Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Umatilla, Oregon"
Includes ... Umatilla ... Umatilla Rapids ... "Columbia City" ... "Umatilla Landing" ... "Old Umatilla" ... Umatilla Army Depot ... Umatilla Ferry ... National Register of Historic Places ...
Image, 2004, Interstate 82/395 Bridge, from McNary Dam Overlook, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Interstate 82/395 Bridge, from McNary Dam Overlook, Umatilla, Oregon. Plymouth, Washington, is in the background and Umatilla, Oregon, in the foreground. Image taken September 24, 2004.

Umatilla ...
Umatilla, Oregon, is located at Columbia River Mile (RM) 292, just downstream of the Interstate 82/395 Bridge and the McNary Dam. Further upstream is Hat Rock. Plymouth, Washington is located across the Columbia on the Washington side. Three miles downstream of Umatilla is the Umatilla River. Also downstream is Irrigon, Oregon, the location of Lewis and Clark's campsite of October 19, 1805.

The word "Umatilla" is Native American, and is translated as "rippling waters". Umatilla (the city) was named after the Umatilla River.

Early Umatilla ...

The community of Umatilla is located at T5N R28E. and has been known as "Columbia", "Columbia City", "Umatilla City", "Umatilla Landing", and "Umatilla".

The first Post Office called "Umatilla" was established in September 1851, discontinued in January 1852, and provided postal service to the Umatilla Indian Agency. This was the first post office in eastern Oregon. This was not the post office for the town of Umatilla however. That post office was established ten years later in May 1863.

The 1861 Cadastral Survey (tax survey) for T5N R28E shows "Umatilla Landing" located upstream of the "Umatilla River". Also labeled was a "Umatilla Ware Ho." located at Umatilla Landing.

The Umatilla Chamber of Commerce website (2007) gives this early history:

"... In September 25, 1861, the area east of the mouth of the Umatilla River was surveyed by Timothy W. Davenport and became known on the General Land Office Map as Umatilla Landing. The only structure reported to be present at the time was the Umatilla Warehouse. On August 2, 1862, Jesse Lurchin applied for preemption of 120 acres above the mouth of the Umatilla River to establish a town site. On May 28, 1863 the first Post Office was established and Z.F. Moody was assigned as the first Postmaster. The original city plat of Umatilla was filed on June 6, 1863. In 1864, a license was granted to F.P. Foster and D.A. Clifford to operated the first ferry across the Columbia River from Umatilla. In June 1864, Umatilla became the County Seat of Umatilla County. Umatilla was incorporated on October 24, 1864; on December 18, 1865 the incorporation was repealed. Then in 1906, Umatilla was reincorporated. In 1867, the ANN and the LEWISTON steamships were built at Umatilla. In 1868 the County Seat was moved from Umatilla to Pendleton. ..."

McArthur and McArthur wrote in "Oregon Geographic Names" (2003, Oregon Historical Society):

"Umatilla (UMATILLA) ... The town now known as Umatilla was surveyed by Timothy K. Davenport in 1863. It was first known as Umatilla Landing and, later, Umatilla City. Eight miles west was the locality known for a time as Grande Ronde Landing, near the site of what is now Irrigon. Umatilla and Grande Ronde landings sprang up as stopping places for traffic with the Boise and Owyhee mines, but Umatilla Landing soon controlled the business and Grande Ronde Landing ceased to be of importance. Umatilla was known as Columbia about 1863 but soon resumed the old name. Umatilla is at the mouth of the Umatilla River and was named on that account. ..."

According to the Center for Columbia River History (2007), Umatilla was once called "Columbia City", a name now used for a city much further downsteam on the Columbia. In 1863 the community became "Umatilla Landing" and in 1865 it became "Umatilla City".

