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Indigenous History of Oregon

A guide for learning about the histories of the Native peoples of Oregon, especially the Tualatin Kalapuya (Atfalati) tribe on whose land the Forest Grove & Hillsboro campuses of Pacific University stand.

Timeline of Indigenous History of Oregon

Note: the timeline below  includes extra detail about the tribes near Pacific University's campuses in Forest Grove and Hillsboro, which are on Tualatin Kalapuya (Atfalati) land.

Date Events
Time immemorial Many tribes tell of living here since time immemorial.
16,000 B.P.    Genetic and archeological evidence points towards the earliest people having arrived in North America from Asia via a coastal route by this time or earlier, likely using boats. (The dates are contested; see this article for a nontechnical overview of the scientific debate.)
15-13,000 B.P. The Missoula Floods bring massive walls of water, ice and rock coursing down the Columbia and neighboring valleys. Oregon tribes like the Umatilla and Kalapuya tell stories of escaping huge floods by climbing sacred mountains. 
14,300 B.P. Indigenous people visit the Paisley Caves in south-central Oregon, leaving behind carbon-dated evidence.
14-13,000 B.P.? By this time, people have likely settled in what will became the Tualatin Kalapuya, or Atfalati, homeland: the Tualatin River watershed. (Pacific University's Forest Grove and Hillsboro campuses sit on this land.)
10,000 B.P. Coastal people in southern Oregon leave traces of stone tool manufacture at the Indian Sands site.
9,000 B.P. Indigenous people visiting the Fort Rock Cave in eastern Oregon leave behind dozens of pairs of sandals, which are re-discovered by archeologists in 1938. These are some of the oldest surviving shoes in the world. 
9,000 B.P. An ancestor of upper Columbia plateau tribes, "Kenniwick Man," dies and is buried along the Columbia River near modern-day Kenniwick, WA. His bones would be exposed by erosion in 1996. After a court fight, his remains were returned to his closest relatives: the tribes of Colville, Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and the Wanapum Band of Priest Rapids. 
8,500 B.P. Near Newberry Crater in central Oregon, Natives construct some of the oldest known house structures in the Americas.
7,700 B.P. Ancestors of the Klamath Tribe witness the eruption of Mount Mazama, where Crater Lake is today. 
4,000-200 yrs B.P. Kalapuyan and possibly other/earlier cultures in the southern Willamette Valley create large, oval-shaped earthen mounds. (See Cody 2019)
3,800 B.P. By this date, wapato plant cultivation had begun among northwest coast tribes, with evidence of gardens preserved in British Columbia. Wapato would be a key food source for Kalapuyan and Chinookan tribes in Oregon. 
1450 The Chinookan village of Cathlapotle, which would grow to about 800 people, is founded near present Ridgefield, WA. This would become the best-preserved and studied of the 55 known Chinookan villages on the Lower Columbia.
1492 Columbus lands on a Caribbean island some 4,000 miles away. This event touches off the introduction of Old World diseases and the European colonization of the Americas, both of which are disastrous to its indigenous peoples. 
1500 Around this date, a landslide buries the Makah village at Ozette on the Olympic Peninsula, preserving over 50,000 artifacts including boxes, nets, looms, and many other items. Kept today at the Makah Museum, the remains of the village show the rich complexity of material culture on the Northwest coast. 
1540s-1600s Several European ships may have sighted and/or visited the Oregon coast during this time period, but they are poorly attested. It is also suspected that smallpox may have spread to the Pacific Northwest during this time, but evidence has not yet been found. 
1579? According to some scholars, the English privateer Sir Francis Drake spends the winter in Whale Cove, just south of modern Depoe Bay. If true, this would be the first substantial contact between Europeans and Oregon Natives. (This event is disputed; see 2019 book and related news article on the theory.)
1700 A large earthquake in the Cascadia zone triggers a tsunami that destroys Native villages on the coast. The event is preserved in oral memory by numerous Pacific Northwest tribes.
1774 Spain's Perez Expedition is the first well-documented visit of Euro-Americans to Oregon's coast, although the ship does not land in Oregon. The next year, the Bodega-Hezeta Expedition "discovers" the Columbia River (which of course, had been known to Natives for over 10,000 years). More Spanish expeditions follow. 
1770s-80s Smallpox epidemics, introduced through contact with Europeans, ravage Native communities throughout the Northwest. These are the first documented smallpox epidemics in this area, although some scholars suspect earlier epidemics as far back as the 1500s. Smallpox would return to Oregon in 1800-1801, 1824, 1836 and 1853. 
