occurred in the 1840s, and there is some indication that the Clatskanie may have also joined with the Skilloot by then. So two good working theories. thanks your your input. I will continue to work on the piece to include more connetions, thanks for reminding me of the Boxberger article.


  2. Wakanasisis, gaɬákʼanasisi (wákʼanasisi, Cathlacanese) Wakanasisi discussions/descriptions seem to include Skilloot and Ne-Pe-Chuck peoples.

    > Lewis, “…The territorial description of the Ne-pe-chuck here in the 1856 letter appears to me to closely parallel the Skilloot (various spellings) territory…”

    > Palmer, “…“I have learned that the Indians on Souvies Island claim a tract north of the River…”

    > Smith, “… The section of country claimed by these two bands extends from Cathlamett on the Columbia River to the head of Sauvie’s Island and back as far as the sumit of the mountains dividing the river bottoms from the Falatuie [Tualatin] plains. In addition to the above the Ne-pe-chuck Indians claim a strip of country on the north side of the Columbia River. They live principally by hunting and fishing but some few of the number cultivate small patches of vegetables. They have quite a number of large Chinook Canoes, and are very expert in navigating them….”

    > Boyd, “…After 1835, most riverbank villages were abandoned, and non-Chinookan interior peoples moved closer to the rivers. Villages of Chinookan survivors, often mixed with newcomers, continued at Wakanasisse below present-day Vancouver, West Linn, Gladstone (Clackamas), and the Upper Cascades.” “…Between Cathlamet and The Cascades in 1854 the only surviving settlement that might be termed Chinookan was the village of Wakanasisis or ‘the fishery. In 1838 there had been 37 Indians (HBC Census) at this location; in 1854 there were 30 (reference to Thomas Smith’s Ne-Pe-Chuck census).

    > William Tappan, Indian agent for southern Washington, stated Wakanasisi were “a mixed race, nearly all the tribes are here represented” (1854). These include some 4 or 6 from the former Wappato village of Kalama (gaɬákʼalama). The name ‘Klikitats’ frequently given to the fishery villagers indicates their hybrid nature…”

    > Spier (1936) reports the Wakanasisi reside on the north side (whose tribal name was Gā´L!akanasisi) nearly opposite the mouth of the Willamette.

    > Zenk, “…It is possible that the name “Skilloot(s),” one of the great mysteries of lower Columbia ethnohistory, belongs to another Chinookan-Salishan pair, although documentation is insufficient to support more than a hypothesis to that effect. The name is from Lewis and Clark, who used it with reference to
    Native people along a long stretch of the lower river, but most especially, to the people known in Kiksht Chinookan as itgígʷalatkš ‘downstreamers’. It is the lack of any subsequent unambiguous attestation of “Skilloot(s)” that renders it such a mystery. Scholars have proposed several explanations of the term over the years, and some additional candidates have since come to our attention (see figure 6). One of these candidates presents coincidences of form and meaning that Zenk finds compelling: squlút (Skulut), recorded by Harrington as a Salmon River Tillamook term meaning ‘valley’ and applied by those coast-dwelling Salishan speakers to interior valley-dwelling Kalapuyan peoples who lived to their east. In Zenk’s judgment, this raises the possibility that a Salishan term like squlút was at some time in wider use, presumably with reference to foreign-speaking people living in a valley or interior location, and only had dropped out of use on the lower Columbia by the time the linguists arrived on the scene….”

    – David


    1. Hajda gives significant attention to the linguistics of the major tribal names. Of the Skilloot, Hajda has gathered these additional variants.

      Skillute, Skilloot, Chilute, Chilook, Hellwitz, CXhilwits, Whill Wetz, Kreluit

      Hajda labels the Skilloot as upper river Chinooks. In Hadja’s variant list are “Chilute” and Chiloot, suggesting that “Skilloot” may be a variant of “Chinook”. The variant chain may be;


      In this scenario, it is probable that all of the Chinookan tribes, Lower/middle/upper, identified as Skilloot/Chinook in some variant, dependent on the dialect of the speaker.

      Hajda suggests further that Skilloot is the word for “they are travelers” which she gathers from communications with linguist David French. In this case, it would suggest that there was a class of travelers or traders who regularly travelled beyond their lands and throughout the Chinookan areas of the Columbia River.

      Additionally the upriver Skillute of Lewis and Clark may be a confusion of a variant “Echelute.” This very much may be the case when considering the fact that members of the Corps of Discovery may have written their accounts days or years later, thereby perhaps causing a confusion of tribal names in the journal entries.


  3. RE: Wakanasisi: By June of 1856 the Wakanasisi had been removed from Hewitt’s point and surrounding areas. Boxberger, “…During the removals of 1856 the residents of both Cath la-cana-sese and Cath-lal-shlalah were removed to the Grand Ronde Reservation as opposed to the White Salmon Reservation. There was obviously a great deal of confusion on the part of the US officials in trying to sort out the various groups in the vicinity of Fort Vancouver and a great deal of rumor as to what would become of them. Evidence of this confusion comes from a letter from William Dillon (DLC on Wakanasisi ceded lands and was apparently concerned that the Klickitat (Taidnapam?) would be settled there. To Isaac Stevens dated 8 June 1856. “…I am informed by Mr. Fields who has charge of the Indians at Vancouver that the authorities at that place intends to send those indians which they have in charge down her to occupy ‘the old fishery’ 7 miles below Vancouver and Cituate on my land claim . . . it has been the general understanding of the American Citizens that this band of clickitat Indians did not own the land there. It is known that they have never pretended to own or occupy the fishery aforesaid but it has bin occupied every year since the year 1848 by a small band of indians who deny any one relation or joint occupancy with the Clickitats and the said small band is now on the grand rond reserve in Oregon Territory, or so it is stated…” (Dillon 1856) – David


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