Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Willamette Falls, Oregon"
Includes ... Willamette Falls ... Willamette Falls Locks ... Oregon City ... West Linn ... End of the Oregon Trail ... National Register of Historic Places ...
Image, 2006, Willamette Falls and Mount Hood, click to enlarge
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Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon, with Mount Hood. Image taken February 19, 2006.


Willamette Falls ...
The Willamette Falls, at Willamette River Mile (RM) 27, are located in Oregon City, Oregon, where the Willamette River spills about 40 feet over horseshoe-shaped basalt ridge. Lewis and Clark make many references to the "falls of the Multnomah" and the Indian tribe which lived there. The falls were a major salmon fishing location. Later the falls furnished the power for a lumber mill (1842), a flour mill (1844), a woolen mill (1864), and the first paper mill in the Pacific Northwest (1867). The first long-distance commercial electric power transmission in the United States went from Willamette Falls to the City of Portland in 1889. In 1873, the Willamette Falls Locks were opened when the steamer Maria Wilkins became the first vessel to navigate up the west end of the falls.

Coyote Builds Willamette Falls ...
"Coyote came to a place near Oregon City and found the people there very hungry. The river was full of salmon, but they had no way to spear them in the deep water. Coyote decided he would build a big waterfall, so that the salmon would come to the surface for spearing. Then he would build a fish trap there too. First he tried at the mouth of Pudding River, but it was no good, and all he made was a gravel bar there. So he went on down the river to Rock Island, and it was better, but after making the rapids there he gave up again and went farther down still. Where the Willamette Falls are now, he found just the right place, and he made the Falls high and wide. All the Indians came and began to fish."

Source:   U.S. Forst Service, Gifford Pinchot website, 2006, a Clackamas Chinook legend.

Lewis and Clark and Willamette Falls ...
While Lewis and Clark never saw Willamette Falls, they were aware of its existence from information provided by visiting natives who arrived at camp.

"... about this time several canoes of the natives arrived at our camp and among others one from below which had on board eight men of the Shah-ha-la nation these men informed us that 2 young men whom they pointed out were Cash-hooks and resided at the falls of a large river which discharges itself into the Columbia on it's South side some miles below us. ..." [Clark. April 2, 1806]

"... I provailed on an old man to draw me a Sketch of the Multnomar River ang give me the names of the nations resideing on it which he readily done, ...   and gave me the names of 4 nations who reside on this river two of them very noumerous.    The first is Clark a-mus nation reside on a Small river which takes its rise in Mount Jefferson and falls into the Moltnomar about 40 miles up.    this nation is noumerous and inhabit 11 Towns.    the 2d is the Cush-hooks who reside on the N E. Side below the falls, the 3rd is the Char-cowah who reside above the Falls on the S W. Side    neether of those two are noumerous.    The fourth Nation is the Cal-lar-po-e-wah which is very noumerous & inhabit the Country on each Side of the Multnomar from its falls as far up as the knowledge of those people extend. they inform me also that a high mountain passes the Multnomar at the falls, and above the Country is an open plain of great extent. ..." [Clark, April 3, 1806]

The "Small river which takes its rise in Mount Jefferson" is the Clackamas River which merges with the Willamette at Willamette River Mile 25. It was home to the "Clark a-mus nation".


Views ...

Image, 2006, Willamette Falls, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon. Image taken February 19, 2006.
Image, 2006, Willamette Falls, click to enlarge
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Below Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon. Image taken February 19, 2006.
Image, 2006, Sign, Oregon History, Willamette Falls, click to enlarge
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Willamette Falls, "Oregon History" sign. Image taken February 19, 2006.
Image, 2006, Rainbow, Willamette Falls, click to enlarge
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Rainbows, Willamette Falls, Oregon. Image taken February 19, 2006.


Willamette Falls, etc.

  • 1858 "Coast Pilot" ...
  • Oregon City and the "End of the Oregon Trail" ...
  • Willamette Falls Locks ...
  • Willamette River ...


