Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Celilo Falls"
Includes ... Celilo Falls ... "Great Falls" ... "Great Falls of the Columbia" ... Celilo, Oregon ... Celilo Village ... Celilo Park ... The Dalles - Celilo Locks ... The Dalles - Celilo Canal ... The Dalles - Celilo Locks ... Columbia River Basalt ...
Image, 2005, Mount Hood, Oregon, from Haystack Butte Vicinity, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Mount Hood, Oregon, and the Celilo Falls area. Looking downstream at the area which once was Celilo Falls. View from Washington State Highway 14. Celilo Park, Oregon, is green tip on the left. Wishram, Washington, is road area on the right. Image taken May 24, 2005.


Celilo Falls ...
Celilo Falls were located just downstream of Wishram, Washington and Celilo, Oregon, and upstream of The Dalles, Oregon. The banks on either side of the falls were made of Columbia River Basalt, and the falls were created when the Columbia River cut into the basalt and created a constriction of the river with a 20-foot falls followed by a mile of narrow, channeled rapids with a drop of 8 feet in river elevation. Today, Celilo Falls is inundated by the waters of Lake Celilo, the reservoir behind The Dalles Dam.

"Celilo" ...
There are several suggested meanings for the origin of the name "Celilo". According to McArthur and McArthur in "Oregon Geographic Names" (2003):

"... Early journals of fur traders and travelers do not mention Celilo. Celilo was used in 1859, according to Mr. Elliott, who said there were several suggested meanings including "tumbling waters", "shifting sands", and the name of an Indian chief. Dr. Leo Frachtenberg of the Smithsonian Institution, in the Oregon Journal, December 31, 1917, said Celilo is a Yakama word meaning "cleft in the bank". ..."

According to T.C. Elliott in 1915 (Oregon Historical Quarterly, April 1915):

"... The name CELILO attaches to the rather low but romantic horseshoe shaped falls at the rock reef composing the upper end of this obstruction, below which the Indian was accustomed to stand with his spear to pierce the jumping salmon. Like all other river falls these were known the the fur traders as The Chutes and when the name CELILO was first used or whence it came is not known. The name does not appear in print before 1859, as far as yet discovered. The earlier journals and letters of fur traders and travelers do not mention it. ..."

Early Celilo Falls ...
For more than 10,000 years, native Americans have lived and fished and traded in the Celilo Falls area. The native peoples had approximately 480 fishing stations in and around Celilo Falls. Fishermen built wooden scaffolds out over the falls and used long-handled dipnets to catch salmon. The men secured themselves to their scaffolds with ropes that they tied around their waists in the event that they were pulled into the river. This changed in 1957 when the rising waters of Lake Celilo, the reservoir behind The Dalles Dam, flooded the spectacular Celilo area and forever buried much of the ancient history of the Columbia Basin. The reservoir waters inundated Celilo Falls, Tenmile Rapids, Fivemile Rapids, and Celilo Village, resulting in the relocation of the community and 36 families. (Information courtesy Center for Columbia River History website, 2008).

Lewis and Clark and "Great Falls of the Columbia" ...
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery reached the "Great Falls of the Columbia" on October 22, 1805.

"... The whole height of the falls is 37 feet 8 inches, in a distance of 1200 yards ..." [Gass, October 23, 1805]

"... The Latitude at this place which is called the grand falls of the Columbia River as taken by Capt. Lewis is 45░ 42' 57.3' North.    the hight of the particular falls in all is 37 feet eight Inches, and has a large rock Island in the midst of them and look Shocking    the water divided in several channels by the rocks. ..." [Ordway, October 23, 1805]

They began their portage around the falls on October 22, 1805, on the north side of the Columbia, setting up camp at the location of today's Wishram.

"... 6 miles below the upper mouth of Towarnehiooks River the comencement of the pitch of the Great falls, opposit on the Stard. Side is 17 Lodges of the nativs    we landed and walked down accompanied by an old man to view the falls, and the best rout for to make a portage which we Soon discovered was much nearest on the Stard. Side, and the distance 1200 yards one third of the way on a rock, about 200 yards over a loose Sand collected in a hollar blown by the winds from the bottoms below which was disagreeable to pass, as it was Steep and loose. ..." [Clark, October 22, 1805]

"... Took our Baggage & formed a Camp below the rapids in a cove on the Stard Side    the distance 1200 yards haveing passed ..." [Clark, October 22, 1805, first draft]

"... took every article except the Canoes across the portag where I had formed a camp on ellegable Situation for the protection of our Stores from Thieft, which we were more fearfull of, than their arrows. we despatched two men to examine the river on the opposit Side, and reported that the Canoes could be taken down a narrow Chanel on the opposit Side after a Short portage at the head of the falls, at which place the Indians take over their Canoes. ..." [Clark, October 22, 1805]

Captain Clark and a majority of the men took the canoes around the falls on October 23, on the south side.

