Oregon Native Place Names in the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, Part 1

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In the map collections of Oregon Historical Society there is a selection of Coast Survey maps. Most of these maps date from 1874 and there are some later. They are blueprint copies of the original maps, which are likely in College Park, Maryland in the NARA Cartography collection center.

These maps I had found and photographed some five years previously (very badly). Then I “discovered” that a couple of the maps had some Native Place names. It is on maps # 770 b & c where there is documentation of the survey from Siletz to the Tillamook area. The maps give the common river and lake place names and the Native place names. When I first found the maps I was interested in the Salmon River place name, Nechesne. After encountering that name, I researched further and found it to be commonly known in various ethnographic sources.

These last few months I have been engaged in more research directly within the Salmon River area. I have documented the conditions of the tribes and the extent of the “encampment” along the coast between the Salmon River and the Siletz River. I have also found much information about the Salmon River wagon road and blueprints of the highway. I had also found that a vibrant community of Native people remained settled on the coast around Devil’s Lake for many years following the last reduction of the Coast Reservation. Many of these people were associated with the Grand Ronde and Siletz reservations.

In the 1870’s and 80’s this community of Native people at Salmon River and in scattered settlements up to Siletz Bay were the only major ethnic group on the coast. It was not until later, in about 1907, when the Siletz reservation was reduced further that there grew a community of White Americans who began claiming land and taking over the development of the coastline.

The community of Native people were mainly members of various coastal Native communities. The people at the Salmon River encampment were mostly Tillamook, Nestucca, and Salmon River people moved there by 1877, a move that I have also documented. There were also a few Alsea people, and members of other tribes that had not yet moved to the Siletz Valley, and some perhaps never did move there, but have remained on the coast ever since.

This is the case with some of the Grand Ronde members as well. There became settlements of Grande Ronde peoples scattered along the Salmon River Wagon Road from the reservations, through Otis, to Devil’s Lake. Some of these people remained on their lands ever since, some moved to find opportunities off the reservation.

Beginning in 1854 and continuing in later decades the US Coast and Geodetic Survey came through the Coastal area and documented the coastal estuaries and features. George Davidson, who was the Assistant to the survey, documented the survey and participated in various research on the expedition. Davidson participated in each expedition, and in his fourth edition of the journals, he documents the California, Oregon and Washington coastlines. His journal published in 1889, follows the entries on the Oregon Coastline maps at Oregon Historical Society perfectly.

Compare Davidson’s place names with this national map produced in 1867.

National map of the territory of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean 1867

Siletz River: The Siletz or Nachicolcho River enters the southeast point of the bay, coming from through a high, heavily wooded country by a tortuous course. (424)

770 b Coast Survey map at OHS

Davidson offers a bit of ethnographic research as well.

The United States Exploring Expedition in 1841 locates the stream in this vicinity called the Zasitsh. Tebenkoff has no stream here. On the early editions of the Coast Survey Chart the name of this stream was Nekas. But the Siletz U.S. Indian Reservation located here takes its name from the Indians, and the reconnaissance of 1887 gives Siletz and Nachicolcho. There have been many different spellings of the former name. Previous charts have a small stream emptying near this called the Cowes River; De Mofras calls it the Yacoun. (424)

Davidson also offers a suggestion of where the name information comes from.

There are four houses in the North side of the bay about a quarter of a mile inside the entrance.

These houses were Native houses, located on the north side of the entrance. Several families of Native people of the Siletz Reservation lived here. Their name was Johnson on hand drawn maps.

1893 allotments at Siletz estuary, SWORP collection

Devil’s Lake

The shore is a low, yellow or reddish cliff for two-thirds of  a mile to a small jagged point, and then increasing in height to eighty and one hundred feet to the mouth of the Na-ah-so or Devil’s Lake at two and one-half miles from the North Point of the Siletz. … The Lake itself is two and one-half miles long by half a mile wide, and comes from the north, nearly reaching to one of the marshy arms of the Nechesne. This Lake is sometimes called Trout Lake. (425)

In fact I do have a map of the lake where it is named Trout Lake.

Davidson got this information from the Native peoples in the Salmon River Encampment and living around the lake.

The Indians living around it have houses, and are employed in farming and stock-raising. (425)

There were in fact a number of Native families documented on one of my other essays.

The Nechesne or Salmon River

One mile behind this beautiful green and rolling mesa (ridge) are the arms of Devil’s Lake and the Nechene, which nearly approach each other…. (425)

On Tebenkoff’s Chart this cove is shown under Cascade Head, and the stream is called R. Yakoune. On the reconnaissance chart of 1850 it is called the Yaquinna River. (425)

The early maps had a few mistakes and many rivers were wrongly named and placed by people unfamiliar with Oregon geography.

On the U.S. Coast Survey chart of 1853 and the chart of 1870 it is named the Nechesne, with rocks at the entrance. On the sectional map of Oregon, 1886, it is called Salmon Creek. (425)

This map and associated journal and report reveals several Native place names related to the Salish speaking Tillamook tribes of the Oregon Coast. The fact that these people still lived here during the survey likely helped get these place names preserved. This is part one of a two part place names study involving the U.S. Coast Survey information



Davidson, George, United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, Pacific Coast, Coast Pilot, California, Oregon and Washington, 4th edition, GPO, Washington, 1889. p 424-

this book is located on Google Docs, the entries here begin on page 661 on the Google copy.

Sketch from Unfinished Topographical Sheets on the Reconnaissance from Yaquina to Tillamook Bay: surveyed in June, July, and August 1887, by the party under Cleveland Rockwell, Asst. U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey, 1887. Map Nos.  770a,770b,770c,770d,770e.

Map 770c is in the Oregon Historical Society Library.

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