There are two areas of Oregon with athapaskan speaking tribes. Southwest Oregon has a large number of athapaskan speaking tribes that extend as far north as the Upper Umpqua tribe and south down into northern California beyond the Klamath River. in northern Oregon on the Columbia and in the Tualatin Hills to the Tillamook was another athapaskan speaking tribe, the Clatskanie, called the Clackstar by Lewis and Clark. I have assumed for years that the Upper Umpqua was a sub-tribe of the athapaskans of SW Oregon. The Tolowa and Tututni are known to be close relations with slight dialectical variations, and are related to all of the Athapaskans up the Illinois and Rogue River, and as far up the coast as Port Orford, and even the Upper Coquille were athapaskan speakers. That all of the athapaskan speaking tribes in this area are on the same athapaskan branch of the athapaskan tree of migrating peoples from the north.
Recall that the athapaskan language is not a tribal name but the name of a language family of many different tribes that have been connected through linguistic analysis to migration(s) of peoples from China that have linked athapaskan linguistically and ethnographically to Yeniseian a central Chinese language. Current theory about when the migration from China may have occurred is not well set but evidence suggests a late (post-Beringian) and fast colonization of North America by athapaskan peoples who assimilated to the local culture of peoples already here and whose language appears to have survived to the present era. Ethnographic oral accounts of athapaskan speaking peoples from Alaska and among the Navajo suggest that Athapaskans escaped persecution to come in seafaring boats to the Americas, The stories suggest waves of escapements from persecution so that there may very well be more than one migration of persecuted peoples from Central China (see discussion beginning page 21 in Wilson, Joseph Andrew Park. J., Cultural Correlates of the Athapaskan Expansion. Dissertation, U. Florida 2011. https://ufdcimages.uflib.ufl.edu/UF/E0/04/28/69/00001/wilson_j.pdf)
The migration of athapaskans into Oregon however is not well looked at by available sources. (not much readily available during Covid19) And apparently, many scholars have ignored the laborious Harrington Collection of reels. A chance find recently in reel 19 suggests that the Willapa/Kwalhioqua- Clatskanie language group are not just related but that they also perhaps spawned the Upper Umpqua Tribe as well. There appears in Harrington Reel 19 a series of stories about how the Clatskanie became a tribe and another migration down to the Upper Umpqua area. The stories from several people all are remarkably similar suggesting a later, few hundred years ago, migration of the people of the town of Puxpux to the Clatskanie area of Oregon. That they may have been motivated to move due to a big fire that destroyed the landscape so completely that it took years for the plants to come back, causing starvation. That the people followed elk trails to cross the Columbia to find the hills and mountainous region south of the Columbia River. There the Clatskanie lived in three bands off the river mainly and would travel mountain trails to visit the Tillamookans.
The following are a series of close transcriptions of the stories collected by Harrington from first Reel 19, then Reel 30.
Big Fire by Boisfort scared ? across Col. no -sank prairie Pooh tracked elk to Columbia & swim over to Klats-kane umtau on raft and killed and dried elk meat came for people went over to ? elk storied long there ? to stay plenty meat camass. Migrations of Willopah to Klatskanie, (Mrs. Judson) (304)
Yactun born there, 5 generations born there says the Umpkwas went south from this tribe (thomp n.) (313)
Big fire by Bosfort scared Inds across Col no- sank prairie Pooh tracked Elk to Columbia & swim over to Klats-kane wmtaru on raft and killed and dried elk meat name for people went over to cru elk started long there wanted to stay plenty meat camass, Migrations of Willapah to Klatskanie [w100] (390)
[Harrington]- A less spectacular migration carried a band of the Chehalis River Athapaskans across the Columbia, where they founded a village at the site of Clatskanie, Oregon. only two descendants of Willapa survived in 1910. (499)
For two years the fire burned and all the elk were driven away. After five years grass began to grow again, and some of the hunters came upon the trail of an elk- which they followed to the Columbia river. They crossed the stream on a raft, and sent back a messenger to tell of the abundance of game in that country. So the entire band moved southward and crossed the river. This was long long ago. The Tlatskani were all but extinct in the middle of the nineteenth century. (501)
Thomp- The U-Ump people call themselves tl’u-denne-yyu, lit. prairie people, & we call them thus too. (640)
Liz. puxpus is in the vic. of Klayber, & ok story
They got that forest fire all the hills were ashes, just bare, nothing, & when were hungry found elk track in the ashes, & he fd.[followed] it & fd. it, & came over to the Col. R. & sees where they went across. He crost & killed an elk & removed bones & all & make it light, & brot it back across- raft & puxpux Inds. all moved down there & never came back. Liz. kila-ts’-kenay. (827)