"... Non-natives began to settle near the confluence of the two rivers in the 1850s. By the following decade gold discovered in Idaho brought thousands of immigrants west. A town soon sprouted on the desert sands near the rocky Umatilla Rapids. Founded in 1860 as Columbia City, the town's name changed to Umatilla Landing in 1863,and finally to Umatilla City in 1865. It became the first incorporated town, had the first newspaper, and was the earliest port city in eastern Oregon, bringing supplies to the interior of the Columbia Basin. ... Laid out in a v-shape, the 42-block town, bounded by the Columbia and Umatilla Rivers, became the chief shipping area for a wide region. ..." [Center for Columbia River History website, 2007]


My Farm, situated on the Umatilla River, at the junction of the roads from Umatilla City and Dalles, of 200 acres, 40 improved; title perfect; warrantee deed given.

The Land is Rich and well Timbered and Watered!

A good location for a hotel. The farm is known as the Sweetser land claim. For further particulars apply to Z.F. Moody, Umatilla, or W.C. Moody, Dalles City.

Source:    "The Daily Mountaineer (Dalles, Or.)", September 4, 1864, courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2019.

Since 1941 Umatilla has been home to the U.S. Army Chemical Depot.

In 1981 the "Umatilla Site" (Site #81000522), also known as "Umatilla Landing", "Old Umatilla", and "35UM1", was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Early Maps ...

Historic Map, 1907, Plymouth and Umatilla, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
1907 Topographic map detail, Plymouth, Washington, and Umatilla, Oregon. Includes Umatilla and the Umatilla River, Oregon, and Plymouth and Sillusi Butte, Washington, along with the Columbia River and the "Devils Bend Rapids" and "Umatilla Rapids". Original map 1:125,000 "Umatilla Quadrangle", Washington-Oregon, U.S. Geological Survey, 1908 edition.

Umatilla in 1940 ...
From the Oregon State Archives "A 1940 Journey Across Oregon":

"... UMATILLA, 0.9 m. (294 alt., 345 pop.), at the confluence of the Umatilla and Columbia Rivers, was founded in 1863 under the name of Umatilla Landing as a shipping point for the Powder River and Idaho mines during the rush to the gold fields. In June, 1863, its buildings numbered 53, thirteen of which had been erected in four days. The Oregonian for June 24, 1863, reported: "Very little regard is paid to the pretended title of the proprietor, Mr. Lurchin, as any one who wishes a lot just naturally jumps it." As a result the town boasted over 100 substantial buildings within six months after its founding. Twenty-five stores supplied the needs of citizens, packers, and stampeders, and two large hotels accommodated the traveling public. Wild eyed mule skinners and gents with gold in their pokes and a hankering for whiskey roared through the streets, and freight wagons, stage coaches, and pack trains clattered in from the dusty trails.

When Umatilla County was formed in 1862 Marshall Station, forty miles up the Umatilla River, was designated the county seat, but the seat was moved to Umatilla Landing in 1865, where it remained until 1868 when it was removed to Pendleton. In the years that followed Umatilla became the shipping point for large cargoes of grain from the eastern Oregon fields, but the Oregon Railway and Navigation line, constructed in the early eighties, diverted traffic and the town declined in importance as a port. ..."

Umatilla, etc.

  • Umatilla Army Chemical Depot ...
  • Umatilla Ferries ...
  • Umatilla Rapids ...
  • Umatilla River ...
  • "Umatilla Site" ...
  • Views from Umatilla ...

Umatilla Army Chemical Depot ...
The U.S. Army's Umatilla Depot opened in 1941 as a location to store and maintain a variety of military items, from blankets to ammunition. The depot began storing chemical weapons between 1962 and 1969, ending up with about 12% of the Nation's chemical weapons. From 1990 to 1994 the facility reorganized in preparation for eventual closure, shipping all conventional ammunition and supplies to other installations, leaving the chemical weapons stored in earth-covered bunkers. Destruction of these chemical weapons is now in progress, and is expected to be complete by 2009.

Image, 2005, Umatilla Army Depot, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Chemical Bunkers, Umatilla Army Depot, Umatilla, Oregon. View from driving Interstate 84. Image taken September 30, 2005.

