Willamette Falls

Willamette Falls: Willamette Falls have been a focal point of the
Willamette valley heritage. Throughout time these falls have played a key roll
in the development of the area. Long passed are the days of the Molalla Indian

Paper Title:
Willamette Falls
Willamette Falls have been a focal point of the Willamette valley heritage.

Throughout time these falls have played a key roll in the development of the
area. Long passed are the days of the Molalla Indian fishermen. It is now the
center of a very industrialised thriving city. In this paper I will take a look
into how this transition took place and what made this area such a special place
to all those that have come into contact with it.

The Willamette Falls are a three hundred yard wide thirty-foot high wall of
shier stone. The Falls stretch the width of the Willamette River. These falls
were virtually impassable by boat until the construction of the Willamette Locks
in 1868. The Molalla Indians who were the first to call the falls home believe
that the Falls were placed at this spot in the Willamette by god to trap the
fish travelling upstream so that the Indians and their ancestor the bear could
easily catch them. To this day the Falls still serve as a blockage for migrating
salmon, shad and other various fish runs, Although today there is a fish ladder
that allows the fish a way of passage through the falls.

The surrounding area of Willamette Falls was once a rich and thriving
ecosystem. The banks of Willamette falls were part of a dense forest that was
riddled with Molalla villages. The area was also full of wild life and became a
center of the fur trade as early settlers arrived. Bear, elk, deer, beaver and
other animal skins were traded through these early settlements. Settlers soon
found the draw of the fishing industry, as its primary wealth. The draw of
the plentiful fish is something that the Native Molalla Indians had discovered
much earlier
The birth of the Molalla Nation according to an old Molalla legend sprung
from the grizzly’s demise, this came about when he met Coyote who was on his way
to make the world. The Great Bear demanded a fight but Coyote cunningly
challenged him to a red-hot rock-swallowing contest instead. But Coyote cleverly
swallowed strawberries while Grizzly gulped down hot stones that burst his
heart. After much thought Coyote skinned and cut up Grizzly and while scattering
his body to the winds. From a place near the summit of Mount Hood, Coyote
scattered the heart of Grizzly Bear whom he had just slain. To what would become
Molalla Country he threw the heart and said, “Now the Molalla will be good
hunters; they will be good men, thinking and studying about hunting deer.”
A lot has changed for this nation of good men and thinking hunters since
their emergence from the land where Grizzly’s heart was placed. This includes a
mid-19th century treaty with the U.S. government and their relocation to a
reservation in the Grand Ronde Valley.

By 1876, the Northern, Upper or Valley Molallas, had winter villages from
their legendary birthplace near Mount Hood to present day Oregon City and just
east of Salem to the foot of Mount Jefferson. During the warmer months these
mostly nomadic people left their mud, cedar and hemlock bark homes to freely
roam parts of the Willamette Valley. Like their neighbors to the north, the
Upper Chinook, the Molalla used dugout canoes and they were also using horses by
the early 1800s. Their population was estimated at about 500 at that time. The
Molallas had strong ties with the Klamath peoples who they regularly traded
with. Despite the distinction between the northern and southern bands of the
Molalla Nation and the lack of information on the southern band, the general
history and culture are said to be mostly similar. The general difference was
more regional than anything else, all Native people adapted to the region they
were in as a means of survival. Molalla of the mountain region adapted to
hunting the larger game of that area and those in the valley were more similar
to the Kalapuya people whose primary diet was roots and small game, common in
the valley. Whether hunting large or small game, the prowess of Molalla hunters
was well known, and respected by all of the surrounding tribes. Hunters would
camouflaged themselves with dear heads while stalking their prey and were
renowned amongst neighbouring tribes for their use of skilfully trained dogs for
tracking and hunting as well. Along the Willamette the Molalla expertise also
extended to fishing salmon and steelhead. The tribe developed a tradition both
of spear and basket fishing. The baskets were 10-by-12 foot vine baskets
suspended on poles to catch fish under Willamette falls as they were herded into
the baskets with brush fences or by throwing stones. The Molalla emphasis on
hunting skills was also embodied in competitive target practice games such as
Kakalinpasa where the object was to hit a rolling wheel of maple bark and grass
with an arrow. Like a number of other traditional Molalla games, Kakalinpasa
involved betting with stakes such as money, skins or slaves.

