Anthropology Kalapuya Oregon indians Willamette Valley

Chelamela and Chemapho Kalapuyans

The Long Tom River and its tributaries was the original homelands to two major tribes of Kalapuyan Indians, the Chelamela and Chemapho tribes. The Chelamela occupied the upper or southern part of the watershed from the Coast Range to the Willamette at Eugene, and from the Calapooia range to the Reservoir. The Chemapho occupied from the Coast Range to the Willamette and from the Reservoir to just before Philomath at the north. The tribes lived in permanent villages in the middle to upper reaches of the watershed along tributaries to the Long Tom River. The foothills of the Coast range had permanent villages, while the temporary fishing and root gathering encampments were down on the flatlands near the Long Tom and Willamette. The tribes practiced a seasonal round lifeways, with permanent winter villages above the flood plains, and annual temporary encampments in known cultural locations for root digging, berry picking, hunting, and fishing activities. The tribes used canoes for efficient transportation of goods and peoples throughout the region and maintained kinship and trade relations with all regional tribes, Kalapuyan tribes and non-Kalapuyan speaking tribes.

Re-draw from the 1855 Willamette Valley treaty Map, D. Lewis

The Kalapuyans were not agriculturalists but instead practiced some horticultural and land stewardship activities. They based their season round lifeways around the food plant cycles in the Willamette Valley. In the spring and summer they would begin berry picking and root digging of camas, while at the end of the summer they would pick crops available at the end of the season, like apples and hazelnuts. In late September the tribal women would set fire to their section of the Willamette Valley, in a practice known as pyroculture. The fires would burn all the most recent vegetation growth, eliminating pests and depositing nutrients in the soil. The cleared plains would re-grow quickly from subsurface plants that survived the fires. As such the native plants of the valley are adapted to a fire regime. Oregon white oak savannas were developed from this cultural activity as an acorn food crop for the tribes. Other trees and bushes that could not survive the annual fires were then cleared from the valley, their habitats reduced to the foothills and upland regions. Pyroculture also affected the forest, clearing out extra underbrush and leaving a clear forest floor under a canopy of mixed conifers and big leaf maples. Pyroculture likely eliminated large destructive fires in the region for thousands of years.

The Kalapuyans would hunt and fish to gain occasional fish and animal proteins. Upland and foothill Kalapuyans used traps and snares to get much of their animal and fish prey. Fish weirs and traps would be set up in creeks and streams for daily fish. Yoncalla Chief Halo was known to use fish weirs on the Row River as late as the 1860’s. Deer and elk could be snared with well woven cordage, or trapped in drops, a hole dug in the ground to make them fall and become ensnared. Kalapuyans would trick male deer by dressing in a male deer head decoy to challenge them to a fight, resulting in killing them with an arrow. Records suggest that when deer were plentiful, several Kalapuyan bands would organize and plan a mass harvest, by forming a line of “beaters” who would make noise and drive deer away from them. The noise would drive the deer away and into the waiting arrows of the Kalapuyan hunters. Setting fire to the plains may have served the same or a similar purpose for some, although it was much more dangerous.

Records of Kalapuyan calendars, like the Tualatin calendar, suggest that the Kalapuyans lived primarily on vegetables, as much as 75%, making mass harvests of camas and wapato bulbs. These would then be prepared en mass, in large underground baking pits, and the cooked foods either stored or traded with neighbors who had dried salmon or wealth items for trade. With so much vegetables and fruits growing in the Willamette Valley and mountain range foothills, within 20-40 miles of their permanent villages, there was less need for hunting and fishing. The excellent soils, good rainfall, and plenty of sun created a perfect agricultural environment for wild food plants to sustain the Kalapuyan population with some surpluses. As such the Kalapuyans did not need agriculture to sustain an estimated pre-contact population of 20,000-25,000 people.

Giant Camas, Eugene 2018, Photo- D. Lewis

The Chelamela and Chemapho tribes signed the 1855 Willamette Valley treaty along with all of the other Kalapuyan tribes north of them. The tribes had been through some 50 years of colonization from explorers, fur traders, and settlers. Explorers and fur traders introduced the tribes to diseases which ultimately killed some 95-97% of the Kalapuyan peoples. The most credible disease factor is malaria, as fur traders brought the mosquitoes from other environments to the Willamette Valley, which took hold by 1830, causing massive death among the Kalapuyans, Molallans, and Chinookans. The early 19th century then can be divided in two major time periods based on the disease effects. The pre-1829 period had a much more robust culture, larger numbers of peoples, more villages, making the Kalapuyans a major factor in the Willamette Valley, as exhibited in explorers and fur traders accounts. Post-1830, the Kalapuyans went through some five years of disease, killing the majority of the population. After 1835, the Kalapuyans were much reduced, with only a few major villages in the northern Willamette Valley.

