Kalapuyan Tribal History

From the forthcoming book Tribal Stories of the Willamette Valley

The Kalapuyans originally occupied over a million acres in the Willamette and the Umpqua valleys. They have lived here for over 14,000 years and have endured enormous changes to their traditional life-ways during the past 200 years. The Kalapuyan peoples created the amazing fecundity of the Willamette Valley by practicing a form of land management or horticulture where they annually set fire to the valley, and in so doing cleared the land of excess vegetation, renewed food plants, and deposited nutrients in the soil, as well as other benefits. They were a stable society who harvested the fruits and vegetables of the valley, and hunted and fished the terrestrial and aquatic animals to provide their primary food sources.

The Kalapuyan tribes were about nineteen tribes and bands in three distinct areas, organized linguistically north, central, and south. They occupied the majority of the Willamette Valley with villages scattered along the rivers and streams of the valley. They had a seasonal lifeway, where the tribes would harvest vegetables, hunt and fish at specific times of the year throughout a wide expanse of the valley and into the foothills and mountains bordering the valley. The northern Kalapuyans are the Tualatin, also known as the Atfalati, who live along the Tualatin River, and the Yamhill or Yamel, who live along the Yamhill River. The central tribes were the Pudding River or Ahantchuyuk, who lived along the Pudding River; the Luckiamute, who lived along the Luckiamute River, the Santiam, who lived along and between the north and south forks of the Santiam River; the Mary’s River or Chepenefa; who live along the Mary’s River, the Muddy Creek or Chemapho, who live along Muddy Creek. Other Central Kalapuya tribes in the Eugene area were the Tsankupi, who lived along the Calapooia River and Mohawk who lived along the Mohawk River; the Chafan, at where Eugene City is; and the Long Tom or Chelamela, who lived along the Long Tom River; the Winefelly, who lived along the Mohawk, McKenzie and Coast Forks of the Willamette River. The southern Kalapuyans were the Yoncalla or Kommema, who lived along the Upper Umpqua River.

Kalapuyan early historic history can be divided into four periods, the first being the period of first contact and early influences of introduction of the horse, exotic trade goods from coastal trades with Europeans, and early diseases, roughly dating from 1700 to 1906. The second period is from 1811 to 1829, encompassing the early fur trade and the changes to tribal economies that the enterprises of the British and Americans brought to the Oregon territory. The third period begins in 1829 with the introduction of Malaria causing within a few years massive death of the peoples, vast changes to the culture and invasions by colonizers from the United States, French Canadian settlement, and tribes like the Klickitat who invade the Kalapuyans homelands and begin taking their lands and resources. This third period ends at 1850 with the passage of the Oregon Donation Land claims act. The fourth period is from 1851 to 1887 which includes treaties, removal to the reservations, and reservation life, all with significant changes to the tribes. After 1887 and the passage of the Dawes Act, there is a melding of tribal peoples and disintegration of individual tribes, if not individual identities in the reservation.

The Kalapuyan bands and tribes were more numerous in the early historic periods for the tribe, and after the malaria period, the numbers of villages and diversity of the tribe radically declined. The originally estimated 19 band and tribes declines to about a dozen primary villages in all areas of the valley, too few to resist settlement or invasion. Settlement eliminated primary resources cause economic changes, and caused further declines due to starvation and diseases. The numerically lessened Kalapuyans were by 1840 a trivial annoyance to settlers who took their lands and employed them as laborers but did not preserve for them any of their traditional homelands for their villages or for their resources needs. By 1851 there was no land in the Willamette Valley unclaimed by American settlers, who also called for the removal or genocide of all Indian peoples.

Beginning in about 1790 the Kalapuyans began suffering from the plagues of the newcomer explorers and fur traders to the region. the first plague was likely small pox which had a lessening effect. The second large plague was malaria which took hold in 1829 and within five years decimated some 90% of the population of Kalapuyans.  By 1850 their populations declined sharply from an estimate of over 20,000 people to about 1000. Due to the pressures of American settlement the Kalapuyans signed treaties with the United States Government, ceding away over one million acres, and in 1856 were removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation and continued to decline in population. The Kalapuyans signed treaties with the United States on at least four occasions. In 1851, the tribes of the Willamette Valley signed treaties which allowed for the creation of permanent reservations within their homelands. These treaties were not ratified by Congress.

