The Long Narrows
The Forgotten Geographic and Cultural Wonder.
Pat is a descendant of the Long Narrows Wascos.
at right: Pat's ancestors. Her grandparents stand at each
end, bracketing the children. Pat's mother is the little girl
standing on the chair.
For more than 12,000 years, the Columbia River People lived along
the Wauna (Columbia River). Upriver approximately 15 miles from
The Dalles area is the ghost of Celilo Falls. The area from the
Dalles upriver for approximately 8 miles was a geographical area
called The Narrows and sometimes five mile rapids.
The basalt rock formation in this area, forced the mighty Columbia
River to turn on its side to roar and churn through
the basalt channel. Wauna was about one thousand feet wide then
forced into a channel approximately 60 yards wide. The eddies along
this area, called the Narrows, was a popular fishing place. There
were more fisherpeople here lined up almost shoulder to shoulder,
than at Celilo Falls. As a result, The Narrows was the center of
commerce, the trading of processed salmon, the gold
of all trade items.
In 1957, The Dalles Dam flooded these traditional homelands of the
Columbia River People. Both Celilo Falls and The Narrows sustained
the People and the Salmon, and the dam devastated the salmon, and
obliterated forever the Native lifestyle, and the beautiful unique
basalt rock formations along the Columbia River.
Much is known about Celilo Falls, but perhaps the greater fishing
sites, and the largest Trade Market existed along the Narrows. Historically,
The Narrows attracted more fishing people than Celilo, and the many
tons of salmon that were caught were traded in this area.
Geology of the Narrows
Geographically, the Narrows was a spectacular sight, where the stretch
of basalt rock, with its rough, twisty texture channeled the Columbia
River into a narrow swift flowing river. The Long Narrows,
where the Columbia River turned on its side, was one of the best
fishing sites. Countless salmon filled the eddies around these constrictures.
The entrance to the Narrows was estimated to be 60 yards wide.
The geological history of the Narrows is a dramatic one. Fifteen
million years ago, there were many volcanoes, floods, and lava flow
in the Eastern Oregon area, including The Dalles area. Huge lava
flows erupted from large fissures over this area. One of the
biggest flows contains about seven times the volume of Mt. Rainier.
These rivers of lava, the hot basalt liquid, occurred intermittently
throughout millions of years from 15 to 12 million years ago. Layers
of basalt were deposited, and layers can be seen in areas around
the Gorge. The Narrows were about 95% basalt rock, with areas of
smooth, swirly lava formations. The Wascos, who lived in this area,
had Coyote legends about the lava formations.
Coyote is part god, human, clown, teacher, and buffoon.
Long time ago, Coyote was walking along the south side of Wauna,
when he spotted some motion ahead of him. His curiosity got the
best of him, and he quickly ran to see what was going on. Badger
was dip netting and growling at his bad luck. Coyote watched and
commented on Badgers technique, which angered the bad tempered
Badger. Mind your own business, Coyote, snarled Badger.
But, minding other peoples business IS Coyotes business.
Get Lost, Coyote, said Badger, as he moved to a new
fishing site. Coyote followed, much to Badgers annoyance.
Badger quickly lost his temper, and snapping and snarling attacked
Coyote. Coyote is nimble, and quickly maneuvered out of Badgers
way. Badgers claws left deep scars in the rocks. This sparring
went on, up the Wauna, and Coyote started tiring. Badger swung his
huge claws at Coyote, who tried to jump out of his reach, but was
tired and too slow. Badgers huge curved claws caught Coyotes
stomach, ripping it and exposing Coyotes intestines. The two continued
their battle, as they moved up and down Wauna. Eventually, they
both tired. Coyote resumed his walk up the river, leaving Badger
to resume his fishing and grumbling.
Up to the day before the damns, you could see coyotes entrails
zigging an zagging along Wauna with Badgers claw scars
in the rocks. That is the Wasco story of the lava formation near
The 12,000 year History of The Columbia River People.