1792 The first documented European ship enters the Columbia River, captained by American Robert Gray. His ship fires on Native peoples in Tillamook Bay. The same year, British captain George Vancouver is the first European to send boats into the interior via the Columbia. The Vancouver expedition gives new European names to many landmarks, including Mount Hood. 
1805 Lewis & Clark, explorers representing the United States government, arrive in what is now Oregon. With assistance from Nez Perce people, they travel downs the Clearwater, Snake and Columbia Rivers, and winter near Astoria at Fort Clatsop. The notes and drawings made by this expedition are some of the first and only written records we have regarding tribes on the Columbia River, many of which would soon be decimated by epidemics. 
1810s-30s The fur trade establishes trading posts in Oregon, facilitating the trapping of animals as well as trade with indigenous peoples. The beavers that were once numerous in the Tualatin Valley are virtually exterminated.
1811 Fort George, or Astoria, is established by the British Pacific Fur Company near the mouth of the Columbia. This is the first permanent European settlement in Oregon. 
1824 Fort Vancouver is established by the Hudson Bay Company, a British-Canadian fur-trading company. Later taken over by the Americans, the fort will become the center of Euro-American military power in the region through the end of the 19th century. 
1829 John McLoughlin of the Hudson Bay Company establishes the first Euro-American settlement at Willamette Falls, near a pre-existing Clackamas village. This will later grow into Oregon City. 
1830-4 Recurring epidemics of "fever and ague," believed to be Malaria, kill an estimated 80-90% of the remaining indigenous populations of the Portland basin and Willamette Valley, and an unknown number of people in southern and eastern Oregon.
1834 Methodist preacher Jason Lee is the first protestant missionary to arrive in Oregon with the goal of converting the indigenous peoples to Christianity. By 1835, he had founded the first mission school for Natives, later named the Indian Manual Training School, near Salem. The school is not successful in its original goals, but it eventually grows to become Willamette University. 
1835 Due to malaria and other diseases, most indigenous villages in Portland and the Willamette Valley are abandoned. Survivors consolidate into the remaining villages. The Tualatin Kalapuyas who inhabit the area where Pacific University is today consolidate into one or two winter villages near present-day Gaston. 
1835-8 More Protestant missionaries sponsored by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) arrive in Oregon Territory, including the Whitmans, Spaldings, Eells, Walkers, and others. The are not very successful in converting anyone, but their arrival will have serious repercussions for Natives in the northwest (see the "Whitman Massacre", below.)
1840 The first permanent non-indigenous settlers arrive in the Tualatin Valley and claim land north of modern Hillsboro. In general, they are recruits or retirees from the fur trade, connected to the Hudson Bay Company. They make connections with the local Tualatins, holding meetings at Five Oaks. (For more, see Bourke & DeBats, Washington County, p. 41-69).
1841 Missionaries Alvin T. & Abigail Smith are the first white inhabitants of the Forest Grove area, claiming land near the intersection of the Tualatin River, Gales Creek, and a Native trail that ran near the Fern Hill Wetlands. Soon after this, missionaries Harvey & Emeline Clark attempt to found a mission school for Natives near Hillsboro. Neither the Smiths nor the Clarks are successful in converting the Tualatins, and the Clarks' school closes. 
1843 The first provisional Euro-American government of Oregon forms at Champoeg
1843 A flood of Euro-American immigrants, which had started as a trickle around 1840, begins in earnest via the Oregon Trail. Coupled with losses to indigenous populations caused by epidemics, this migration soon replaces Natives as the majority people in the Pacific Northwest. European-Americans make land claims everywhere they believe agriculture, mining, trade, or other ventures could be successful, disregarding indigenous rights to the land.
1847-8 A measles epidemic sweeps through the Pacific Northwest, killing many indigenous people.
1847 The "Whitman Massacre": Reacting to the measles epidemic as well as to other tensions, Cayuse and Umatilla men kill Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and about a dozen other people at the Whitmans' mission at Wailaatpu. This touches off a panic among other white settlements, who fear a general uprising. Missionaries including the Spaldings, Eells and Walkers leave their posts.
1847-55 The Cayuse War: touched off by the "Whitman Massacre" (see previous), the war pitted Oregon volunteer militia, and later the U.S. Army, against the Cayuse and their allies. The war lead into the treaties of 1855, which forced many Oregon tribes including the Cayuse to give up their lands and move to reservations.
