The Kalapuya Indians (also known as the Calapooya or Calapooia)
"lived in the heart of the fertile Willamette Valley
between the Coast Range Mountains and the Cascade Mountains,"
notes an article entitled "The Kalapuya: a Wealthy Way
of Life." (page 4)
"Their territories stretched from the winter villages
of the Tualatin" (near present day Portland) to the Yonkalla,
who lived from just northeast of Roseburg, to the Calapooia
Mountains," continues this Confederated Tribes of the
Grand Ronde publication.
"As a semi-nomadic people, the Kalapuya(s) lived in permanent
winter homes and migrated throughout the Willamette Valley
during the warmer months. They traded regularly with their
Molalla and Cayuse neighbors as well as other Northern California,
Oregon coast, and Columbia River tribes." (Kalapuya,
The Kalapuyas were hunters and gatherers. Women did most
of the gathering, while men were the hunters. Salmon, trout,
and eels were part of their diet as were birds, small game,
deer, bear, and elk. Grasshoppers and a type of caterpillar
were considered delicacies. Other food items included hazel
nuts, berries, tarweed seeds, and wapato. (Zenk, page 547-548)
Camas root was the Kalapuyas' most abundant and important
staple. This "bulbous root plant resembles an onion in
shape and consistency but is considerably more bland in taste,"
according to "Cooking up Camas," an article in Historic
Marion. A member of the lily family, "camassia quamash"
still grows in the Willamette Valley; it is known for its
beautiful blue spring time blooms.
Kalapuya women dug the camas with forked wooden sticks and
then roasted and dried the root in pit-ovens. This mixture
was also pressed into cakes or loaves for later use as food
or as a valuable trade item.
While they did not "cultivate" the land in today's
sense of the word, the Kalapuyas were familiar with land management
practices such as controlled field burning. The article entitled
"The Kalapuya: a Wealthy Way of Life" quotes Henry
B. Zenk, a noted scholar of the Kalapuyas: "They slash
burned just to make the country an open pasture. To make the
habitat more conducive to elk, deer, camas, tarweed, and hazelnuts
... The way they managed their land is something they had
to work at. They were almost like a pre-agricultural society." (page
Clothing and Objects
Kalapuya women were skilled basket-makers who wove storage
containers, basketry hats, and large mats for floor covering.
Men made tools and weapons such as bows and arrows; they also
made dugout canoes and paddles from cedar, fir, or cottonwood
The Kalapuyas wore a variety of clothing. Men wore a loincloth
or no clothing at all during the warmer months. "Men's
apparel for travel and chilly weather included leggings and
moccasins, cloaks, buckskin trousers and shirts, and fur caps
made from the intact skins of small animals or from the head-skins
of larger animals such as deer, cougar, and gray fox."
(Zenk, page 548)
Women wore skirts or aprons made of shredded cedar bark, rush
or grass, or animal skin. In the winter women wore long buckskin
dresses and basketry hats. (Zenk, page 548)
Zenk notes that "decoration of apparel reflected social
position." Wealthy members of the tribe used dentalium
shells, porcupine quills, and trade and bone beads to enhance
their clothing. Necklaces, wrist bands, nose ornaments, and
plugs in the lobes of ears were worn for adornment. "Tattooed
designs were often to be seen on the arms and legs of both
men and women," adds Zenk. (page 548)
"In the summertime, (Kalapuyas lived in) the shelter
of a grove of trees or a brush windbreak. With the major harvests
complete and the fall rains imminent, the winter houses were
refurbished and re-occupied." (Zenk, pages 548-549) The
winter houses were usually rectangular in shape and made of
bark and/or planks laid upon a framework. Each house was heated
by a central fireplace. Often more than one family shared
a house with partitions marking each space. (Zenk, page 549)
Dome-shaped sweathouses, heated by steam, were always included
in the winter encampment. Sweathouses were used for recreation
Religion and Culture
"Spirit or Dream Power was central to Kalapuya spirituality."
(Kalapuya, page 5) Adolescents often "sought powers during
solitary five-night quests at known power places. During a
quest, an aspirant fasted and worked all night, typically
by swimming, keeping up a fire, and piling up rock, brush,
or earth at the power place. A power, if it came, usually
appeared in human likeness, during a dream following the vigil."
(Zenk, page 550)
Each village was made up of people related to each other.