Clara- The Klatskanai Inds. used to come down the Nehalem R. with canoes, and once one Klatk. come to Nehalem and came with Til. Inds. up to Karnee Beach, while there looking around at low tide, looked into a pool & saw a rock-cod under a rock looking at him, red & very-colored. The Klatck. was frightened. The Til. with him killed it with a stick & said I’m g. to take him home & eat him. (878)
Clara they had a trail cutting through from Tlatskenayu to Leynten (phon.) coming out there or somewhere close around Leynten. They cd travel in the woods, it was nothing to them, it seemed like they were born in the woods they wd never say we’ll get lost in the woods, they knew where to go. (878)
Clara- Wholly is that there were 3 bunches of tribes of Clatskanay, those lower down, those higher up, & those way up, & they claimed that those way up were kind of mean, they’ll kill you, they were on the warpath all the time. (879)
The Clatskanie River Valley, more than 22 miles long, which starts in the region of Trenholm 9 miles inland west of St. Helens, and runs northwest ward mouths into the Columbia at a place opposite between Oak Point and Cathlamet of the north bank, was entirely occupied by them, and may anciently at the time of the invasion been the westernmost part of the Clatsop region. Inland holding and elk forests were vague & disputed. The divergence of the Clatskanie language from Kwalhioqua indicated that the setting south of the Columbia was made many generations ago (882)
Several trails crossed the low timbered divide which separates the Willapa and Chehalis drainages in the north from the Columbia Drainage on the south, and trails down Mill Creek or down the Upper Elkonin River and then cutting south, would have put the Clatskanie ancestors across from the Clatskanie River. More than this Kwalhioqua Indians in more recent times used to visit Oak Point on the Columbia Camping in that (882) region as inland Indians. Elsewhere made summer visits to the sea, and add that it is only a little ways. (883)
Story- Kwal. left lads went hunting elk, crossing Col. on a raft, to Clats. R. er wedging way there betw Clastop r. & Clackimas R. came home & got many to go down. Later there were divisions & portaged over the ridge SE of Saddle Mt. & got into the headwaters of the Nehalem R., thence down to coast betw Till. Head & Till. Bay. (883)
Clatskanie write-up- The Kwalhioqua occupied the entire Willapa River and much of the upper Chahalis River drainages in a great region which must forever remain with vague boundaries, a great linguistic island surrounded mostly by Salishan just as the southern Chilcotin is surrounded. The dialect of the lowest Willapa River was closely related to, but quite different from, that of Pi Ell of the upper Chehalis. There were Kwalhioqua speakers living near South Bend, Wash., in the 1890s. (887) The east shore of Shoalwater Bay, now Willapa Harbor, where the Willapa River mouths near South Bend, was as near the coast as this people held. Chehalis town is said to have been in Salishan Territory just e [East] of the Kwalhioqua line, but the Skookunchuck River northwest of there is said to have belonged to the Kwalhoiqua. (888)
Traditions- The Kwal. threw off both the Clatskanie and the U. Umpqua. (890)
[Lizzie] The Kwal. Tradition of the Tlats. (Clatskanie) is that elk hunters went s [South] & crost the Col. on a raft. One man was sent back to tell all the rest of come. From puxpux in the vic. [Vicinity] of Kleyber (Phon.) the hunters found an elk track in the ashes of a forest fire & followed it to Col. R. & crost. Dried the meat & brot [brought] it back, & all the Puxpux inds. moved down there. (891)
Reel 30 (begin) Harrington here is visiting with Melville Jacobs, an anthropologist, likely in Seattle, where he is collecting impressions of Jacobs based on the material already collected or ideas about where to collect more information. There are several times when Harrington visited with other anthropologists and got ideas for where surviving speakers are living and then went to find them. Jacobs here already knows about the relationship between Clatskanie and Upper Umpqua a fact that may have been missed by linguists later. It seems hard to believe that studies of Clatskanie or athapaskan languages may have missed these notes in Harrington or that Jacobs did not publish some of his theories regarding tribal migration. Reel 30 has a lot from Melville about his theories of tribal migrations, of which he stated they did not migrate down the coast nor were there mass migrations. This is clearly refuted by tribal Oral Histories of migrations. But Jacobs and Harrington further cement the idea from tribal stories that Upper Umpqua is likely related to Kwalhioqua-Clatskanie than to the Illinois-Rogue River dialects. Its possible that Chasta Costa as a separate dialect from the coastal tribes, today lead by the Tolowas is influenced not just by Takelma and Shasta, two neighboring tribes of different languages, but also by Upper Umpqua the other neighboring Athapaskan language.
