|Click above to go to LewisRiver.com||
History - Cathlapotle Town Site
Chinookan-speaking peoples have made the Columbia River their home for thousands of years. The Great River provided sustenance through its bounty. From its depths they gathered salmon, sturgeon, and other fish. It was a liquid highway over which their canoes, laden with trade goods, moved from the coast to the interior. Its wetlands and floodplains teemed with wildlife which furnished everything they needed from food, to shelter, to clothing, to the tools they used every day.
"at 3 oClock P.M. we arrived at the Quathlapotle village of 14 Houses on main Shore to the N.E. side of a large island. those people in their habits manners and customs differ but little from those of the Clatsops and others below. here we exchanged our deer skins killed yesterday for dogs and purchased others to the number of 12 for provisions for the party, as the deer flesh is too poore for the men to subsist on and work as hard as is necessary. i also purchased a sea otter robe. we purchased wappatoe and some pashaquar roots. gave a Medal of the small size to the principal chief"The Expedition camped that night at a "butifull grassy place" about a mile upstream from Cathlapotle, a site on the Refuge known today as Wapato Portage. Like Cathlapotle, Wapato Portage was occupied for many generations before Euro-Americans arrived in the Pacific Northwest. But for the people of the Columbia River, the arrival of the "Suyapee" or upside-down face, as the bearded foreigners were called, signaled the end of a way of life as epidemics swept down the river and decimated the native population. By the 1830s, the Salish-speaking Cowlitz and Sahaptin-speaking Klickitat migrated into the area from the interior, occupying abandoned houses on the Columbia River. At Cathlapotle, historic records suggest that the houses were permanently abandoned in the mid-1850s.
Today, descendants of Chinookan-speaking people can be found in many Northwest Tribes, from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Grand Ronde in Oregon to the Yakama, Cowlitz, Quinault, and Chinook Tribes in Washington. The site of Cathlapotle offers important clues about how their ancestors lived, and ate, and worked.
Studying the Past. The ongoing archaeological study of Cathlapotle is the result of a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Chinook Tribe, and Portland State University (PSU) which was initiated in 1991. Research has focused on gathering data about sedentary complex hunter-gatherer culture through archaeological evidence of social organization, complex technology, environmental manipulation, and intensive practices of food production. In plain English this means that archaeologists have excavated the site to learn more about how the Chinookan people who lived there interacted with their environment and how they found sustenance in the plant and animal resources around them. During three summers of excavation, visitors to the site watched as PSU field school students uncovered the foundations of cedar plankhouses and the activity areas associated with daily life. The largest of the house depressions at Cathlapotle is some 200 feet by 45 feet while the smallest is 60 feet by 30 feet. At least four are divided into compartments, as Lewis and Clark described in their notes. Laboratory analysis of the data collected in the field is ongoing. The deep deposits contain a rich record of life on the river before Euro-American contact and illustrate the effects of contact on technology. As glass trade beads appeared, for example, metals became common and bone tools began to disappear. Food remains in the form of bones and plant fossils suggest a broad and intense subsistence economy which utilized both wetland and upland resources.