1848-9 Founding of Pacific University on Tualatin Kalapuya land: Missionaries who had evacuated their posts after the killing of the Whitmans gather at what is now Forest Grove. In 1849, a group there charters a school -- "Tualatin Academy" -- which will educate the children of these missionaries, alongside other children of settlers then present in the area. A few years later, the college of Pacific University will be added to the school. No children of the indigenous Tualatin Kalapuyas are believed to have attended Tualatin Academy or Pacific University in its early years. For more on Pacific's founding and its connection to the Whitman Massacre, see Splendid Audacity, Act I.
1850 Donald Macleod, a white settler, attempts to claim land in the heart of the Tualatins' traditional winter village territory, on the west side of Wapato Lake near Gaston. The Tualatin chief Kayacach (also known as Kiacuts) tears down Macleod's cabin.  (For more, see Bourke & DeBats, Washington County or Louis Kenoyer, My Life).
1851 The 1851 Treaty with the Tualatin Kalapuyas is signed. The Tualatin Kalapuyas negotiate to keep several square miles as a reservation centered on Wapato Lake, near modern Gaston (see a map of the intended reservation). This treaty is not ratified by Congress. 
1853-6 The Rogue River Wars result in the deaths of many Native people in southwestern Oregon. Most survivors, along with other peoples living on the coast, are forcibly removed to the Grand Ronde & Coast reservations. The removals are known as Oregon's Trail of Tears.
1855 The 1855 "Treaty with the Kalapuyas, etc." is signed with Kalapuyan, Clackamas and Molalla tribes. The Tualatin Kalapuyas are forced to give up all of their traditional territory and move to a reservation 45 miles southwest, at Grand Ronde. (See an essay on the two treaties. The text of the treaties is in Mackey, The Kalapuyans: A Sourcebook.
1855 Treaties with northeastern Oregon tribes are signed, resulting in the removal of many tribes from their land, and creating the Nez Perce, Yakima, Umatilla, and Warm Springs reservations. 
1855-8 The Yakima War erupts in south-central Washington. (Forest Grove will send militia volunteers to this war; the flag they carried is in Old College Hall.)
1856 By the end of this year, nearly all Kalapuya tribes in the Willamette Valley have been rounded up and forced to move to the Grand Ronde Reservation, where they are watched by troops at Fort Yamhill. Over just 20 years, the Tualatin Valley has gone from being almost 100% indigenous in population to nearly 100% white.  
1859 Oregon becomes a state.
1860s-70s The Reservation Era begins. Tribes across Oregon have been forced onto reservations, where they must live alongside other tribes who speak different languages and have different customs. Most Natives live in extreme poverty and there is a lot of sickness, hunger and death. Many languages and customs begin to die out; but new identities, religions and customs are born. Chinuk Wawa becomes the lingua franca on some reservations. For more on what life was like at Grand Ronde at this time, see Louis Kenoyer, My Life.
1861-5 The Civil War. Officers & troops (including Sheridan & Kautz) who had fought against Natives in Oregon are redeployed to the southern United States. Forts in OR, WA and ID are re-staffed with local militia volunteers.
1864-8 The Snake War: a conflict along the Snake River of Idaho, Eastern Oregon and other points in the Great Basin, involving the Paiute and Shoshone tribes. Tensions from this war would bubble up again in 1878. 
1864 The Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin Paiute tribes sign a treaty, creating the Klamath Reservation. This treaty strips the Modocs of all of their traditional land. 
1870s-1970s Many Oregon Natives work as migrant seasonal laborers on farms, particularly in the hops, berries, and bean industries. This in some cases allows them to revisit ancestral lands.
1872-3 The Modoc War: a brutal fight in which the U.S. Army forced the Modocs to leave their homeland. 
1877 The Nez Perce War: another war rooted in the attempt to force Natives off of their homeland onto a far-away reservation. The Wallowa Nez Perce band led by Chief Joseph (or Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it) refuses to leave the Wallowas, correctly stating that his band had never signed the Nez Perce treaty of 1855, and they refused to move to the Nez Perce Reservation at Lapwai. The U.S. Army chases his band eastward, finally catching them in Montana. The incident is embarrassing to the army and gains sympathy for Chief Joseph's cause, but he is never allowed back to the Wallowas. 
1878 The Bannock War: yet another war caused by forced removals. Bannocks in Idaho refuse to stay on the Fort Hall reservation. Joining with some Northern Paiute bands, they sweep across eastern Oregon, trying to meet up with sympathetic tribes in Washington. The army crushes the uprising. This is the last "Indian War" in Oregon. 
