“Lewis and Clark visited Cathlapotle on the Columbia River in 1806.” Oil on canvas. Created by Chris Hopkins in consultation with Burke Museum Director George MacDonald, site archaeologist Ken Ames, and Tony Johnson of the Chinook Tribe, 2004. A copy of this painting hangs in the Chinook Tribal Office in Bay Center, Washington. Image courtesy of artist Chris Hopkins

Cathlapotle was a large, influential community central to native trade networks that linked the region’s people. It wasn’t until 1792 that written descriptions of the village appeared in the journals of European and American explorers and thus entered the documentary record. In that year, the Chinook encountered British naval officer Lt. William Broughton and his crew on the Lower Columbia at the confluence of three rivers, the Columbia, the Lewis, and the Lake. Here is the account of that meeting:

On the banks of Rushleigh’s River [Lake River] was seen a very large Indian village… [READ more of  Lieutenant William Broughton’s encounter at Cathlapotle]

More than a decade later, Lewis and Clark sighted 19 Chinookan towns in the Wapato Valley when they traveled through the area in 1805 and 1806. Populated by nearly a thousand people and comprised of fourteen plankhouses, Cathlapotle was the largest village they saw.

Historians and archaeologists knew about the Cathlapotle townsite throughout the Twentieth Century, but were not able to identify its specific location until the 1990s.