Altering – History

The Columbia River has seen floods on a scale that one could only imagine. Torrents of water that broke off during the time of the Missoula Flood about 15,000 and 13,000 years ago left the area where Portland, Oregon is now, under 400 feet of water. This is one reason why the Native Americans called this Wimahl meaning: Big River. Native Americans inhabited the Columbia River as far back as 11,000 years ago. Up until the late 1700’s, the Native Americans were uninterrupted by the white man, living from the land, and by the means of the river. The first sighting of the mouth of the Columbia River was documented in 1775 by Bruno de Heceta, yet he was unable to explore further. In 1792 captain Robert Gray tried to access the Columbia, but failed. One month later he returned outfitted with a private vessel named Columbia Rediviva and traveled about 13 miles up the river that he named after his ship, the Columbia.

The ship that the mighty Columbia River was named after by Captain Robert Gray.

In late October, 1805 the Lewis and Clark expedition made their way into the Columbia River Gorge after searching for the fabled Northwest Passage. The Cascade Rapids near present day Cascade Locks required a long portage around what was believed to be part of the Bridge of the Gods (a land mass connecting present day Washington to Oregon). This land mass was believed to have fallen into the river due to a large landslide witch also backed up the river. As the water level rose behind the natural dam, Native American reports say that the water rose 20 miles upstream at Celilo Fallls making the falls shorter and allowing the Salmon and long extinct June Hogs access to the Snake River, Upper Columbia River, and other tributaries.
If this tale is true it would explain the over abundance of Salmon drying at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers in early October 1805 and the journal entry of Lewis at the Cascade Rapids which read: ” a remarkable circumstance in this part of the river is, the stumps of pine trees are in many places, are at some distance in the river, and gives every appearance of the river being damned up below”

A map of the Columbia River used by Lewis and Clark for the return journey

Soon after the Lewis and Clark expedition, in 1811, John Jacob Astor opened a trading post at Fort Astoria, a trade ring that included New York, the old Oregon Country, Russian Alaska, Hawaii and China. Indian trade goods would be loaded at New York; produce, provisions (and some Hawaiians) would be taken on at the Hawaiian Islands for the Northwest Coast. The trading post was short lived for the Pacific Fur Company and Fort Astoria was taken by the British two years later.

The Mid-Oregon Treaty in 1847 that put an end to the fights over the Oregon territory by Great Britain, Ireland, and United States. The treaty was negotiated by the United State Secretary of State James Buchanan, who later became a U.S. president.

In May 1855, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon Territory invited local tribes and bands of the eastern portion of the territory to an encampment in the Walla Walla valley. Isaac Stevens, the Governor of Washington Territory was ready to begin negotiations with the tribes.

According to Stevens’ plan, the tribes would keep two small areas (or reservations): One for the Yakima bands, the Klickitat, and Palouse. Another for the Nez Perce, Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Cayuse. In return, the federal government would make initial cash payments and provide annual disbursements for education, technology, and economic development. Most Indian leaders spoke in opposition of this new deal, yet Indian leaders realized they had few choices. The non-Indians, they said were as numerous and “blades of grass.” Furthermore, the U.S. military presence in the territories indicated the United States’ readiness to use force.

Fast forward to August 12, 1931, before the judge of the Court of Claims, Richard S. Whaley. Sitting before him, Margaret Handly told her account of the treaty signing in 1855 (as she was 20 years old then) and the years to follow. She said, “I remember that the government dished out a little cup of flour.. to each person, to a family. Each year, cotton blankets were issued, one apiece to each man. Each woman was given barely enough cloth to make them a dress.. once a year for two years. The children were given two little shawls, just enough to cover your back.”

At the end of the meeting Margaret was asked if her family and other landowners were paid for the places they were removed from. She answered, “there were only promises.” They never received anything. People were in dire need of food, clothing, blankets, and other provisions.

In 1885, 30 years after the signing of the 1855 treaty, Jeremiah Curtin came to the Warm Springs to start the education promised by the government.

Boundary lines were unclear after the treaty and the confusion continued into the early 1900’s on the Warm Springs Reservation. On February 9, 1929, a government act, set aside a village near Celilo Falls for a small band who had been assigned to the Warm Springs… The tribes submitted a claim to the Indian Claims Commission to recover additional lands in north-central Oregon ceased to the United States on June 25, 1855

On October 17, 1973 the commission awarded the Tribes $1.25 million for their original ownership of 1,605,000 acres.

The warm Springs Indians also filed a claim that reached the Court of Claims for mismanagement of the Indian Claims Commission judgment funds and other funds, such as individual Indian Money accounts, held in trust by the United States. The tribes were awarded $88,249.98 for that claim.


Click here for a list of the hydroelectric projects on the Snake River, ID

Click Here for an impressive list of waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge


  1. Hey, nice that you added history! I met you this morning (or one of you) with my Newfoundland dog, Morgan…which was the same breed of dog that was on the Lewis and Clark expedition also…and William Clark is an ancestor of mine too! So I am very interested in this adventure of yours!

  2. It was nice to meet you on the side of the river in wenachee. i have been amazed how friendly and interested everybody i have met has been.
    thanks for checking out the site!!


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