Cast to the Edge: the Falls View Rancheria in Oregon City

Oregon City, the settlement town, was established by Hudsons Bay company in 1829, but there was already a Clowewalla village in this location for more than 10,000 years. According to accounts of John McLaughlin and the Catholic church, the first non-native building was a sawmill built to take advantage of the hydopower of the falls. In the 1830ss both Catholic and Methodist churches were built in the native town under the need of the Christians to missionize the Natives. By the 1830s, and after several horrible h=years of malaria which devastated the people such that about 10-15% of the people survived, they lost the majority of land ownership to the settlers in the burgeoning town. What was established is a social, political, and economic system which took advantage of Indian labor to build up and run the town while Natives were cast out of their former residences.

This system is not new or uncommon. We see the same for Native villages across the continent. Native peoples normally held land in key areas where it was advantageous to harvest, gather, hunt, or fish for foods and other resources from multiple environments. The newcomers that came to tribal lands saw immediately the potential of setting up their own operations near Indian settlements because they would immediately be able to hire Native people to do much of the labor involved with establishing a new more civilized settlement. Eventually, as Native people died through disease, violence, or war, the newcomers took over native lands completely and supplanted the lands and resources. The remainder of the native people were still necessary for the cheap labor they gave but were normally undesirable “savage” elements in the community. As such, they would be cast to the fringes of their original town or made to move slightly out of town for their own safety. They would then be close enough to get to work every day, yet would not sully the American settlement with their savage ways.

These Indian encampments were quite common. At Fort Vancouver, there was a native town which was called Kanaka Village which at first was settled by the hired Hawaiian men, then later by native peoples from some 100 tribes who sought work at the fort. The village was outside of the Fort. A similar system called the Encomiendo system was established by the Spanish in Southern and Northern California. There the Spanish established walled forts where Native women were forced to work inside and kept from their husbands much of the time, while the Native men lived in nearby rancherias and also do labor for the Spaniards. Es=lsewhere in Oregon, there were towns of Native people living on the Columbia, In the Tillamook area, and down in Coos Bay, where the natives lived outside of the main (white) towns where they labored cheaply in fields, fish canneries, and the like for the white Americans. In the Willamette Valley, farmers set up small encampment villages on their lands for Native people to live in next to the fields of crops to labor for several weeks getting the crops in. In Salem natives set up temporary encampments along the railroad tracks. The encampment village which I call a rancheria happened in Oregon City as described by Dye.

“As settlers advanced the Indians moved their camps to the first bench, the second, and finally to the third, where for years boys and girls found small Indian pockets of caches with beads and arrow heads.( Dye 673)

The news of the camps of the Natives on the bluff was partially captured by a local historian Frank Sandwell who wrote to describe what he found in local newspaper sources.

“In some respects, trying to document “the Indian village on the hill” is like trying to grasp smoke — there’s really nothing to grab hold of, except a few scant mentions in old newspapers from around the turn of the last century which chronicle the various run-ins of the community’s residents with the Oregon City authorities. These predictable infractions of the law include — but are not limited to — alcohol-related crimes like males knife-fighting amongst themselves, spousal abuse (“squaw beating”), complaints from nearby
white residents about noise on the hill, all-night gambling, alleged prostitution, and public drunkenness, many instances of which seem to have been instigated by bored white youths from the town below visiting the camp for entertainment, usually at the Indians’ expense. In these reported incidents, which frequently resulted in fines and/or short jail sentences for Indians, but not for whites, this settlement is referred to in a variety of geographically vague ways.

Consequently, its exact location above Oregon City is now hard to determine, although it was somewhere above present-day Waterboard Park, along Promontory Avenue. Nevertheless, these occasional newspaper reports contain the only fleeting references we have to the camp at Falls View, so I’ve listed these one-sentence descriptions below chronologically as they may be of some interest:

(1) “the Indians on the hill” (1870 and 1877)
(2) “the group of tepees among the big firs” (1896)
(3) “the old Indian quarters on the bluff” (1900)
(4) “the Indian colony on the hill” (1900)
(5) “the Indian village on the hill” (1904)
(6) “the Indian settlement near Canemah” (1906)
(7) “several families of Indians at ‘Squaw Camp’ as the part of Falls View where they have their shacks is called” (1908)
(8) “the Indian settlement south of the city” (1909)
(9) “the tepee of Mollie Clark on the South End road” (1911)
(10) “the Klickitat village overlooking the Falls” (1915)

[no full citations found yet]

