A Trip to Tillamook, By Way of the Salmon River: the First Journey of Warren Vaughn

I encountered this history, partially unpublished I believe, in the Oregon Historical Society Library. The published book of his journal focuses on the second trip down the coast to Tillamook and his settlement in the Tillamook Valley (Vaughn, Warren. Till Broad Daylight: A History of Early Settlement in Oregon’s Tillamook County. Wallowa, Ore.: Bear Creek Press, 2004.). There is also a good Oregon Encyclopedia article about Vaughn, based on his History of Tillamook, which avoids mention of this first mistaken journey to Siletz Bay.

Vaughn’s first trip to attempt to get to Tillamook is quite detailed and gives much information about the native culture. This is clearly not the first trip down the Salmon River trail, and the account states as much. There were earlier trips by settlers from Grand Ronde valley, as stated. As well, there is an account from Jessie Applegate, of a journey by his brothers into the Coast Range. That family lived in Salt Creek, just west of Rickreall, and it may be that they took this trail. There are also other accounts of Missionaries traveling from the Willamette Valley to the Coast as part of a vacation. These earlier trips were likely in the 1840’s. The trail was an old elk trail in various sources, and became known as the Salmon River trail, or wagon trail later.

Warren Vaughn
Court. Tillamook County Sheriff’s Office


It was in the fall of 1851 that I first heard the name Tillamook. I then resided in Yamhill County. A gentleman friend … told how plentiful the salmon were; that the little streams were literally blocked with fish, that there were but two white men living in the country; and that the Indians were very numerous and were catching and drying fish by the ton for their winter use.

There was no other way of getting into the country… by way of Grand Ronde in Yamhill County. At this place he hired an Indian to pilot him through the mountains and up the coast and across the numerous rivers and bays… it would be next to impossible for the white man to follow the trail as the Indians used their own marks for guidance…

The Grand Ronde Reservation was not created until 1856, so the Native person they hired was a Yamhill Kalapuya Indian.

Sometimes two perpendicular cuts one inch apart were made in the bark of a tree, then a horizontal cut at the top, then the strip of bark was peeled downward to the bottom of the incision and left thus. At other points, a piece of stick would be inserted and again where a turn in the trail would be made, an arrow-head cut in the bark would point in the direction to be followed.

These are known as blazes today, and there are areas of the forest which have blazes from many different peoples who have now settled Oregon.

It was on the 15th of September 1852, that Mr. Henry Haines and myself talked of going to Tillamook together…. Mr. Courtney Walker, Mr. Cary and Louis Labonte also talked of going. Mr. Courtney Walker was an old mountaineer and had served a number of years in the American Fur Co. of the Rocky Mountains, but was a resident of Yamhill County and Mr. Cary was also a resident of Yamhill County and served one term in the legislature of Oregon from Yamhill County; and Louis Labonte and wife, who were half-breed Indians. Louie’s father was an old Frenchman and born in Hudson’s Bay Co., and like other of the Company, had married an Indian woman and raised a family of half-breed children.

The Labonte Family was removed to Grand Ronde Indian Reservation in 1856. Labonte has a number of famous attributions, including an essay about stories and culture of the Kalapuya peoples from French Prairie.

Walker, Cary and I made preparations to go to Tillamook. We employed as our guide, Louie Labonte the half breed who was accompanied by his wife. They both could talk good English. Louie also acted as interpreter, as none of our party understood the jargon used between the Whites and the Indians, except Louie and his wife.

We … started from Dayton Yamhill County on September 15, 1852, for the “Garden of the World” in High Spirits, by the way of Grand Ronde. We arrived at Grand Ronde on the first day… As we were about to start (the next morning) an old Indian living near this place informed us that after going about three miles on the Salmon River trail [old Elk Trail] we must turn off to the right as a tree marked by two sticks leaning against it. He said that the trail led to Tillamook, but it was very dim and he was afraid we would not be able to follow it. However, we started with our guide in the lead, but neither our guide, nor any of our party saw the tree with the two sticks leaving against it. We kept traveling on until about four o’clock in the evening; then we stopped for the night. This day our traveling lay through dead timber, and our horses had to jump over many trees that lay across our trail. Here we found a small prairie with plenty of grass for our horses.

