Throughout time these falls have played a key roll in the development of thearea. Long passed are the days of the Molalla Indian fishermen. It is now thecenter of a very industrialised thriving city. In this paper I will take a lookinto how this transition took place and what made this area such a special placeto all those that have come into contact with it.
The Willamette Falls are a three hundred yard wide thirty-foot high wall ofshier stone. The Falls stretch the width of the Willamette River. These fallswere virtually impassable by boat until the construction of the Willamette Locksin 1868. The Molalla Indians who were the first to call the falls home believethat the Falls were placed at this spot in the Willamette by god to trap thefish travelling upstream so that the Indians and their ancestor the bear couldeasily catch them. To this day the Falls still serve as a blockage for migratingsalmon, shad and other various fish runs, Although today there is a fish ladderthat allows the fish a way of passage through the falls.
The surrounding area of Willamette Falls was once a rich and thrivingecosystem. The banks of Willamette falls were part of a dense forest that wasriddled with Molalla villages. The area was also full of wild life and became acenter of the fur trade as early settlers arrived. Bear, elk, deer, beaver andother animal skins were traded through these early settlements. Settlers soonfound the draw of the fishing industry, as its primary wealth.
The draw ofthe plentiful fish is something that the Native Molalla Indians had discoveredmuch earlierThe birth of the Molalla Nation according to an old Molalla legend sprungfrom the grizzly’s demise, this came about when he met Coyote who was on his wayto make the world. The Great Bear demanded a fight but Coyote cunninglychallenged him to a red-hot rock-swallowing contest instead. But Coyote cleverlyswallowed strawberries while Grizzly gulped down hot stones that burst hisheart.
After much thought Coyote skinned and cut up Grizzly and while scatteringhis body to the winds. From a place near the summit of Mount Hood, Coyotescattered the heart of Grizzly Bear whom he had just slain. To what would becomeMolalla Country he threw the heart and said, “Now the Molalla will be goodhunters; they will be good men, thinking and studying about hunting deer.”A lot has changed for this nation of good men and thinking hunters sincetheir emergence from the land where Grizzly’s heart was placed. This includes amid-19th century treaty with the U.S. government and their relocation to areservation in the Grand Ronde Valley.
By 1876, the Northern, Upper or Valley Molallas, had winter villages fromtheir legendary birthplace near Mount Hood to present day Oregon City and justeast of Salem to the foot of Mount Jefferson. During the warmer months thesemostly nomadic people left their mud, cedar and hemlock bark homes to freelyroam parts of the Willamette Valley. Like their neighbors to the north, theUpper Chinook, the Molalla used dugout canoes and they were also using horses bythe early 1800s. Their population was estimated at about 500 at that time.
The Molallas had strong ties with the Klamath peoples who they regularly tradedwith. Despite the distinction between the northern and southern bands of theMolalla Nation and the lack of information on the southern band, the generalhistory and culture are said to be mostly similar. The general difference wasmore regional than anything else, all Native people adapted to the region theywere in as a means of survival.
Molalla of the mountain region adapted tohunting the larger game of that area and those in the valley were more similarto the Kalapuya people whose primary diet was roots and small game, common inthe valley. Whether hunting large or small game, the prowess of Molalla hunterswas well known, and respected by all of the surrounding tribes. Hunters wouldcamouflaged themselves with dear heads while stalking their prey and wererenowned amongst neighbouring tribes for their use of skilfully trained dogs fortracking and hunting as well. Along the Willamette the Molalla expertise alsoextended to fishing salmon and steelhead.
The tribe developed a tradition bothof spear and basket fishing. The baskets were 10-by-12 foot vine basketssuspended on poles to catch fish under Willamette falls as they were herded intothe baskets with brush fences or by throwing stones. The Molalla emphasis onhunting skills was also embodied in competitive target practice games such asKakalinpasa where the object was to hit a rolling wheel of maple bark and grasswith an arrow. Like a number of other traditional Molalla games, Kakalinpasainvolved betting with stakes such as money, skins or slaves.