The last newspaper reference above (No. 10) may also be the only one to indicate this ephemeral settlement’s murky origin, which may have been in the wake of the malaria epidemic of the early 1830s. In a thumbnail biography of the Oregon City Indian known as “Soosap,” aka Joseph Andrews (c.1835-1916) which was included in an article entitled “Soosap is Last of Once Haughty Clackamas Tribe,” which appeared on page 12 of the Oregon Daily Journal for Sunday, May 9, 1915 — the year before he died — it states “Soosap’s parents were full-blooded Indians, his father a Klickitat and his mother a Clackamas. It is said he was born in the Klickitat village overlooking the falls of the Willamette.” Before their removal to the Grand Ronde reservation in 1856, the Molalla Indian family of treaty-signer Chief Yelkas — who of each year at a place on the hill above Oregon City, which may have been this same “Klickitat village.” The “Indian camp on the hill” at Falls View may have originally grown up in the vicinity of a tall fir tree, a “forest monarch,” which had been venerated by the Molalla Indians. At least seven feet in diameter before it was felled in the late 19th century, “the chief’ street” had been the place of execution for the headman of the Cashooks, when the tribe was massacred with the help of the Molallas in 1811. After the tree was cut down, people “dug around it and found Indianrelics buried — beads, spear-heads, old Chinese coins, stone and flint weapons, and articles evidently got off the whites.” It is also reported that “under this same tree, the Molalla Indians and the settlers smoked the pipe of peace and buried the hatchet . . . “ In 1912, an article entitled “A Bit of the Long Ago — A Glance Back to the Day of the Clackamas Indians” appeared on page 7 of the Oregon City Courier for April 5, which mentioned the cemetery in the area:

. . . Just opposite the Hawley mill C, on top of the bluff, is the desecrated Indian burial ground where vandals have dug in their
perfect work, not only in robbing the graves of the relics but carrying off the human bones as well, and leaving the burial ground
like a field after a stump grubbing. Mr. Miller said he remembered when the Clackamas Indians used to decorate these graves with pieces of bright tin and Indian relics, but now there is nothing left but holes in the ground. He said that only after “Indian Joe” [Joseph Andrews, aka “Soosap“] had long protested was there an effort made to stop the desecration. But the signs are just about as potent as the “no spitting” placards, for the writer found one grave that had been opened within a week . . .

Two documented burials at the cemetery at Falls View took place in January 1877 and July 1901. Both were for relatives of Jim Tooski (c.1830-after 1904), a “Deschutes Indian from Warm Springs who lived on the bluff opposite the Falls, between Oregon City and Canemah.” The 1877 interment was possibly Jim Tooski’s son: “The Indians on the hill had a big funeral last Tuesday. They put the body of the deceased brave, together with his effects, in a dry goods box and committed it to the care of mother earth. Indian Jim was chief mourner.” The 1901 burial was Jim Tooski’s Molalla wife Susanne Yelkus (c.1826-1901), who was blind and infirm and burnt to death in a house fire at Falls View while he was in Oregon City. By the early 1840s, Hawaiians known as “Kanakas” from Stevenson on the Columbia River in Washington Territory were probably living at Falls View, which was adjacent to the portage around the Willamette Falls, where they could be employed as manual labor to transport merchandise via ox-cart and canoe to various points above and below. The settlement may have been known as “Wayhi Town” for this reason and Oregon pioneer Jesse Applegate (1836-1918) recorded that in 1843, when he was traveling up the Willamette, “two or three Kanakas helped us launch the boats above the falls and to clear the rapids [at Rock Island].” By the 1890s, Solomon Clark (1858-1905) and Harry Clark (c.1860-?), who were brothers or cousins, were living at Falls View with their respective families. Both Solomon’s and Harry’s father(s) had been full-blooded Hawaiian and Solomon’s mother had been a Wasco Indian. When the home of Solomon Clark and his wife Mollie Clark (1873-1920) burned down “in the Indian village on the hill” in June 1904, the family lost all their belongings. In October 1904, the Oregon City Courier reported that “since that time the couple have been living in a tent, with their five little children, cooking on a camp fire, and having no stove to keep the cold from them . . . “ The Falls View Indian camp may have only existed for about 80 years, from the 1830s until around 1916 — the entire lifetime of Soosap. Following his documented death in Oregon City in January 1916, Soosap’s alleged birthplace appears to vanish completely from the historical record.” (Fank Sandwell 8/15/2020).

Indians At Oregon City

From Time Immemorial the “Hyas Tyee Tumwater” was a rendezvous for Indians during the fishing season; over the Willamette Falls they fought. Clackamas and Klamath, Multnomah and Molalla. But dead men tell no tales. Indian burial places overlooked the falls on both sides, perched in trees, on rocks, on scaffolds, and later in the ground after the White Man’s fashion. As late as the sixties these graves might be seen decorated with strips of blankets, tin pots, kettles, and whatever the departed had prized in life. Twenty feet of the Canemah bluff cut off by the railroad was an Indian burial ground, also across the river along the present picturesque walk to the paper mills. All these places have been dug over by relic hunters who carried away skulls, jawbones and archaeological treasures.