Umatilla Ferries ...
The new Interstate bridge between Umatilla, Oregon, and Plymouth, Washington, completed in 1955, replaced two privately-owned ferries -- one between Umatilla and Plymouth, Washington, and the other between Umatilla and Paterson, Washington.

July 14, 1908:
J.B. Switzler and James Acheson Start New Enterprise.

"A special correspondent now touring Umatilla county for the Oregon Daily Journal, says of the new ferry at Umatilla:

Owing to the enterprise of J.B. Switzler, and old-time Oregonian, and James Atcheson, both of Umatilla, a new ferry has been established between that place and Plymouth, on the north bank of the Columbia River. The boat is the join product of their ingenuity and labor and is capable of transporting from 50 to 60 head of horses or cattle at a single trip.

Through this new means of transportation the rapidly growing Yakima and Umatilla districts are brought into convenient relations and as a result the owners are congratulating themselves upon its completion and the fact that it is at last in actual operation.

In dimensions the new craft is 58 1/2 feet in length over all, with a beam of 14 feet. It carries a 20 horsepower gasoline engine and its constrtion cost the owners in the neighborhood of $3000. ...

Source:    "East Oregonian", July 14, 1908, courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2016.

March 28, 1920:
Umatilla Ferry Kept Busy.

"UMATILLA, Or., March 29. -- (Special.) -- The Columbia ferry, under new management, is making train connections on schedule time and giving excellent service. Summer travel on the highway has begun in earnest and the boat does a thriving business in linking the two states together."

Source:    "The Sunday Oregonian", March 28, 1920, courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2016.

May 15, 1921:
"Pasco and Kennewick people are advising motorists and auto tourists who are bound for Portland to take the road from Kennewick over the Horse Heaven hills to Plymouth, on the bank of the Columbia, ferry to Umatilla, and come to Portland over the Columbia river highway. In order that we might have first hand information on this road we made the return trip this way. This was a sad mistake, for while the distance is about 20 miles less, the road is in such bad shape that the longer route is preferred. Also the ferry at Plymouth is an uncertain quantity, with ferry approaches on both sides difficult to negotiate, and with the Columbia running such a current that you feel like taking out extra insurance before making the tirp. All in all it is no trip for a motor tourist, and those making the trip either from here eastward or from Kennewick or some other point in that vicinity to Portland are advised to go via Goldendale, crossing the Columbia at The Dalles."

Source:    "The Sunday Oregonian", May 15, 1921, courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2016.

Umatilla Ferry
Umatilla Ore., to Plymouth, Wash.

Saving 80 miles between Spokane, Washington, and Portland, Oregon.

-- 12-Car Capicity --

Continuous Day and Night Service

From Daylight to Dark, Car and Passengers ... $1.00
From Dark to 9 P.M., Car and Passengers ... $1.50
From 9 P.M. to Daylight ... $2.00

W.H. Switzler,

Source:    Advertisment in "The Oregon Motorist", January 1931, vol.XI, no.4.

September 1952:
"The privately owned ferry at Umatilla [to Plymouth] carried 178,576 vehicles in 1951. The high number of vehicles was due to the closure of U.S. Highway No. 730 above McNary Dam. The equipment for the ferry consisted of two unpowered steel barges that were propelled by light tug boats, the first with a capcity for 14 passenger autos, the second with a capacity for 11 passenger autos. The Paterson ferry on the Washington shore was also privately owned, and carried 146,498 vehicles in 1951. The equipment for this ferry consisted of three unpowered barges, propelled by light tug boats, with capacities for 8 and 12 passenger autos. Both ferries operated without a schedule according to traffic needs. The crossing time was about five minutes with a ten minute average wait. Both ferries went out of business when the Umatilla Bridge was built."

