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Oregon's Oldest Town: 11,000 Years of Occupation

Salmon drying outside at Celilo Village, Oregon. Courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers.

In her writings on Celilo Village, Hood River author Martha McKeown called the tiny fishing community Oregon's oldest town. Salvage archeological digs prior to the completion of The Dalles Dam confirmed that Indian people had continuously occupied the village site for at least 11,000 years.

Longevity was not the area's only significance. Prior to white contact, Celilo and the area now known as The Dalles linked a trade network that extended from the coast to the Great Plains, from what is now Alaska to the present state of California. Indians from all over the Northwest came to trade, socialize, and fish with local residents. From the south came obsidian, slaves, and shells; blankets and beads came from the north; pipestone, buffalo meat, and horses from the east; and wappato from west of the Cascades. Central to this trade network was the abundance of salmon. The arid climate of the mid-Columbia allowed Indians to air dry much of the salmon they caught for trade and later use.

The Army Corps of Engineers built the Dalles-Celilo canal which provided passage around Celilo Falls and the Long Narrows until The Dalles Dam replaced it in 1957. Courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers.
By the mid-twentieth century, Celilo Village had undergone tremendous changes. The 1855 treaties removed many of the area's Indians from the Columbia River, though some groups refused to enroll at reservations and stayed at the village and other traditional river sites. Development spurred by white settlement also changed the village. Indians lost their homes (without compensation) to The Dalles-Celilo Canal in 1913, to railroad and highway easements, and finally to the reservoir behind The Dalles Dam.