Lower Chinook and Clatsop
Traditional Culture
  Since Time Immemorial
Who's Who
Village Life
Inter-Village Relations
Seasonal Round
"Celiast" and "Ilchee"
Intertribal Trade Network
Canoe People
References Cited

  Contemporary Culture
Environmental History
Cultural History
Recommended Websites

  Relationship with U.S.
  Early Coastal Exploration
Strangers Arrive
Maritime Fur Trade
Fort Clatsop Winter
Overland Fur Trade
Disease and Burial Customs
Fisheries, Missions, and Settlements
Shrinking Land Base
Making Treaties
Recognition and U.S. Relations
References Cited

Portion of 1877 Gibbs map
Portion of 1881 Symons map “Department of Columbia"
Courtesy the University of Oregon Library, Maps and Aerial Photography Collection

Logging Scene in a
Columbia River Forest

Library of Congress
Looking north and west on Willapa Bay,
Baby Island on left; tip of Long Island in distance on right.
K. Lugthart photo.

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Joe Scovell talks about treaties and loss of land.

Fort Clatsop > Culture > Shrinking Land Base

1862 Homestead Act
and Loss of Land

Pushed off the River

Recent History
With the official establishment of the Oregon Territory in 1848, native people begin to lose their lands. Within a year, a Territorial Government is established, just in time for the overflow from the California gold rush. Astoria becomes a supply depot and many merchants and laborers arrive to exploit the rich resources of the area.

The Donation Land Act of 1850 provides that a white, married, individual who settled on land before September 1850 can claim 640 acres of public land, while a single man can claim 320 acres. “Whether Indian women knew it or not, even their marriages to white men helped give the latter and their fellows a foothold in Indian country. For example, in Clatsop country Robert Shortress ‘claimed’ two miles along the Columbia and inland one-half mile, including all of Tongue Point, by virtue of the Organic Act of the Oregon Provisional Government and hereditary title through his native wife.” (Coan cited in Ruby and Brown 1976:213)

Chinooks and Clatsops “cling to little village beachheads” of Chinook Village, Qwatsamuts, the mouth of Chinook River, Gray’s Bay, Naselle River, and Willapa Bay. (Ruby and Brown 1976:216)

The Chinooks lose additional land to the government in1852, with the establishment of the 640 acre Ft. Canby Military Reservation around Baker’s Bay.


1862 Homestead Act and Loss of Land

Image courtesy University of Oregon, Special Collections and Archives.

"When the homestead act came into this area, it brought a lot of people in to take up that land. And when the Indian people were here, they had special places that they buried their people, ...that would go on generation after generation.

"In that certain place, they would bury their people that died, and so when that land, oh, this territory, anywhere, the Indian people could go wherever they wanted, it belonged to all of them. And if they needed something over here, berries or fish or whatever, they could go over there and get it. So but then when the homestead act came into effect, the people that came into the country here, then,...they signed up for this homestead act, and they got a hundred and sixty acres in this area that was one homestead.

"And so the Chinook Indian people were not eligible for that because the Chinook Indian people were not citizens of this country until 1924. And so they were, this land was not open for them, it was all taken up and given to the people that migrated in. And so it did cause a real migration of people to move into the country to get that hundred and sixty acres of land.

George Lagergren

"They took a hold on them so strong, that it took a heavy toll on the Chinook people. They scattered out. After the Homestead Act came into effect, the Chinook Indian people had to move over here, and over there, and they split up into little groups that knew one another. Down here in this little village at Bay Center, on that north side of the Bush Park, down in that swamp area there, that's where the Chinook people finally wound up. They had boardwalks from one little cabin to the other. They split cedar and pounded the stumps, the posts, into the swampy ground. They stayed pretty much isolated.

"That group of Chinook people that lived on Long Island, it was out of the way, and out of the mainstream of migration. They didn't come in contact too often with others, so they missed the diseases that came into the country. The Chinook Indian people didn't have the immunity to those diseases" (George Lagergren interview: 2002).

Pushed off the River


Columbia River Salmon Factory
at Clifton (Clatsop County)

Library of Congress

Map of Clatsop County
Library of Congress

The first salmon cannery is installed in 1866 and by 1883 there are forty canneries on the Columbia. Travelers witness many Chinese working in this industry. Saw mills are numerous along the river. Already in 1849 James Swan reports “ten or twelve saw and grist mills” in Astoria (Swan 1857:238).

Few travelers mention the local Chinook and Clatsop people who seem to have disappeared from the river.

Interior of a salmon cannery, ca. 1890
Salem Public Library
Recent History

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"My grandparents and great grandparents ended up in the Pillar Rock village, on the Columbia River, where there was no road until 1947, they only got there with canoes or boats.

Gary Johnson

"Many of our family members were pushed out on Long Island in Willapa Bay, another very remote spot that early settlers were not interested in. So they could go there and live more traditionally and not be bothered.

"We want people to understand that not all of these things happened a hundred or two hundred years ago or further back. Some of it is pretty recent history. Sammy Pickernell is the last living Chinook tribal member who was out on Long Island, he lived out there with his grandparents until they were pushed off there in the 1930s.
Sam Pickernell.
K. Lugthart photo. 

"My grandmother and many other Chinook people on Willapa Bay were eventually pushed to what's called Goose Point in Bay Center, which is virtually a swamp land. Phil Hawks, who's living in Bay Center, is the last person that was actually born out at the village at Goose Point. I think where the Chinook villages were and where the best fishing grounds were, are the places that the Chichacos, these newcomers, wanted most, so the Chinook people were pushed out of the most valuable places where they lived first" (Gary Johnson interview: 2002).

Background: Arial view of Saddle Mountain.
Jim Niehues photo