As settlers advanced the Indians moved their camps to the first bench, the second, and finally to the third, where for years boys and girls found small Indian pockets of caches with beads and arrow heads. All over the present McLoughlin heights and beyond, old-timers point out localities of Indian camps and graves. A larger Indian cache was a cave in the face of the high bluff between 5th and 6th street. This cave was entered from above, out over the edges, where a single frail sapling is all that prevents the adventurer from slipping to death below. In this cave, extending sixty feet back under the rocks, The Indians used to lie in wet weather and look down upon the building of the settlement. In early times timid women were afraid to pass the spot for fear of arrows, H. C. Stevens has a collection of arrow heads dug from the sand in the front of the old Governor Abernethy place on the river, which seems to have been the factory of an ancient arrow maker, scattered with fragments and clippings of stone from far-away fields. (672-673)

The old Indian rancheria at the mouth of the Clackamas was described by Elisha Applegate of 1843, as “a house three hundred feet long, seven feet high at the eaves, the sides being made of cedar puncheons a foot broad and two inches thick, all smooth. Indian said the building was a hundred years old. A porch ran the whole length of the south side, and the main building was divided about every fourteen feet by a partition, while each room had a door on the outside. It was headquarters for the Clackamas tribe which acquired its name from a reduplication and extension of all ‘K’ sounds as ‘K-k-klack-kmas.” (673) [very interesting description of this very old and large Clackamas house]

[Dye and Gaston helpfully added a drawing of Indian Dave from her account, a very stoic image of this man which they oddly call a “mascot”.]
Another noted spot was the Indian slave mart on the bank of the river at 11th street, where savage Klamaths in canoes brought captive Indian children from southern Oregon and exchanged with other Indians for blankets and salmon. In the early forties (1840s) these little Shasta and Rogue river Indian slaves were found all over the Willamette Valley, at the Dalles, and down the Columbia. Once Judge and Mrs. Thornton, looking down upon the pitiful scene, had their sympathies so aroused that they, themselves, purchased several abused children, adopted and educated them. They also educated a nephew of the famous chief Leschi, from Puget’s Sound, and just before the outbreak of the Yakima War Leschi made a visit to him at Oregon City. Peter H. Hatch released one of these unhappy children. Rev. Gustavus Hines also had one that had been rescued from a dead house at The Dalles, where he had been bound to his dead master and fastened in the tomb. The Jennings family educated a very bright Indian boy who is now on the Warm Springs Reservation, Indian Dave, the son of an Idaho Chief, brought from the Snake River by Major Rinearson in the sixties, is a civilized and popular Indian of Oregon City today; Klamath Susan the last of her race that ventured here, is a pensioner of the whites in her old age; Sousap, the last of the Clackamas, remains, and Indian Molly, who washes for white people. (673  [yes, slavery was common among the tribes, but also as common was the taking in of Native children by whites. Many times these children because somewhat indentured laborers for the whites, some scholars have called them slaves.]

Dr. Forbes Barclay, a prominent physician, and surgeon of the early day, kept a bateau with an Indian crew, and, on errands of mercy, traversed the rivers from Vancouver to Salem. “Uncle Billy” Vaughn of 1843, said he had killed many a deer in the thickets along Indian creek by the 7th street steps. In 1845 James McMillen saw Indians chasing a deer that leaped into the Willamette falls and was shot by an Indian below, as it emerged, valiantly battling for its life. As late as the sixties a deer chased by hounds jumped off the bluff, breaking its legs on the rocks near the present Southern Pacific depot. With the last of the deer the Indian departed. (673)

Back of the Methodist Church to the present railroad track, a mosquito-haunted, skunk-cabbage swamp extended its malarial ooze. [ very interesting detail] The bluff ­­at 5th street was climbed by ladder, a distance of eighty to a hundred feet, and the second bluff to Falls View, two hundred and fourteen feet up to the reservoir, also scaled at certain points by ladders. At the present 7th street stairs an Indian trail wound up through the bushes along Indian creek, and at 8th and 9th streets an uncertain wagon road, later known as the Baptist slide, clung to the steep, slippery, and dangerous edge until the beginning of the Singer Hill road was blasted out of the rocks along the side of the bluff. (Eva Emery Dye in, Portland Oregon Its History and Builders Volume 1, Joseph Gaston, 1911, Clarke Publishing:  674)

Dye largely confirms that the tribes were pushed to the bluff as white men took over the lands by the river. The Falls Views section of Oregon City is difficult to envision. Some of Sandwell’s notations are actually about the cemetery above Canemah or Canemah village which was itself a separate native village, also was taken over by whites as a portage and paddlewheel dock. But Sandwell also has notations about the Fall View area, where the tribes had a village which is also described by Dye. This area today is occupied by City Hall and a historic district with buildings of Oregon historical prominence, that are clearly on top of the original Native rancheria established outside of Oregon City downtown at the time. This raises a lot of questions about what evidence of the features noted by Dye remain.

Falls View Addition- from the Oregon City maps site,


The Falls View village appears to have lasted into the 20th century, which suggests that they may be much more information and perhaps photos about this rancheria. The addition was made in 1889 but it would take some time to fully build out the property. The owner Archibald McKinley likely waiting until he had a better way to drive vehicles to the top of the bluff. This story tells us how native people were valued in the early settlement of Oregon. They were necessary cheaply paid laborers, who were cast to the edges of civilized society because of their “nature.”


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