Kalapuyan Ethnohistory

From the forthcoming book Tribal Stories of the Willamette Valley

The Kalapuya originally occupied over a million acres in the Willamette Valley. They have lived here for over 14,000 years and have endured enormous changes to their traditional life-ways during the past 200 years. The Kalapuya peoples created the amazing fecundity of the Willamette Valley by practicing a form of agriculture where they annually set fire to the valley and in so doing deposited nutrients in the soils. They were a stable society who harvested the fruits and vegetables of the valley to provide their primary food sources.

The Kalapuyan tribes were about nineteen tribes and bands in three distinct areas, organized linguistically north, central, and south. They occupied the majority of the Willamette Valley with villages scattered along the rivers and streams of the valley. They had a seasonal lifeway, where the tribes would harvest vegetables, hunt and fish at specific times of the year throughout a wide expanse of the valley and into the foothills and mountains bordering the valley. The northern Kalapuya are the Tualatin, also known as the Atfalati, who live along the Tualatin River, and the Yamhill or Yamel, who live along the Yamhill River. The central tribes were the Pudding River or Ahantchuyuk, who lived along the Pudding River; the Luckiamute, who lived along the Luckiamute River, the Santiam, who lived along and between the north and south forks of the Santiam River; the Mary’s River or Chepenefa; who live along the Mary’s River, the Muddy Creek or Chemapho, who live along Muddy Creek. Other Central Kalapuya tribes in the Eugene area were the Tsankupi, who lived along the Calapooia River and Mohawk who lived along the Mohawk River; the Chafan, at where Eugene City is; and the Long Tom or Chelamela, who lived along the Long Tom River; the Winefelly, who lived along the Mohawk, McKenzie and Coast Forks of the Willamette River. The southern Kalapuya were the Yoncalla or Kommema, who lived along the Upper Umpqua River.

Beginning in about 1790 they began suffering from the plagues of the newcomer explorers and fur traders to the region and their populations declined sharply from an estimate of over 20,000 people. Due to the pressures of American settlement they signed treaties with the United States Government, ceding away over one million acres, and were removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation and continued to decline in population. The Kalapuya signed treaties with the United States on at least four occasions. In 1851, the tribes of the Willamette Valley signed treaties which allowed for the creation of permanent reservations within their homelands. These treaties were not ratified by Congress.

In 1854 the Yoncalla and the upper Umpqua signed a treaty which removed them to the Umpqua Reservation, and in 1855 the tribes of the Willamette Valley, signed the Treaty with the Kalapuya Etc. which removed them to temporary reservations. By March 1856 all of the Kalapuya had been removed to the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. The Kalapuya then integrated with the other tribes and became an important part of the genealogical heritage of the Grand Ronde Tribe.

Today the majority of Kalapuya people are members of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. During the reservation period, the Kalapuya peoples integrated with at least 29-35 other tribes at the reservation and by 1900 there were about 300 of the Kalapuyans remaining. Kalapuya descendants continued to be important leaders at the reservation and integrated with the surrounding Oregon rural population.Many became loggers in the logging boom of the 1920s.

In the 1950s, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation were termination by the United States. During the termination period, the Kalapuya people continued to follow their traditions, and elders in the 1970s began working for restoration of the Grand Ronde Tribe. Today, the Kalapuya descendants are important historical figures in the restoration of the tribe and leaders and contributors in the success of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon.
Copyright, David G. Lewis

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