This map shows an expansive nineteenth century maritime fur trade network, about 1790 to 1840, long before the”globalization” of the twenty-first century. Map courtesy of Pfly, Wikimedia Commons


Video: Dr. Kenneth Ames talks about archaeology and Chinookan trade networks


This iron adze found at Cathlapotle is dated to 1450 CE | image courtesy Dr. Kenneth Ames

Cathlapotle was part of a global network before and after the arrival of Europeans and Americans. Chinese coins, European trade beads, porcelain, copper items, and an iron adze blade (dated to about 1450 CE, and the only one unearthed on the Northwest Coast by archaeologists), testify to the involvement of Chinookan people in global trading networks. Foreign trading vessels began regularly plying the waters off the Northwest coast beginning in the late 18th century. Trade with coastal indigenous communities introduced European manufactured trade goods, which traveled easily up the Columbia River, and the first episodes of introduced diseases, which show up in the historical record in 1775. British naval officer George Vancouver and his crew were the first to directly contact Chinookan people on the Lower Columbia in 1792. Vancouver, the American Robert Gray, and the subsequent Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-6) sought to open avenues of trade with indigenous communities.

Multiple adzes indicate varied types and uses. On the left are long handled adzes. The adze on the right would have been used to hollow out canoes  | image courtesy Dr. Kenneth Ames

Archaeological evidence also reveals the regional scope of trade: dentalium harvested from the West Coast of Vancouver Island and obsidian from the south-central Oregon and Northern California are among the material traces ancient residents of Cathlapotle left behind.

The journals of 19th century explorers reveal the importance and extent of an indigenous trade network in the Columbia River Basin and beyond. William Clark recorded the expedition’s first encounter with the residents of Cathlapotle in early November 1805. The Chinook maneuvered their agile canoes to access the newcomers and engage in trade:

“I observed on the Chanel which passes on the Stard Side of this Island a Short distance above its lower point is Situated a large village, the front of which occupies nearly 1/4 of a mile fronting the Chanel, and closely Connected, I counted 14 houses [and called the Quathlapotle nation] in front here the river widens to about 1 1/2 mile. Seven canoes of Indians came out from this large village to view and trade with us, they appeared orderly and well disposed, they accompanied us a fiew miles and returned back.”

Private Joseph Whitehouse recorded the following about the same encounter in his journal:

Some of the Indians from this Village, came out with their Canoes in the River to us; & wanted to Trade us Elk skins, for Muskets, or Guns of any kind, but our Officers refused, we having not more Rifles than what we wanted.”

Read all of the entries from 5 November 1805, from the Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln website