The Columbia River has been divided into different culture areas by anthropologists since the 19th century. They are Upper, middle and lower Chinook areas, or sometimes written as Upper, middle and lower Columbia too. The cultural boundaries have changed several times based on which anthropologist is making the maps. But cultural maps do not abide by the tribal national territories which did exist in a political division of the Columbia region. These divisions were normally based on powerful leaders who are able to gain the support and allegiance of a large area. Kiesno from 1805 to 1848 was one such leader. He had the allegiance of tribes from the Cascades to the Multnomah, from the Tualatin Kalapuya and the Clackamas, and have kinship relations with the Cascades, Tualatin, perhaps the Santiam and Clatsop through wives and in-laws. In short, he gathered together a huge confederacy of different tribes, perhaps equating to a nation of tribes under his leadership, a confederacy which collapsed soon after his death.
Many maps from the earliest studies did not distinguish the various tribal territories. Instead, anthropologists usually have just noted “Chinooks” as the people of the Columbia. The Chinookan people are first recorded on the map by the Lewis and Clark expedition, and even they do not divide their maps into individual territories because they likely did not have enough information to do so. They instead just addressed villages and towns and noted the number of houses in each town. They also noted population counts and may record in this journal that these people in this town are of a certain “nation.” They did record a number of tribal nations, like the Kalapuyans, who they never met, yet heard about from other tribal people, yet they still made estimates of populations. As such many of their counts of the peoples, they did not meet our broad estimations, not to be taken as facts in the record. There is even the possibility that much of the journals may have been written years later from the memories of the people on the expedition (This is a theory, with some evidence, proposed by a researcher in Washington State. I can dredge up the reference if anyone is interested.).
The Wilkes map of the region, 1845, informed by Ethnographer Horatio Hale also did not provide enough divisions of the territory based on tribal divisions. There was a change in the cultures and politics in about 1835 when tens of thousands of people died of malaria (Boyd 1999). This die-off of large numbers of people reduced the Chinook population by at least 50-75%, Causing a reapportionment of tribal territories in the region. The large diversity of tribes and peoples recorded by Lewis and Clark in 1805-06, by the Astorians in 1811-13, and by Hudson’s Bay company from 1813-1835, ended, and from 1835 to 1845 there would be a reshuffling of the territories, with broad settlement of the region by white Americans, French-Canadian fur traders, and even other tribes, Cowlitz and Klickitat, who moved into the area in large numbers, and took over and co-habituated in Chinookan towns with people of many nations. The Chinookans were greatly reduced, confederated together for protection, for survival, and for community. In this period the Chinookans also confederated with other tribes, like the Klatskanies, and perhaps some Tillamooks, and Kalapuyans, to create new communities with new power dynamics. The Chinookan Nations appeared to have maintained their prominence and power until removed to reservations in about 1856, by treaty signing. Some tribes did remove to designated reservation areas because they signed the 1851 treaties, but this turned into a voluntary move because the treaties were never confirmed or ratified by the U.S. Congress. As such many Chinookan Nation lost out on the value of their aboriginal land claims, and the rights to the resources of those lands (timber, salmon, etc) until settled by Indian Claims cases in the 20th century. There appears to be still some outstanding debts that the U.S. owes to Chinookan nations because of the 1851 treaties, as it remains unclear if all of the original Chinookan Nations were party to the Indian Claims cases.
Previous maps were not very detailed, even that of George Gibbs, a longtime government employee, participant and translator (using Chinuk Wawa) in the treaties, and amateur ethnographer in the region, who did not divide the Chinooks in his 1870’s map of their territory.
Finally, as late as the 1980’s, anthropologists and ethnographers appear to not have really fully understood the tribal territories and set very broad and generalized divisions, almost as if they were afraid of getting the boundaries wrong.
There have been broad discussions about how Euro-American maps of tribal territories are totally inaccurate, for one reason that tribes did not have tribal boundaries. Many tribes shared their areas and many areas with vast resources may have been shared by dozens of tribes. Areas like the Cascade range, I have noted in previous essays, were not “owned” by the Molalla, even though they are assigned the Oregon Cascades region on ethnographic maps since the original assignment by Hale in 1845. This was likely the truth for most tribes in most regions. However, in areas with permanent villages, with extremely important resources gathering sites, there was ownership of resources areas. Salmon falls, oak orchards, camas fields, wapato fields, etc, would be owned by tribes and families and protected from outsiders from gathering and harvesting too much of the valuable resources. Then as well, the Chinookans knew that their prominence on the Columbia was a valuable position and protected invasion from outsider tribes. The Astorians recorded an invasion of the Columbia in 1812 by the Cowlitz, who were pushed back up the Cowlitz River by a Chinookan confederation led by Chief Kiesno. So for the Chinookans, their culture may have included more defined boundaries than other tribes. But they also tended to share as well, as they needed trade with all tribes in the region to maintain their wealth. Lewis and Clark noted people of many tribes in some villages, probably there for trade relations. Also, the Cascades-Watlala people seem to have some claims well upriver from their permanent villages at the rapids, as they wintered in a winter village on Government Island near Vancouver. This was well away from the Cascades Rapids because the winter weather in the gorge was so extreme. Some of the territorial claims may have passed through kinship-familial relations. The last Chiefs of the Clackamas peoples were from the Cascades peoples at the falls. They were the sons of the chiefs of the Cascades, who married into the Clackamas and took charge of the fishery at Willamette Falls (Drucker notebooks).