1858 "Coast Pilot" ...
From the 1858 "Report, The Superintendant of the Coast Survey Showing the Progress of the Survey During the Year 1858", U.S. Senate:

"... From the Cowlitz the next course of the Columbia is SE. 2/3 S. for 27 miles to the mouth of the Willamette river (A corruption of the Indian name. This stream is the Multnomah of Lewis and Clark.) about 16 miles above the Cowlitz. The Warrior branch or slough of the river makes in from the west side and runs around Multnomah island, coming into the Willamette two miles above its mouth. The Willamette continues the same general course of the Columbia for 16 miles to the falls, where is situated the town of "Oregon City," destined to become a place of importance, on account of the extensive water power; the river there falling perpendicularly 38 or 40 feet. Six miles lower down on the Willamette is the rapidly improving town of Portland, situated at the head of ship navigation, with a population of nearly 5,000. The valley of the Willamette is well settled, contains several thriving towns, and is remarkably productive. The course of the river is southward, gradually approaching the coast within 25 miles, in the latitude of Cape Perpetua. In latitude 44o it runs eastward to the base of the Cascade range, which rises between the snow peaks of Mount Jefferson and Mount McLaughlin. ..."

The "Warrior branch or slough of the river" is the Multnomah Channel and "Multnomah island" is today's Sauvie Island.



Oregon City and the "End of the Oregon Trail" ...
Oregon City, Oregon, located at the Willamette Falls at Willamette River Mile (RM) 26, was incorporated in 1845, making it the oldest American city west of the Rocky Mountains. The townsite was laid out and named in 1842 by Dr. John McLaughlin, the same Dr. John McLaughlin who was chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver. In 1829 Dr. McLaughlin took up a land claim on property next to the Willamette Falls. Oregon City was the end of the Barlow Road and the "Oregon Trail".
[More]

Image, 2011, End of the Oregon Trail, Canby, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Sign, "End of the Oregon Trail", Canby, Oregon. Image taken October 22, 2011.
Image, 2011, End of the Oregon Trail, Canby, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Structure, "End of the Oregon Trail", Canby, Oregon. Image taken October 22, 2011.


Willamette Falls Locks ...
The locks at Willamette Falls were built in the early 1870s and have been in continuous use since January 1, 1873. The locks hold the distinction of being the first multi-lift navigation locks built in the United States. Total length of the locks is 3,565 feet and the usable width is 37 feet, with total lift being a little over 50 feet. The locks can handle a vessel up to 175 feet long. The lock chambers are made from locally-quarried stones ranging in size from 5 feet to 15 feet high. The lock walls have remained watertight for more than 130 years. The original lockmaster's office has been converted into a museum, and displays photographs of the historic locks. In 1974 the Willamette Falls Locks were placed on the National Register of Historic Places (Structure #74001680) for transportation.
[More]

Image, 2006, Willamette Falls Locks, click to enlarge
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Willamette Falls Locks, West Linn, Oregon, looking downstream. Image taken February 19, 2006.
Image, 2004, Sign, Oregon History, Willamette Falls Locks, click to enlarge
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Willamette Falls Locks, "Oregon History" sign. Image taken February 15, 2004.


Willamette River ...
The Willamette River Basin is approximately 180 miles long and 100 miles wide and covers 11,500 square miles (12 percent of the state of Oregon). Willamette Falls enters the Willamette River at River Mile 27. Willamette River enters the Columbia River at Columbia River Mile 101.
[More]

Image, 2006, Willamette River upstream from Willamette Falls, click to enlarge
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Willamette River looking upstream from Willamette Falls, Oregon. Image taken February 19, 2006.



"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. Today the Penny Postcard has become a snapshot of history.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, April 2, 1806 ...


Whitehouse, April 2, 1806 ...





Clark, April 3, 1806 ...




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*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:
  • End of the Oregon Trail website, 2004;
  • McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L., 2003, Oregon Geographic Names, Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland;
  • National Register of Historic Places website, 2005;
  • "Oregoncity.com" website, 2006;
  • Oregon State Department of Transportation website, 2006;
  • State of Oregon History Signs, 2004, Willamette Falls Overlook off of Interstate-205;
  • Tompkins, J., 2006, Oregon City, Images of America, Arcadia Publishing, San Francisco;
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2004;
  • U.S. Forest Service Gifford Pinchot National Forest website, 2006;


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/willamette_falls.html
April 2013