“Regarding the name Chinook, it is a Chehalis word that is specific to people on the north shore of the mouth of the Columbia River. It later became a name that was given to all of the Chinooks. Before we got lumped together, people associated themselves with their village and their head-person, not with a whole tribe. Each village has its own name. . . So, people really identified themselves as a specific area. They recognized their common language and roots, but thought of themselves as separate villagers.” — Tony Johnson, 2002

For generations, Native people have known about the former village site of qiíq’ayaqilxam (Middle Village) that once stood in the isolated field in these pictures. Recollections of this townsite and many others were passed down through the generations. qiíq’ayaqilxam stood as part of a mosaic of Lower River Chinook communities that stretched from Cape Disappointment to Gray’s Bay, twenty miles upriver from the ocean.

The McGowan Church, built in 1904 stands prominently on the landscape overlooking U.S. Highway 101, feet away from rip-rap (above right) that separates the river from the shore. image courtesy of Lyn Topinka, 2004


An unidentified village sketched by James Swan in the 1850s. Image #1908335 courtesy of the Beinecke Library


Map courtesy of the National Park Service, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

The Middle Village site is labeled “McGowan” in the map. The former village site is just west of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, where a long sandy beach once linked Point Ellice to Chinook Point (now Fort Columbia State Park). In the 1850s, the mile to half-mile wide beach between these two headlands extended so far into the river channel that one could see the “snowy head” of Mt. Hood to the east.

Looking southwest from the site where Middle Village once stood at the mouth of the Columbia River. Image courtesy of Cliff Vantura of OTAK, Inc. Right, image courtesy of Lyn Topinka, 2004

Chinookan people lived at qiíq’ayaqilxam for the spring and summer fishing seasons. Thetsi’nuk (Anglicized to Chinook with a hard “Ch”), people of qiíq’ayaqilxam, included those who spoke the same language and lived from Point Ellice, Washington to the ocean (the historic tsi’nuk community of Chenook), and north along the Long Beach, Washington Peninsula. Loosely related Lower Columbia Chinookan and Salish families the intermittently joined thetsi’nuk to harvest and process the rich bounty of river, land, and sea. By October, harsh winds and heavy rains sent the tsi’nuk and their kin from this exposed part of the coast north to Willapa Bay and other inland communities. There, they found shelter and fished the fall and winter salmon runs in the Columbia River’s lower tributaries.

Archaeologists determined that this was an important Native trade site well into the 1820s. It was also where Lewis and Clark established their “Station Camp,” and remained for 10 days in November 1805.