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Kalapuya of the Willamette Valley

The People
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, page 4)

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 4)

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 logs.

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 or self-purification.  

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 bride’s family. Presents consisted of money, horses, guns, beads, and blankets. Wealthy men could have more than one wife. (Zenk, page 550)

Pioneer Settlement
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.

The Treaties
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. Oregon

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. Date unknown.

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 pgs. 344-348.

Zenk, Henry B. "Kalapuyans," in Handbook Of North American Indians. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 1990, vol. 7, pgs. 547-553.


Additional Links
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The Confederated Tribes of the
Grand Ronde

Where: Polk County, Oregon

Who are they? A combination of five tribes -- Kalapuya, Molalla, Rogue River, Shasta, and the Umpqua -- consolidated on a reservation in 1857. Tribal status was terminated in 1954 and reinstated in 1983.

Tribal enrollment: 3,080.

Land holdings: 10,551 acres.

Major industries: Timber, tourism.

Tourism attractions: Spirit Mountain Casino, Spirit Mountain Lodge, powwows, stampede/rodeo.


Chief Peter Chafean

Chief Peter Chafean, treaty signer for the Kalapuya, 1855
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