The Molalla tribes, North, Santiam, and Umpqua valley (southern), were traders between the Chinookans to the north, the Klamaths to the south and the Paiutes to the east and the Kalapuyans in the west of their territory. Their name is a corruption of the Chinook Wawa word “ulali” meaning berry or huckleberry.
The Molallan gathered berries and hunted elk in the Cascades. They lived in the Cascade foothills and ranged in the mountains and in the valleys. The 1855 Belden Map shows Molalla territorial claims to Mt. Angel and north to the Molalla River suggesting they owned sections of the Willamette Valley. Mt Angel is noted as being a winter village site for the Molalla.
The principal northern settlement of the Molalla was at Dickey Prairie to the east of the town of Molalla. The last of the Molalla chiefs at Dickie Prairie were the Yelkus family. There they lived in one or move villages and would travel to trade with the Clackamas tribes at Willamette Falls for dried salmon. Another principal settlement is in Crooked Finger Prairie to the south and above Scotts Mills. The last major chief there was Chief Crooked Finger. The Molalla temporary Reservation was situated at Crooked Finger Prairie in 1855. The next Molalla tribe was at an unknown location in the Santiam River Valley. There the Santiam Molalla lived, and their last chief was Chief Coastno (Coosta). Chief Coastno’s daughter married Santiam Kalapuya Chief Joseph Hutchins (Alquema).
The next southern Molalla tribe recorded were further south in the Umpqua Valley. This tribe had firm interrelationships with the Klamath tribe. They participated in the Slave trade between the Willamette Valley and the Klamath Basin.
The Molalla signed two treaties and were removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation in 1856 with most other tribes of western Oregon. The Northern and Santiam tribes signed the Willamette Valley Treaty, while the Southern Molalla, found to be extant late in 1855, signed a treaty in November with Joel Palmer. Most of the Southern Molalla tribe removed temporarily to the Umpqua Reservation and then were removed to the Grand Ronde Reservation on the Umpqua Trail of Tears. The remaining scattered Molalla bands integrated with the Klamath and Warm Springs peoples or remained in the Cascades for many decades thereafter.
The Chief Yelkus Band of Molalla at Grand Ronde chose to leave the reservation in 1860 because the promises made by Joel Palmer of food and housing, had not been given. Conditions were very poor at the reservations during this time and only half of the Molalla remained at the reservation. The Yelkus band remained in the Dickie prairie area and took odd day labor jobs with the local American famers. When work became scarce many in the tribe moved to Oregon City to live and find work.
The ancestors of the Molalla are mainly associated with the Grand Ronde and Siletz Reservations.