Mel. says there were evidently 3 ath, languages in Wash. & Ore.:
- Kwalhioqua-Tlatskanai, as explained elsewhere, Kwalhioqua, known to existing Indians as Wilape or the like, was spoken on the upper Willapa River. Tlatskanai was spoken on the Clatscanie River, southern tributary to the Columbia, at a cluster of a few huts of the Clatscanie about 3 m. upstr. of the junction of the Clatscanie with the Columbia. The upper Umpqua which has been known for several years only to (17) John Warren, 80 years old deaf Indian who lives on the Grand Ronde Reservation, possibly from a 3rd member of this group. Upper Umpqua was spoken around Roseburg, John sees that it was ev. the tribe that killed Jedediah Smith [may have actually been the Lower Umpqua- a coastal tribe]. The Kalapuya were in between the Kwalhioqua-Tlatskanai and the Upper Umpqua for a distance of ca. 100 miles. Kalapuya was spoken around lake (Mel mentions the name of the lake but I forget) [likely Wapato Lake], and in another dialect elsewhere [yes three dialects of Kalapuyan]. Gatchet [sic] did a good job on the Kalapuya of the lake, & Frachtenberg also got Kalapuya notebooks. Mel is working over all of this material. Mel says that since the Kwalhioqua were separated by a good many miles, there must have been a difference of dialect, and the Upper Umpqua, if it belongs to this group, must be still more different. (18)
- The Galice- Applegate- Illinois group of dialects. These form a single language, not understood by the Chasta-Costa group. There survives a very good informant, a man evidently living in Siletz (Mel possibly refers to Barnett’s Hoxie Simmons). Who app. also knows the Chasta Costa language. He talks the Gallice Creek, & has given Mel many texts & much other stuff. He will occasionally say: now in Applegate, they say this word a little diff., & give it.
- The Chasta Costa is the upper ath. dialect of the Rogue River, or the region below, including the mouth of the river, is another group of dialects. The language of Euchre Creek is very similar, & so is the language of the Upper Coquille River, which though thought by Kroeber to be different, is practically identical, and the Chetco to the south, and the Tolowa or Smith River, south of the Chetco, is almost identical. So (19) this group consists of, as one language: Upper Rogue River alias Chasta Costa – Upper Coquille River-Euchre -Lower Rogue River-Chetco-Tolowa, and this group of dialects is in no danger of becoming extinct [not so today]. Jph’s [?] suggestion that the Nav. [Navajo?] came from the Sarcee and the Pacific Ath. also came from the Sarcees. He knows positively that Athapaskan was once the language of all central Wash. & Ore., of the region e. of the Cascades, & moved west precisely as the Sahaptin of the Takima region and the Mollala have been doing [see Molalla migration theories]. Viewed from this knowledge, the Kwalhioqua do not form so unique a language or are not geographically unique since they have moved nearly as far from the region e. of the Cascades as have the Gallice & Tolowa. (20)
When I first arrived, Mel. & his wife [Elizabeth Jacobs] told me that Upper Umpqua is a unique language, very distinct from Gallice, but neither of them sd. that it was closely connected with Kwlahioqua. It was Jph. who pointed out to them this possible nearness or almost identity, & a couple of days later Mel sd. that his wife had noticed this. (21)
Mel. says that for a long number of years John Warren, at Grand Ronde, 80 years old & very deaf, has been the sole Indian who knew Upper Umpqua. He talked Upper Umpqua as a boy, but never talked it since, so it has been 70 years that he has not spoken it. One has to shout at him & still he does not understand or remember very good. Acc. to the notes, a copy of which Mel let me copy, these notes were obtained by Langdon & Jacobs in 1936. Mel says he has worked with him twice, & considered he had exhausted his knowledge. Grand Ronde can be (46) Mel. [Melville Jacobs] But the Tlatskanai were on the Clatskanie River, which runs into the Columbia R. from the south, at a place about 3 miles upstr. from the mouth of the Clatskanie River. There were just a few houses of them. (47)
This series of notes from Harrington adds greatly to what we knew about the Clatskanie people which was not much at all. I have tried to reveal what there is about the tribe through a few essays but much of their lives remain a mystery. We know they lived mainly in the Tualatin Hills as far west as the Tillamook area and were great elk hunters. A very small village of them was removed to a reservation on the Columbia in around 1855, small because they had been decimated by malaria in the 1830s, and they appeared to integrate with the Multnomah and other Chinookans on the Columbia. Some few of the last of the tribe may have come to Grand Ronde. The Upper Umpqua were a great many more people at the time of removal. They removed to the Umpqua reservation in 1855 and then in 1856 removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation to be among the first arrivals in February.
Previous Clatskanie essays in the blog
Previous essays on the Upper Umpqua
Categories: General History
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.