Settlers began arriving in 1844 in large numbers but the Kalapuyans barely register as a significant population in most historic accounts. As such the settlers began claiming all of the Kalapuyan homelands, regardless of the previous occupation or obvious claim of the tribes. The Kalapuyans serve as the laborer class in the new cultural economy being brought to the Willamette Valley. The Kalapuyans learn agriculture, ranching, and become good at harvesting timber for the building farmsteads. In many ways the Kalapuyans actually welcome the Americans to their lands, as they bring wealth, and knowledge which they teach to the Kalapuyans. Some settlers, former fur traders, marry Kalapuyan women and find a welcome home near the villages of their fathers-in-law on the French Prairie plains. However, when it came time for removal the settlers refuse to make room for the Kalapuyans.

1851 proposed Luckimiute Reservation, note location of Simpson’s Ferry, Section of Gibbs and Starling Map

By 1851 the majority of the flatlands, the plains of the whole Willamette Valley, were claimed by American settlers, such that there was no space for Indian reservations. This was discovered when in 1851, the Willamette Valley Treaty Commission signed treaties with the Kalapuyan tribes of the north and middle valley. The treaties stipulated that the tribes were to get permanent reservations, small areas within their homelands. Yet when the treaties went to Washington, D.C. it was discovered that the locations chosen for reservations were already previously claimed Donation Land claims. Neither the Chelamela nor Chemapho  negotiated a treaty in 1851, but Reverend Spalding (Brownsville) reported that the Long Tom population in 1851 is 71 people (Spalding 8/25/1851).

The next Indian Superintendent Joel Palmer, when planning a reservation for the Kalapuyans, planned to place all western Oregon tribes in the intractable Coast Range, but was forced to purchase the DLC claims in the Grand Ronde valley to form a reservation for the tribes in 1856.

Palmer reported on the Chelamela in 1854:

The country on the west side of the Willamette River … is occupied and claimed by bands called Lumtumblers or Long Toms, Lomalees etc. There are but a few of them. The Clickitats occupy this portion of the country but lay no claim to it, as their country lies north of the Columbia River. They occupy it only as a hunting ground and trade extensively with the numerous tribes and bands south of this valley (Palmer 1854 report).

The Kalapuyans were placed on temporary reservations in the Willamette Valley for about 10 months. The Willamette Valley treaty was ratified by the US Congress in early March 1855, and so to eliminate conflicts, Palmer removed all Kalapuyan tribes to the DLC’s of prominent settlers in the valley. About 10 or 11 temporary reservations were established in this manner. The Chemapho likely became known as the Muddy Creek or Muddy Indians (also Maddy) because of the creek in the area that they resided near. They were removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation between February and March 1856 with all of the other Kalapuyans tribes. There is not a good record for a Chelamela temporary  reservation in the same time period. Regardless these two tribes removed to Grand Ronde to be censused in November 1856.

Long Tom Band- 16, Antoine ?, Chief;

Muddy Band- 21-  Old “Tom”?  Chief

(Grand Ronde Census of November 25th 1856)

Note “Muddy” and “Long Tom” above, the  First Grand Ronde Reservation census November 1856.

After removal to the reservation, the tribes are made to stay on the reservation. They are not US citizens and as such are not given the freedom to leave the reservation on their own. They may apply for passes to leave. Many of the tribal families continue to leave the reservation, with a pass, to work for farmers in the Willamette Valley in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In this manner a new seasonal round is created with the Tribal people being a migrant indigenous farm-worker class in the springs, summers and falls into the 1950’s.

The Kalapuyans at Grand Ronde remain on the reservation for 100 years until it is terminated by the federal Government in 1954. They are made to either buy their allotments or move by 1956. The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde is restored in 1983.

In the 1885 census there are at least three surviving Chemapho familes.  Since the tribes were not allowed to leave the reservation, the majority of partnerships and marriages until at least 1900 are between the families of the 29 to 35 tribes at the Grand Ronde Reservations. Some additional marriages took place with neighboring tribes, especially the Siletz Reservation peoples. The Chemapho and Chelamela people are a part of the DNA of the Tribal Members of the Grand Ronde and Siletz tribes of western Oregon.

Alternative and Americanized names for the Chelamela tribe:

Tsan Temifa Amim, Tsan Temifa, Sam Tom Leaf, Tsan Lik Temifa Amim,  Lamal, Lamella, Lamely, Lameli, Alameli, Alamela, Lommitumba, Lommitumpo, Lamtambif, Lomtombif, Lommi Tom Bif, Lommi-tumba, Tsan Likt Emifa Amim, Lam-mella, A-lam-ela, Lam-eli


P. McCartney for some alternative names

most references in-text.

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2 comments

  1. Interesting! I recall Andrew Chrarles said that the Siuslaw claimed Triangle Lake and the hills next to it, but it was a meeting place between them and Kalapuyans for trade and games and so forth. Must’ve been mainly Chemapho who came over for these gatherings.

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