It was on the tributary of the Little Nestucca River that our guide and his wife caught a fine mess of trout for supper…

I could not have been asleep but a short time when my bed companion awoke me…saying “a wolf, a wolf.” About this time a large skunk crawled over his face. He did not wait to say “wolf” any more… we named the place Skunk Prairie Camp, which the place holds to this day.

We struck camp early next morning and about ten o’clock A.M. we struck another fork of the Salmon River. This we followed down until we struck the main Salmon River. About twelve o’clock we left the river on our right and in a short time we came upon a most beautiful landscape. We gave three cheers for Tillamook and soon came upon the ocean beach.

They were at the Beach at Lincoln City, not at Tillamook as they had followed the Salmon River to just south of its estuary. The Nechesne/Salmon River peoples in the village at the estuary – which they missed, were Salish speakers – a dialect of the Oregon Tillamook Language, but they were far south of Tillamook. The Salmon River Encampment became a major resettlement area of the Coast Reservation, for coastal Indians, from the 1860’s to the 1890’s.

Nine mile strip of coast between the Nechesne river and Neslets bay, today mostly Lincoln City

We were at a loss which way to go; whether north or south; for we could see no signs of settlement. Finally we concluded to go south down the beach. We travelled about nine miles when we came to a small bay and came upon an Indian village of the Tillamook Tribe. [From the description here this is actually the Siletz Bay, and likely the Siletz tribe.] Here we received a great disappointment. Upon inquiries by our interpreter, we found we had struck a small bay forty miles below Tillamook proper. The Indians called it Neslats.

Neslets is “Siletz” today, the word form matches that of the other Tillamook tribal place names, including Nechesne, Nestucca, Nehalem. The river here then properly would be the Neslats or Neslets river. Within researching within the Tillamook language we can assume that “Ne-” or “Na-” may be a village or placename marker for the language. Similarly, for the Kalapuya,  a Penutian language, and not Salish, “Cha-“,  “Tsi-” or “Che-” is a placename or village marker for the language. We can assume that the rule may work for both languages.

We were told that Tillamook was a long way to the north…. Our interpreter told the “Tice,” or chief, that we were very hungry and asked for something to eat. After about two hours waiting there came to us two Indians carrying a fashionable server in the shape of a piece of board about four feet long and two feet wide, covered with fish and crabs all finely cooked.

The tribes of Oregon were well known as being good hosts to visitors. In two hours all of this food had been gathered and cooked and then served to them. A remarkable reception. Perhaps they felt sorry for this lost party.

Their mode of cooking was to first make a pile of rocks in the shape of a cone, then build a fire thereon until the rocks became heated nearly red through. Upon these hot rocks they spread a quantity of sea-weed lightly, then they placed thereon the fish and crabs, covering all with a larger layer of sea weed which created a steam, and at regular intervals water was poured over the pile to keep up the steam. Blankets were also spread over to keep the steam in, and in this way the fish and crabs were cooked. Our guide, Louie remarked, “well I’ve got my crabs”, and looking up at his wife he asked, “where are your clams, wife?” “Well,” she answered, “I will take mine when I get them.”

In the morning we visited the place where a year before a vessel went ashore loaded with general merchandise for Doctor McLoughlin, of Oregon City. It was wrecked about a half mile from our camping place. There we saw lots of stoves, log-chains, boxes, brooms, pitchforks, and quantities of other articles too numerous to mention here. They were half buried in the sand.

Doctor McLoughlin came over to Grand Ronde upon hearing of the wreck and had offered half of the goods to those white settlers who would pack the goods out for him to Grand Ronde… It was this packing out that gave us the trail.

The name of the original trail is the old Elk Trail, so the trail was likely already there, and it may have been expanded a bit with the packing out of goods from the wreck.

They returned home in two days.

His next adventure begins in December of 1852, when he decides to move to Tillamook, by way of Astoria.

Excerpts from Early History of Tillamook by Warren Vaughn, Oregon Historical Society Library

This is a work of original research by myself, I have not looked at the published book for the article. I have the book but have not looked at it for a couple years.

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