"... a fine morning, I with the greater part of the men Crossed in the Canoes to opposit Side above the falls and hauled them across the portage of 457 yards which is on the Lard. Side and certainly the best side to pass the canoes    I then decended through a narrow chanel of about 150 yards wide forming a kind of half circle in it course of a mile to a pitch of 8 feet in which the chanel is divided by 2 large rocks    at this place we were obliged to let the Canoes down by Strong ropes of Elk Skin which we had for the purpose, one Canoe in passing this place got loose by the Cords breaking, and was cought by the Indians below. I accomplished this necessary business and landed Safe with all the Canoes at our Camp below the falls by 3 oClock P. M. ..." [Clark, October 23, 1805]

"... a clear pleasant morning. about 8 oClock Capt. Clark went with the most of the party and took all the canoes across the River and halled them about a quarter of a mile over the rocks past a perpinticular fall of 22 feet and put them in a verry rapid channel below. this portage has been used by the natives takeing their Small canoes round and close below the great falls is a large fishery in the Spring of the year ..." [Ordway, October 23, 1805]

Celilo Falls in 1836 ...
William Henry Gray in his writings about the history of Oregon (published in 1870) describes the portage around Celilo Falls in 1836:

"... we glided swiftly down the Columbia River, the scenery of which is not surpassed in grandeur by any river in the world. Fire, earth, and water have combined to make one grand display with melted lava, turning it out in all imaginable and unimaginable shapes and forms on a most gigantic scale. In other countries, these hills thrown up would be called mountains, but here we call them high rolling plains, interspersed with a few snow-capped peaks, some fifteen and some seventeen thousand feet high. The river is running through these plains, wandering around among the rocks with its gentle current of from four to eight knots per hour; at the rapids increasing its velocity and gyrations around and among the rocks in a manner interesting and exciting to the traveler, who at one moment finds his boat head on at full speed making for a big rock; anon he comes along, and by an extra exertion with his pole shoves off his boat to receive a full supply of water from the rolling swell, as the water ruses over the rock he has but just escaped being dashed to pieces against. As to danger in such places, it is all folly to think of any; so on we go to repeat the same performance over and over till we reach the falls, at what is now called Celilo, where we find about twenty-five feet perpendicular fall.

Our boats were discharged of all their contents, about one-fourth of a mile above the main fall, on the right bank of the river. Then the cargo was packed upon the Indians' backs to the landing below the falls, the Indian performing this part of the labor for from two to six inches of trail-rope tobacco. A few were paid from two to ten charges of powder and ball, or shot, depending upon the number of trips they made and the amount they carried. The boats were let down with lines as near the fall as was considered safe, hauled out of the water, turned bottom up, and as many Indians as could get under them, say some twenty-five to each boat, lifted them upon their shoulders and carried them to the water below. For this service they each received two dried leaves of tobacco, which would make about six common pipefuls. The Indian, however, with other dried leaves, would make his two leaves of tobacco last some time.

This portage over, and all on board, we again glided swiftly along ..."


Source:    Early Canadiana Online website, 2006, "William Henry Gray's A history of Oregon, 1792-1849, drawn from personal observation and authentic information, published in 1870.


The End of Celilo Falls ...
In 1957, with the construction of The Dalles Dam and the filling of Lake Celilo, the Celilo Falls forever disappeared.
[More]

Image, 2011, The Dalles Dam, from the Oregon side, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
The Dalles Dam. View from hills above The Dalles, Oregon. Image taken June 4, 2011.


Celilo Falls, etc.

  • Celilo Park ...
  • Celilo Village ...
  • The Dalles - Celilo Canal and Locks ...


Celilo Park ...
Celilo Park, Oregon, on Lake Celilo, is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and has facilities for picnicking, fishing, swimming and boat launching. The park, which includes the upper end of the historic The Dalles - Celilo Canal and the former Indian fishing grounds at Celilo Falls, is accessible from Interstate 84 Exit 97 about 12 miles east of The Dalles.
[More]

Image, 2005, Celilo Park and Celilo, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Celilo Park and Celilo, Oregon, as seen from Washington State Highway 14. Image taken May 24, 2005.

Today's Celilo Park looks over the area which once was Celilo Falls. Celilo Park was also the upper end of the The Dalles-Celilo Canal.


Celilo Village ...
(to come)

Image, 2012, Celilo Village, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Celilo Village, Oregon. Image taken June 6, 2012.


The Dalles - Celilo Canal and Locks ...
The 8-mile-long The Dalles - Celilo Canal, located three miles north of The Dalles, was completed in 1915, creating a steamboat waterway around the Fivemile Rapids ("Long Narrows"), Tenmile Rapids ("Short Narrows"), and Celilo Falls. It provided a clear journey to Lewiston, Idaho.
[More]


"The Golden Age of Postcards" ...

The early 1900s was the "Golden Age of Postcards", with the "Penny Postcard" being a popular way to send greetings to family and friends. The Penny Postcard today has become a snapshot of history.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 22, 1805 ...





Ordway, October 23, 1805 ...
a clear pleasant morning.   about 8 oClock Capt. Clark went with the most of the party and took all the canoes across the River and halled them about a quarter of a mile over the rocks past a perpinticular fall of 22 feet and put them in a verry rapid channel below.   this portage has been used by the natives takeing their Small canoes round and close below the great falls is a large fishery in the Spring of the year and the flies at this time are verry numerous and trouble us verry much as the ground is covred with them   we got the canoes all in the channel below the big fall   then the best Swimmers went on board and took them through the whorl pools a little more than half a mile   then came to two more pitches of abt. three feet each   we let the canoes down by ropes.   one of them broke loose from us and went over Safe and was taken up by the natives below.   towards evening we got the canoes all Safe down to camp without dammageŚ

The Latitude at this place which is called the grand falls of the Columbia River as taken by Capt. Lewis is 45░ 42' 57.3' North.   the hight of the particular falls in all is 37 feet eight Inches, and has a large rock Island in the midst of them and look Shocking   the water divided in several channels by the rocks.






Clark, October 24, 1805 ...




Columbia PlateauReturn to
Menu
 






*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources:    See The Dalles;   

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
/Regions/Places/celilo_falls.html
August 2011