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(Tony Johnson interview: 2002)

Pronunciations of Tribal Names


Portion of 1867 Gibbs map,
showing the distribution of tribes.

Illustration adapted from “Territory of the Lower Chinook about 1800” (Ray 1938:37).
Chinookan language groups shown include Shoalwater Chinook, Chinook, Kathlamet and Clatsop.
Solid lines indicate linguistic stock boundaries; broken lines indicate dialect boundaries. [Portion of 1881 Symons map Department of Columbia used as base, courtesy University of Oregon Library Map and Aerial Photography Collections.]
Portion of 1841 Wilkes " Map of the
Oregon Territory"
Courtesy of
Washington State University

Fort Clatsop > Culture > Who's Who


Gary Johnson
"The Chinook tribe is made up of five different tribes and the Willapa are the furthest to the north on the Willapa River and Willapa Bay, and below that is the Chinook Proper, the Chinook tribe. On the south bank of the Columbia River is Clatsop tribe of Chinookan people. And then on up river on the Oregon side are the Kathlamets and on the north side the Wakiakum tribe. And many of us represent several of those tribes" (Gary Johnson interview: 2002).

“Most Clatsops dwelled along the northern Oregon coast from the Columbia River to Tillamook Head near Seaside, while most Nehalem-Tillamook dwelled in villages from Tillamook Head to well south of Tillamook Bay.

“Yet, the lines between these people were by no means sharp, geographically or socially. The Clatsop and Nehalem peoples shared resource harvesting areas, such as the rich berry picking grounds of Clatsop Plains, and visited the same sacred places, such as Saddle Mountain. They gathered together each summer to trade with visiting tribes, socialize, and conduct ceremonies at the large village near Tansy Point, in present-day Warrenton, Oregon. In the winter, many gathered together in a mixed Clatsop-Nehalem village near present-day Seaside.

“From the very earliest written record of the Clatsop and Nehalem people, they are described as being culturally, economically, and socially integrated with one-another”.

—“A Brief History of the Clatsop-Nehalem People” Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes, 2010.

Photo of Dick Basch
Dick Basch

Tony Johnson and son; Sam.
K. Lugthart photo
"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 a name like Kathlamet, well that word means that's specifically those people. So, people really identified themselves as a specific area. They recognized their common language and roots, but thought of themselves as separate villagers.

"As more Americans came in and the disease was so bad on people, people moved to consolidated villages, and people really became known by the names of those villages. There were all kinds of villages that we'll never know the name of, and there are lots of villages that we know the name of, but we don't even know of specific people there, because of so much loss through disease. So, people become know as Kathlamet Chinook for Wakiakum Chinook, but Wakiakum is, you know, just a general description indicating "down-river," just referring to that village" (Tony Johnson interview: 2002).

Chief Cliff Snider
K. Lugthart photo

"When Lewis and Clark came down the Columbia River, they found over sixteen thousand Chinooks living here. They were at the mouth of every stream. The rivers were our source, our super highways actually.

“The father east you go, like the Wasco, speak a form of Chinook language. At Cathlapotle they spoke a middle range and at the mouth of the Columbia it was kind of different" (Chief Cliff Snider interview: 2002).

Early Observations

British fur trader Capt. Charles Bishop records his observations of Chinook people in his journal of January, 1796:

“Their Infants have their heads pressed more flatt I think than the Nootka people do theirs, and this in a side veiw gives the head a most distorted appearence resembling an human face carved out of a Flat Piece of Plank, the thickness of the head from the Black Part to the Eye Brows being often seen to be not more than half the Breadth of the face. In a front view it gives them a fine open countanance and Preserves them to great age from wrinkles about the Eyes.

“The men Pluck out their Beards. The Ears are bored as well as the Septem of the Nose, to which are fastened beads and other trinketts. The men are commonly below the Middle Size, but Active and Strong. The Women are shorter, and all of them full and lusty about the Waist. Some of them have their Thighs and legs tattooed.

“They wear a short Petticoat reaching down to the knees, composed of the inner rind of the Birch tree splitt into strong Fiberes and Placed over a Strong Sinnew of the Wale, which ties round their Waist, but not Plaited. This with a few small Skins Sewed together or a loose Piece of Cloth thrown over their Sholders form the Whole of their Dress. They are fond of rings of Brass round their wrists and fingers, and the young Women Daughters of the Chith have a load of Copper ornaments and beads about their necks,—the Women are very modest and reserved in their Manners" (Bishop 1967:126).

In 1812, Robert Stuart of the Astorians writes:

“They have very round faces, with small animated eyes, a broad flat nose, a handsome mouth, even and white teeth, well shaped legs and small flat feet.—In their infancy the crown and forehead are flatened, by means of a small piece of board, shaped and tied on for that purpose; this in their opinion is a great acquisition to personal beauty, consequently whoever has the broadest and fiatest head is esteemed by far the handsomest person.—They have scarce any beard, and it is seldom the smallest hair is to be discerned on their faces; from the care they take to pluck out the little that appears, they esteem it very uncooth and impolite to have a beard, calling the whites by way of reproach the long beards; the same attention is paid to removing it from their bodies, where its growth is more abundant; that of their head is thick and black, but rather coarse; they allow it to grow to a great length, sometimes wearing it pleated, and sometimes fanci­fully wound round the head in tresses: of this they are as proud & careful as they are averse to beards, nor could a greater affront be offered them, than to cut it off " (Stuart 1953:38).

John Dunn's observation:

"The natives, who dwell about the lower parts of the Columbia, may be divided into four tribes-the Clotsops, who reside around Point Adams, on the south side, and are reputed by some the most honest—the Chinooks; Waakiacums; and the Cathlamets; who live on the north side of the river, and around Baker's Bay and other inlets. From the great resemblance between them in person, language, laws, and manners, they all appear to have emanated from one common stock" (Dunn: 1846).

Background: Portion of 1877 Gibbs map
“Showing the Distribution of the Indian Tribes" (Gibbs:1877)