In 1854 the Yoncalla and the upper Umpqua signed a treaty which removed them to the Umpqua Reservation,. This same year a treaty was signed with the Tualatin, which was never ratified. In 1855 the tribes of the Willamette Valley, Kalapuyans, Molallans and Clackamas-Cascades-Wappato Island (Multnomahs), signed the Treaty with the Kalapuya Etc. which removed them to temporary reservations.

The Temporary reservations were established in about 11 locations, likely close to the original tribal villages. The tribes were hosted by local farmers, who made them work for their keep. They built fences, helped develop the farms, and worked in agriculture for the farmers for about 12 months. In January the Kalapuyan chiefs visited Grand Ronde valley upon invitation of Joel Palmer to get them to agree to removal. By March 1856 all of the Kalapuyans had been removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. The Kalapuyans then integrated with the other tribes and became an important part of the genealogical heritage of the Grand Ronde Tribe.

Today the majority of Kalapuyan people are members of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. During the reservation period, the Kalapuyan peoples integrated with at least 29-35 other tribes at the reservation and at other reservations, and by 1900 there were about 300 of the Kalapuyans remaining. Kalapuyan descendants continued to be important leaders at the reservation, serving on tribal councils, and integrated with the surrounding Oregon rural population. Many were loggers in the logging boom of the 1920s, and generationally into the 1990’s.

In the 1950’s, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation were termination by the United States. During the termination period, even thought he Kalapuyan languages went extinct, the Kalapuyan people continued to follow their traditions, and elders in the 1970’s began working for restoration of the Grand Ronde Tribe. Today, the Kalapuyan descendants are important historical figures in the restoration of the tribe and leaders and contributors in the success of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon.
Copyright, David G. Lewis

In support of my several essays about the Kalapuyans and their treaties, I created a tribal territory map based on several other extant maps of the territories. The based map would have to be the Gibbs-Starling map of 1851, which summarizes the land claims of the tribes in that negotiations, but I also took into account the Belden map of 1855, which is another different summary of these same land claims. The ratified Treaty of the Willamette Valley of 1855 is the principal agreement which transfers the ownership of the tribal lands to the United States. This map can only be interpreted as an approximation of tribal territory included in the treaty. This version includes the recently found signature pages of the treaty which added 5 new tribes to the treaty.


Estimated territories of the Willamette Valley tribes, including Kalapuyans, Molallans, Clatskanie, and Chinookans, Unlabelled is the divide between the two main bands of Santiam Kalapuyans, the Chiwean band- Chief Jo’s Band- and Tiacan’s band.  David Lewis 8/6/2021

For more Kalapuyan history please search my blog, and please donate to help me buy coffee and continue my work. Some essays,

Kalapuyan Lifeways

Kalapuyan TEK

Kalapuyan Mounds

Kalapuyan stories of the Megafloods

A stable Kalapuyan environment? 

Tualatin Kalapuyans and Seasonal Rounds

Articles about Tualatins

Kalapuyan Villages and Tribes

Chemeketa area camas

Chemeketa Creek

First Mills at Chemeketa



Chief Halotish Village on Row River

Pee-you Kalapuyans

Brownsville area Brush Creek Valley

Kalapuyan Temporary Reservations

Kalapuyan Temporary reservations

Molalla Reservation

Calapooia Reservation

Luckimauke Reservation

Tekopa Reservation

Chafin Reservation

Chemapho Reservation

Louis Band of Santiam Reservation

Chief Jo Band Santiam Reservation

Mohawk Reservation

Yamhill Kalapuyan Reservation


Willamette Valley Treaty 1855

Umpqua and Kalapuya Treaty 1854

1851 Santiam Treaty Journal

1851 Treaty Map, Gibbs Starling map

1855 Treaty map, Origins



Kalapuyans and David Douglass

Horatio Hale of the Wilkes Expedition



Kalapuyan Chief Halo

Chiefs of the tribes


Eliza, Quinaby and Halo


Stingy Americans


The Quartux Journal