By the mid-1800s the Molalla tradition of hunting and fishing becameseriously threatened by encroaching white settlers and it would not be longbefore their very lifestyle was under siege. As more pioneers pushed westward,Native hunting grounds began shrinking, causing tensions between Indians andsettlers. Dwindling Native resources combined with settler prejudice and fear ofIndian retaliation escalated the strain and in 1846 the peace between the twocommunities was nearly lost. It was preserved only by last minute negotiations.
Two years later inevitable violence broke out near Abiqua Creek, in presentday Silverton. The real story according to the Molalla elders is that duringthat same period in 1848, it was about six months after a Cayuse attack on theWhitman Mission and the settlers in the Willamette Valley were afraid therewould be an Indian uprising. When a horseback mailman happened across Klamathtravellers camping with their Molalla hosts, he sounded the alert that an Indiangroup was preparing to attack.
What pioneers thought was an army of malewarriors was really a group of women, Elders and children. It is said that themailman probably mistook the group for a band of Indian men because Molalla men,women and children traditionally wore deer-hide trousers. Blinded by fear andignorance, the settlers took arms and attacked the group killing about 13 andwounding one. Women and children fled as the aggressors pursued them to aroundAbiqua Creek. Slaughtering them as they fled part way into their pursuit theyrealised what they had done and retreated in shame.
On May 6 and 7, 1851 Indian Affairs Superintendent, secured treaties with theNorthern Molallas at Champoeg, Oregon as part of a U.S. campaign to acquirethe entire Willamette Valley. The original intent was to relocate all Nativetribes east of the Cascade Mountains but Molalla peoples, like many otherWestern Oregon nations, refused to move so far from their traditional homelands.
Tensions between the Molalla and settlers soon could no longer be ignored. In1854 the Oregon Territorial Legislature enacted a ban on the sale of firearms toIndians, disallowing the capacity of the Molalla and other Tribes to huntcompetitively with their new neighbors for scarce game on rapidly shrinkinghunting grounds.
The next year in 1855 an Oregon proclamation sought to confine WillametteValley Indians to temporary reservations, charging them to account for theirwhereabouts at all times or be imprisoned. By the end of the year diminishingresources and mounting conflicts helped the BIA Superintendent persuade SouthernMolalla tribal leaders to move to the Umpqua Reservation. Only a few monthslater they were again moved to the Grand Ronde reservation. Some MolallaIndians, unhappy with their new life on the reservation, tried to return totheir traditional lands near the Molalla River only to find the landscape sochanged by the fences and factories of the white man that they could no longercall it home.
The Molallas only lived on the Umpqua reservation for two monthsbefore being removed to Grand Ronde reservation. In a May 1955 federal registershowing that 141 of the 882 members then enrolled in the Confederated Tribes ofGrand Ronde were of Molalla decent, by the middle of this century non-Indiansources began proclaiming the near total extinction of the Molalla was eminent.
Willamette falls is where the Oregon Trail ended, and a new civilizationbegan. The white settlers found the natural resources of Willamette Falls totempting, 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 threatsin the area. The once peaceful fishing grounds of the Native Americans soonbecame the grounds for a massive industrial boom, creating what is now OregonCity. As mentioned before the first orders of business were the creation of thelocks and harnessing the rivers power to create electricity.
The locks projectwas started in 1868 and the electricity project was in place by 1879. Theaddition of electricity allowed for further expansion of the city, as it becamea hub of the resource shipping market. Once this foundation was laid the rest ispretty standard, the booming economy helped new businesses and more settlersarrive. 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 oneof the worst floods on record and decimated the fragile town. Most of the townwas forced to rebuild, this time much more thought and time was put into theconstruction and many of the post flood structures still stand today.
As you can see the history of Willamette Falls and its surrounding areasis somewhat of a two pronged story there is the age of the Molalla Indian Nationwhich then faded into near eradication as the white settlers sprung onto theseen. As I have discussed, these stories only add to the importance and interestof this area. Willamette Falls were formed long before man had ever set eyes onit and will be there long after we are no longer here. This monument of naturehas been special to all those that have come into contact with it.
The Fallshave yielded many gifts to all those that have chosen to accept them. Only inmodern times has this area come into disarray. The Willamette River includingthe falls has become a dumping site for industrial and suburban waste. It isbecause of this blatant disrespect for these ancient waters that has made thisonce majestic river, one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. In myresearch for this paper I have learned how important it is that we restore thelost respect to this special place.