Source:    "Adapted from Report on A Proposed Highway Bridge Across the Columbia River At Umatilla, Oregon for Umatilla County, Oregon, Benton County, Washington, Oregon Highway Commission, Washington Toll Bridge Authority, September 1952. ...", Center for Columbia River History website, 2005.

Umatilla Rapids ...
The Umatilla Rapids, now the location of the McNary Dam, are located along the Columbia River near today's Umatilla and Umatilla River.

Image, 2004, McNary Dam and Umatilla Rapids, from overlook, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
McNary Dam and the location of the Umatilla Rapids. View from Dam overlook, Oregon, Highway 730, approximate location of the downstream end of the Umatilla Rapids, Lewis and Clark's "Muscle Shell Rapid". Image taken September 24, 2004.

Umatilla River ...
Three miles downstream of Umatilla lies the mouth of the Umatilla River.

Image, 2003, Umatilla River looking towards the Columbia River, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Umatilla River, Oregon, looking towards mouth. Umatilla River, looking downstream towards its confluence with the Columbia River, as seen from the Highway 730 bridge crossing the Umatilla. Image taken September 29, 2003.
Image, 2006, Umatilla River, Oregon, looking upstream, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Umatilla River, Oregon, at Interstate 82. View from Umatilla River Road, looking downstream. Image taken September 29, 2006.

"Umatilla Site" ...
In 1981 the "Umatilla Site" (Site #81000522), also known as "Umatilla Landing", "Old Umatilla", and "35UM1", was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Views from Umatilla ...
Good views of Sillusi Butte and the McNary Dam can be had from an overlook just east of Umatilla, Oregon.

Image, 2003, Columbia River, Sillusi Butte, Washington, and Interstate 82/395, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Columbia River, Sillusi Butte, Washington, and Interstate 82/395 Bridge. Sillusi Butte and the Interstate 82/395 Bridge crossing the Columbia River, as seen from Umatilla, Oregon. Image taken September 26, 2003.
Image, 2004, McNary Dam from overlook, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
McNary Dam. McNary Dam spanning the Columbia River from just upstream Umatilla, Oregon, to upstream Plymouth, Washington. Image taken from Dam overlook, Oregon, off of Highway-730. Sillusi Butte is the high point visible on the Washington State side of the dam. Image taken September 24, 2004.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, October 19, 1805 ...

Clark, April 26, 1806 ...
This morning early we proceeded on [from their campsite at Alder Creek, Washington] and at the distance of three miles entered a low leavel plain Country of great extent.   :  here the river hills are low and receed a great distance from the river this low Country Comenced on the South Side about 10 miles below our Encampment of the last night [Alder Creek], those plains are Covered with a variety of herbatious plants, Grass and 3 Species of Shrubs.     at the distance of 12 miles halted near Some willows which afforded us a Sufficient quantity of fuel to cook our dinner which Consisted of the ballance of the dogs we had purchased yesterday evening and Some jerked Elk....     the roads dusty ...    after dinner we Continued our march through a leavel plain near the river 16 miles and encamped [near Plymouth, Washington, across from the mouth of the Umatilla River] about a mile below 3 Lodges of the fritened band of the Wallah wallah nation, and about 7 miles above our encampment of the 19th of Octr. last. [near Irrigon, Oregon] ...     made 28 miles

Columbia PlateauReturn to

*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

  • Center for Columbia River History website, 2005;
  • Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority website, 2004;
  • Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2016, 2019;
  • McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L., 2003, "Oregon Geographic Names", Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland;
  • National Register of Historical Places website, 2005;
  • Oregon State Archives website, 2006;
  • Umatilla Chamber of Commerce website, 2007;
  • U.S. Army website, 2005;
  • U.S. Bureau of Land Management website, 2007;
  • U.S. Library of Congress "American Memories" website, 2004;
  • Walla Walla County Emergency Management Department website, 2005;
  • Washington State Historical Society website, 2004, "Lasting Legacy";
  • Washington State University website, 2005, "Early Washington Maps: A Digital Collection";

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.
February 2013