The 1851 Tansey Point treaties have not generally been well analyzed by anthropologists. They were not found until the first decade of the 20th century, and as they were never ratified may have been discounted by anthropologists and historians. However, the treaty discussions by Indian agents and the treaties themselves reveal a lot about tribal structures and the intent of the federal government. The 1851 treaties have the best journals of the events surrounding the negotiations, and these journals, letters, etc, are incredibly valuable for understanding the tribes who signed them in 1851. There are 19 of these 1851 Oregon treaties, at least 11 of them (including the Clackamas treaty) engaged with Chinookan tribes and their direct neighbors. The tribes who visited the treaty grounds at Tansey Point were all organized by Robert Shortess, appointed sub-Indian Agent under Anson Dart, who had a Chinookan wife and could speak Chinuk Wawa. Shortess, in his letters, sided with the tribes over their land rights, and for this was fired by Dart.
The Tansey Point treaties were the second round of treaty making by Dart, the first was at Champoeg with the Kalapuya and Molalla tribes. There was a map created by George Gibbs and Edmund A. Starling, during the treaty proceedings, which delineated the Kalapuyan and Molallan territories, and their permanent reservations. The map was originally a river navigation map created by Leonard White, a steamboat captain, which is why the map was so detailed about the Willamette River and its tributaries, and ports.
For whatever reason, there does not appear to have been a similar tribal territory boundary map, a ceded lands map, created for the Tansey Point Treaties, or of the third treaty proceedings, with the tribes in Southwestern Oregon, negotiated at Port Orford later in 1851. One reason may have been the fact that after the first month of treaty signing, May of 1851, the Willamette Valley Treaty Commission was effectively dissolved. The Commissioners were not federal employees who could legally represent the federal government and so Dart effectively criticized this fact by suggesting that the treaties by the commission would not be legally binding. Dart’s criticism was so effective that the responsibilities of treaty making, and the money which came with the job, fell to him, as he was the Superintendent of Indian affairs for Oregon. So afterward Dart had the sole responsibility for treaty making in Oregon, along with his sub-agents. Dart may not have thought of or arranged the second negotiations at Tansey point as well as the commission did at Champoeg. Also, the Willamette Valley treaties were more complicated, and included, all of them, permanent reservations within the original tribal territories (see map above). While of those treaties from Tansey Point, all but one, did not include reservations. The Clatsop Reservation was the only true reservation created in this region from a treaty. All other treaties basically stated that the tribal peoples would reside in their houses, in their towns, until they passed.
There was one set of maps created which referenced the 1851 Tansey Point treaties, those maps created on behalf of the tribes who joined the Indian Claims cases for Dockets 234 and 240. I just happened to encounter these maps in the Cartography division of the National Archives in College Park Maryland in 2014 and took a few quick photos. I did not think I would ever use these images or what they really meant at the time. A much better set of scans should be done of these maps.
Section of Map of the entrance to the Columbia showing hand-drawn tribal village locations, and Native place-names., This is likely a Docket 234 map.
Larger photo of the same map as above with tribal territorial divisions like the 1851 treaties.
Section of the same map showing gathering areas and resources gathered, likely created for the survey of the region to finally recommend the pay-out from winning the Indian Claims case in 1958.
This last week, I began to plot these tribal territories on the Mymaps app from Google, from the narrative descriptions in the treaties. Some of the descriptions were very confusing so it was helpful to recall that I had the NARA maps (above), which gave me clues about the northern tribal territories and the divisions between the Clatsop, Wallooskee, and Kathlamet. I made each territory a different color. They are shown in greater detail in the remainder of the essay. The lines are broad estimates based on the historical reference points that could be identified.
The Clatsop territory was significant for the claims on the river and the ocean. The treaty included a reservation, which the other Chinook treaties did not.
The full claim of the Clatsop extended down the coast.
The Lower Chinook on the north bank
The Wallooskee (the last of his tribe) and Kathlamet territories.
The Koonaak, or Skilloot territory, is much more straightforward, and the only tribe who owned property on both sides of the Columbia. The division between the Chinookans and the Klatskanie was a big question mark and still is.
The Waukikum had a huge land claim, bordered on the north by the Cowlitz and the Wheelappa.
The Klatskania territory is not well defined in the narrative of their treaty. This is what it might look like. What is clear in the narrative is that they had land, on the Columbia, which is not a part of any history or map I have seen.
The Shoalwater Bay and Wheelappa tribal territorial narratives are not well detailed. They likely owned as far inland as the Cowlitz claims. The Docket 234 map shows Wheelappa claims up to the southern Shoalwater Bay which is why that is shown here. More work needs to be done on this.
The Tillamook tribes, who were known to trade broadly into the Columbia and had good coastal claims from the Coast to the crest of the Coast Range. Some of their place-names are as yet unknown to me.
This is what I have at this time, it took a few days to read through the treaties and establish the boundaries. I will likely complete the whole map by adding the Kalapuyan and Molallan territories in the interior, and later the southern Oregon tribal territories, Rogue, Coquille, Tututni, and lastly the last treaty of 1851, that with the Clackamas. Some of the historic place names have changed dramatically and it took a look of research to find their original locations. The map now created does show a greater diversity of tribal ownership that any maps I have seen previously. It is not my intention in doing this to make a political statement, only to find the truth of the tribal territories of 1851. This is a small window into this time period, which may very well have changed dramatically after 1851, due to any number of factors. There were clear differences perhaps greater diversity of tribal ownership and control of territories previous to 1851, of which we may never find the truth.
References, the 1851 Oregon Treaties, found in the US Territorial Papers M 1049 roll 1.
The Maps of the NARA Cartography division dockets 240 and 234.
& Various bits of uncatalogued information in my dusty brain.
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.