1870s On-reservation boarding schools at Warm Springs, Grand Ronde, Siletz and other reservations are started around this time. These schools take children from their parents in order to indoctrinate them into white culture. (See more on this.)
1879 The Department of the Interior approves the creation of a boarding school for Natives at Forest Grove, Oregon. Its first superintendent will be an army officer who had fought in the Nez Perce and Bannock Wars.
1880 The Forest Grove Indian School opens, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Over the five years it operates in Forest Grove, 310 students from about two dozen tribes in Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Idaho are taken from their homes. Its goal is to assimilate Native youth into white culture, forbidding the use of Native languages, beliefs and practices.
1885 The Forest Grove Indian School relocates to a new campus north of Salem, where it will be renamed the Chemawa Indian School. Thousands of Native children from across the western United States will attend over the next century.
1887 The Dawes Act allows the subdivision of reservations into "individual allotments" of land. This policy is intended to break up reservations and to end the special status of Native Americans, so that they can be absorbed into "the American mainstream." The policy results in the loss of tribal political power, fragmentation of reservation land, and the further impoverishment of Natives in the Pacific Northwest. 
1910 The first Pendleton Round-Up is held near the Umatilla Reservation. This rodeo will become renowned for its Native American participation, showcasing horsemanship, dance, crafts and clothing of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla. 
1914-9 World War I. Many Native American men volunteer.
1924 The Indian Citizenship Act at last grants U.S. citizenship to Native Americans, many of whom had been treated as quasi-prisoners-of-war since the 1800s. However, many Natives still cannot vote or have freedom of travel. Oregon passes restrictive voting laws in the same year, and in many areas local law enforcement continues to require Natives to get written permission to leave their reservations. 
1939-45 World War II. Again, many Native Americans volunteer. 
1953 The Termination of Tribes begins: Congress passes resolutions that promote the dissolution of tribes. Special interests in Oregon push for termination, which would allow for the takeover of remaining tribal lands as well as the loss of legal tribal sovereignty. Oregon tribes that were terminated in 1954 include: Grand Ronde, Siletz, Coquille, Coos, Lower Umpqua, Siuslaw and Klamath.
1956 The Indian Relocation Act: following on the heels of the Termination of Tribes, Congress passes an act that encourages Natives to leave reservations and assimilate into the general population. Many Oregon Natives from terminated tribes leave reservations like Grand Ronde and Siletz and look for work in Portland, California, and other locations. Natives from other parts of the United States also move into the Portland area, becoming part of the "Urban Indian" population. (See essay on Urban Indians in Oregon.)
1950s-70s The Civil Rights Movement works towards securing voting rights and an end to discriminatory laws.
1964 The Warm Springs tribes begin building the Kah-Nee-Ta resort, which will eventually include a hotel, casino and golf course. This marks a new era in economic development for Oregon's tribes, many of which will open hotel-casino operations in the 1990s.
1968 Native Americans across the United States join the American Indian Movement to protest against policies and conditions effecting their communities. They raise awareness of the cultural loss, poverty and oppression faced by many tribes. 
1970? Native American students at the University of Oregon create the first Native American Student Union in the state, headquartered at the Many Nations Longhouse in Eugene.
1974 The Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) is founded in Portland, serving Native Americans from all tribes. This will become an important part of the Native community in the Portland metro, providing support for education, housing, cultural services and more. 
1977 The Confederated Tribes of Siletz are restored to federally recognized status. 
1982 The Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe is restored to federally recognized status. 
1983 The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde are restored to federally recognized status.
1984 The Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Tribes are restored to federally recognized status.
1986 The Klamath Tribes are restored to federally recognized status, but almost none of their valuable timber land is returned.
1988 The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act provides a legal framework for tribes to open casinos, providing a new source of revenue.
1989 The Coquille Indian Tribe is restored to federally recognized status.
1995 Grand Ronde opens Spirit Mountain Casino; Siletz opens Chinook Winds Casino. More hotel-casinos follow on other reservations. These gaming operations will provide funds for elder centers, childcare, education, museum and cultural departments, housing and other critical infrastructure.
2001 The Chinook Nation briefly wins federal recognition during the last days of the Clinton administration, but their status is revoked months later under Bush. Since then, they have worked continuously to restore their status.
2003 The Native American Student Community Center opens at Portland State University.
2014-7 The Clatsop-Nehalem Nation, working with U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, proposes federal recognition, but the efforts die in committee. They continue to work for federal recognition.