By the mid-1800s the Molalla tradition of hunting and fishing became
seriously threatened by encroaching white settlers and it would not be long
before their very lifestyle was under siege. As more pioneers pushed westward,
Native hunting grounds began shrinking, causing tensions between Indians and
settlers. Dwindling Native resources combined with settler prejudice and fear of
Indian retaliation escalated the strain and in 1846 the peace between the two
communities was nearly lost. It was preserved only by last minute negotiations.

Two years later inevitable violence broke out near Abiqua Creek, in present
day Silverton. The real story according to the Molalla elders is that during
that same period in 1848, it was about six months after a Cayuse attack on the
Whitman Mission and the settlers in the Willamette Valley were afraid there
would be an Indian uprising. When a horseback mailman happened across Klamath
travellers camping with their Molalla hosts, he sounded the alert that an Indian
group was preparing to attack. What pioneers thought was an army of male
warriors was really a group of women, Elders and children. It is said that the
mailman probably mistook the group for a band of Indian men because Molalla men,
women and children traditionally wore deer-hide trousers. Blinded by fear and
ignorance, the settlers took arms and attacked the group killing about 13 and
wounding one. Women and children fled as the aggressors pursued them to around
Abiqua Creek. Slaughtering them as they fled part way into their pursuit they
realised what they had done and retreated in shame.

On May 6 and 7, 1851 Indian Affairs Superintendent, secured treaties with the
Northern Molallas at Champoeg, Oregon as part of a U.S. campaign to acquire
the entire Willamette Valley. The original intent was to relocate all Native
tribes east of the Cascade Mountains but Molalla peoples, like many other
Western Oregon nations, refused to move so far from their traditional homelands.

Tensions between the Molalla and settlers soon could no longer be ignored. In
1854 the Oregon Territorial Legislature enacted a ban on the sale of firearms to
Indians, disallowing the capacity of the Molalla and other Tribes to hunt
competitively with their new neighbors for scarce game on rapidly shrinking
hunting grounds.

The next year in 1855 an Oregon proclamation sought to confine Willamette
Valley Indians to temporary reservations, charging them to account for their
whereabouts at all times or be imprisoned. By the end of the year diminishing
resources and mounting conflicts helped the BIA Superintendent persuade Southern
Molalla tribal leaders to move to the Umpqua Reservation. Only a few months
later they were again moved to the Grand Ronde reservation. Some Molalla
Indians, unhappy with their new life on the reservation, tried to return to
their traditional lands near the Molalla River only to find the landscape so
changed by the fences and factories of the white man that they could no longer
call it home. The Molallas only lived on the Umpqua reservation for two months
before being removed to Grand Ronde reservation. In a May 1955 federal register
showing that 141 of the 882 members then enrolled in the Confederated Tribes of
Grand Ronde were of Molalla decent, by the middle of this century non-Indian
sources began proclaiming the near total extinction of the Molalla was eminent.

Willamette falls is where the Oregon Trail ended, and a new civilization
began. The white settlers found the natural resources of Willamette Falls to
tempting, and much to the Molalla Indians dismay the White Man was here to stay.

By the mid 1800s white settlers had successfully over run all Indian threats
in the area. The once peaceful fishing grounds of the Native Americans soon
became the grounds for a massive industrial boom, creating what is now Oregon
City. As mentioned before the first orders of business were the creation of the
locks and harnessing the rivers power to create electricity. The locks project
was started in 1868 and the electricity project was in place by 1879. The
addition of electricity allowed for further expansion of the city, as it became
a hub of the resource shipping market. Once this foundation was laid the rest is
pretty standard, the booming economy helped new businesses and more settlers
arrive. The expansion was quick and many of the buildings were poorly erected.

This would soon prove catastrophic as the floods of 1980 hit. This flood was one
of the worst floods on record and decimated the fragile town. Most of the town
was forced to rebuild, this time much more thought and time was put into the
construction and many of the post flood structures still stand today.

As you can see the history of Willamette Falls and its surrounding areas
is somewhat of a two pronged story there is the age of the Molalla Indian Nation
which then faded into near eradication as the white settlers sprung onto the
seen. As I have discussed, these stories only add to the importance and interest
of this area. Willamette Falls were formed long before man had ever set eyes on
it and will be there long after we are no longer here. This monument of nature
has been special to all those that have come into contact with it. The Falls
have yielded many gifts to all those that have chosen to accept them. Only in
modern times has this area come into disarray. The Willamette River including
the falls has become a dumping site for industrial and suburban waste. It is
because of this blatant disrespect for these ancient waters that has made this
once majestic river, one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. In my
research for this paper I have learned how important it is that we restore the
lost respect to this special place.