“Since they are not hunters and consequently eat little meat (although they like the taste of it), fish, as I have already said, becomes their principal food. They take advantage, therefore, of the seasons in which it can be caught, and catch all they can, realizing that the periods between seasons will be for them times of scarcity and fasting if they do not provide enough.”

— Franchere, 1810 – 1814

Salmon fishing at Chenook, just west of Middle Village. This sketch by James Swan, ca. 1852 is included in his book Northwest Coast, and is accompanied by descriptions of Indian fishing in the early 1850s. According to Swan, “This is the head-quarters of the once powerful tribe of Chenook Indians, and it was here that their chief, Concomly held his sway.”
A View of the Columbia River from Middle Village today at Station Camp, looking west toward Baker’s Bay and Cape Disappointment. Image by Cliff Vantura, OTAK, Inc

Knowledge about the location and size of Native communities on the lower Columbia River  comes from three types of sources: written records, oral tradition, and archaeological investigations. Explorers, fur traders, and missionaries recorded their impressions during the fur trade and early settlement eras (1792-1830s). American census and court documents and other written recollections describe who lived in this area, and how, throughout the nineteenth century. In 1890 and 1891, anthropologist Franz Boas interviewed Charles Cultee, who talked about Chinook life, and in 1907, photographer Edward Curtis documented the recollections of an unnamed Cathlamet/Chehalis informant. In the summers of 1931 and 1936, anthropologist or ethnographer Verne Ray interviewed Emma Luscier and Isabelle Aubichon Bertrand of Bay Center, Washington. These interviews provide  key evidence about the Chinook connection to this place.  Written and oral records, along with artifacts uncovered through archaeological investigations, inform our understanding of the past.

Vastly different concerns shaped these historical traces. Explorers and fur traders wrote about the dress, lifeways, and trading practices of the Chinook from their own personal observations,as outsiders and visitors. Anthropologists documented the memories of Chinook people, individuals who lived through dramatic and traumatic change. By the early twentieth century, many villages were empty, alive only in memory. Through the memories of Chinook people and evidence on the landscape, Curtis charted many former large towns. For example, he recorded 300 burial canoes at a site near Altoona, Washington, chaqayáláñüm or “Summer Town,” one place among many where Chinook families lived continuously for generations.

Archaeologist Rick Minor used the work of Edward Curtis and Verne Ray to identify the following villages along the Columbia River:Qaiiltsiuk (1.5 miles below Megler at the upstream side of Point Ellice); qiíq’ayaqilxam (2 miles below Megler at the downstream side of Ellice near McGowan); Utsumuiekhan (Fort Columbia); Hlakhahl (Chinook);Waphlutsin (2 miles below Chinook, near the mouth of Chinook River); Qwatsa’mts (at the mouth of Chinook River); walxat (at the mouth of Wallicut River); no·’sqwalaku(Ilwaco); noxsxa’itmils (Fort Canby) and nu’patscl (Nahcotta).

Together these sources shape a complex picture of Chinook life in a highly populated, resource rich environment before, during and after the contact era.

Read about Chinook culture in Verne Ray’s Lower Chinook Ethnographic Notes