Parents arranged marriages of their children between members
of neighboring villages. Each group gave presents with the
largest and most valuable presents going to the brides
family. Presents consisted of money, horses, guns, beads,
and blankets. Wealthy men could have more than one wife. (Zenk,
In The Kalapuyans: a Sourcebook on the Indians of the Willamette
Valley, author Harold Mackey notes that while Lewis and
Clark met and described many Indians of the Columbia River
Valley during their expedition to the Pacific Northwest from
1804 to 1806, they did not mention any Indians of the Willamette
River. Other sources indicate that Lewis and Clark did meet
the Kalapuyas but their exact population was unknown at the
time. (Zenk, page 551)
As a related point, Zenk also cites research indicating that
the "Kalapuya(n) populations (later) suffered catastrophic
declines ... the most dramatic single decrease probably occurring
during 1830 to 1833, when malaria swept the Willamette and
lower Columbia areas. (page 551)
The Kalapuyas' first "definitely recorded" contact
with White visitors occurred in 1812 when Pacific Fur Company
traders led by Donald McKenzie visited the Willamette Valley.
"From 1812 into the 1840's, the Kalapuya(n)s had many
contacts with fur traders, and in the 1830's the first settlers
and missionaries became established in the Willamette Valley."
(Zenk, page 551)
In 1834 Jason Lee, a Methodist clergyman, established a mission
among Kalapuyas residing in the Willamette Mission area, just
north of present day Salem. Roman Catholic missionaries, who
also ministered to the Kalapuyas, arrived in 1839. A
Manual Labor Training School serving Native American children
was established in 1841 by the Methodist Church.
In 1851, Anson Dart, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs
in Oregon began treaty negotiations with the Kalapuyas. The
article entitled "The Kalapuya: a Wealthy Way of Life" further
elaborates on the negotiations: "Chiefs and headmen of
the Winnefelly, Mohawk River, Chapen, Tecopa, Santiam, Mary's
River, and Ahntchuyuk tribes and bands of Kalapuya(s) signed
the 1855 Dayton Treaty with (then) Superintendent of Indian
Affairs, Joel Palmer ... Together with other neighboring Willamette
Valley tribes, they ceded territory stretching from the Columbia
River to the Calapooia Mountains between the coastal and Cascade
mountain ranges." (Kalapuya, page 5)
In exchange the tribes "were told that for the next five
years they would be supplied with blankets, clothes, hats,
sugar, flour, and ploughs." Plots of farmland and access
to a school, blacksmith shop, and general stores were also
offered. (Kalapuya, page 5)
Author Henry B. Zenk notes: "In 1856, the few remaining
Kalapuya(n)s were taken to Grand Ronde Reservation ... where
they were consolidated with survivors from other interior
western Oregon groups (such as the) Clackamas, Molala, Upper
Umpqua, Tekelma, and Shasta." (page 551)
In 1956 the United States government terminated the tribes'
standing and reservation but in 1974 the Grand Ronde tribes
reorganized as The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. (Zenk,
page 551) By 1983 tribes had restored their federal status.
(Zenk, page 552)
"Today the Kalapuya peoples are actively building a new
way of tribal life as part of the Confederated Tribes of Grand
Ronde. With it comes the rebirth of the Grand Ronde Indian
community founded on tribal efforts to rekindle and preserve
Native language, culture and tradition as well as using traditions
and technologies needed to manage today's economic and political
landscape," concludes the article entitled "The
Kalapuyas: a Wealthy Way of Life." (page 5)
Compiled by Janice Weide and Jane Kirby.
Beckham, Stephen Dow. The Indians of Western Oregon: This
Land was Theirs. Arago Books, Coos Bay, Oregon, 1977.
Buan, Carolyn M. and Richard Lewis, ed. The First Oregonians.
Council for the Humanities, Portland, Oregon, 1991.
"Cooking up Camas (camassia quamash)" Historic
Marion, volume 30, number 4, May 1992, page 4.
Johnson, Oscar. "The Kalapuya." Clackamas County
History, Spring 1999.
"The Kalapuya: a Wealthy Way of Life," Smoke Signals.
Mackey, Harold. The Kalapuyans: A Sourcebook on the Indians
of the Willamette Valley. Mission Mill Museum Association,
Salem, OR, 1974.
Malinowski, Sharon and Anna Sheets, eds., The Gale Encyclopedia
of Native American Tribes, vol. 4. Gale, Detroit, MI, 1998
Zenk, Henry B. "Kalapuyans," in Handbook Of North
American Indians. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 1990,
vol. 7, pgs. 547-553.