The Columbia River People lived here for more than twelve thousand
years. Along the Washington side of Wauna, was the nations
longest continuously occupied village site. Wakemap Mound (Horse
Thief Lake) has an approximate two thousand year history. Petroglyphs
and rock art are plentiful. The Wasco and Wishram People call this
Across the river was a similar mound, named the Road Cut Site
because highway, railroad, and canal engineers got there before
archaeologists. Dr. Cressman excavated this stratified mound, used
C-14 dating, the site was continuously occupied for more than ten
thousand years. Native People probably lived near the Long Narrows
even earlier, but the most recent deluge would have removed earlier
artifactsalong with their makers. The Wasco People called
this place Winquat.
Radio-carbon dating indicates that Indians were living at
the head of Long Narrows probably 11,000 years ago
a knife made from basalt, washed by the river and rolled in the
This Long Narrows region was a major commerce site; it reflects
a rich civilization. Trails radiated from here in all directions,
and up and down the Wauna.
The lifestyles of the People included salmon fishing and commerce.
There were two major trade Markets in this area: Nixluidix, a Wishram
town located on the north side of Wauna, near what is now Horse
Thief Park. The southern Market on the south of Wauna was Winquat,
a Wasco town. The Wasco fishing village, Wacuqs, is nearby,
and continues to be used as a fishing sight. These Markets were
the Financial Center of this area, and the Chinookan
Wasco Nations were very wealthy.
Fishing was very important to the Columbia River Nations who gathered
at Celilo and the Narrows to harvest the plentiful salmon. This
was a mainstay of the Native way of life. Sacred ceremonies were
held honoring the salmon that were so important to the Native Cultures.
The River was like interstate highway, I-84, for canoe travel. Thousands
of People came to Trade at these locations during the Spring and
Fall Chinook runs. This was the perfect location for salmon trade
due to the dry east winds. To preserve the salmon, it was filleted
and hung on scaffolds to dry. It dried in approximately 3 days.
It was then pounded into a coarse powder, and pressed into baskets,
lined with cured salmon skin, to be stored for family uses or for
trade. The wealth of these Markets was the powdered salmon, killuk
in Kiksht language The pounding forced the air out of the salmon,
and the killuk could be stored for up to 1 year. This was a concentrated
protein. Many Native people traveled hundreds of miles for this
food that could be a staple in their diet for the many months to
come. Many trade items were standardized; the baskets
used for trade were of two sizes: a quart size, and a gallon size.
Lewis and Clark recorded the baskets of dried salmon in 1805:
Packages are then made, each containing twelve of these bales
(baskets), seven at bottom, five at top, pressed close to each other,
with the corded side upward, wrapped in mats and corded. Each basket
weighing approximately 90 pounds.
These Markets were more than an economic gathering. The People
came together for social Gatherings, families came and were united,
dancing and songs were shared, young people found prospective partners,
gambling games continued during the nights. This area was one of
the major communication center, where these cultures shared stories,
ideas, and politics.
Articles that were used in trade included: from downriver, smoked
clams and mussels, dried sea vegetables, whale and cedar items,
dentalia and other shells, beads, canoes, plaited cedar baskets,
and after the Voyageurs arrived, Hudson Bay blankets; from the south,
twined baskets, obsidian, wocas (water lily seed), Indian tobacco,
and slaves; from the Plateau and further east were animal hides,
robes, clothing, dried buffalo and elk meat, dried kouse, pipestone,
feathers, and after the mid 1700s, horses and plains-style garments.
Nez Perce and other eastern Plateau Tribes traveled to the Missouri
Trade route to trade items from the Columbia River Trade sites to
the mid-western Tribes.
The canyon near Nixluidix (now Horse Thief Lake / Columbia Hills
Park) was filled with hundreds of petroglyphs and pictographs, images
created by Native People for thousands of years. Some may have been
created the visitors to the Trade Markets, but most were undoubtedly
created by the local Wishram and Wasco people. Some images recorded
figures in their immediate environment: people, mountain sheep,
birds, and water beings. When my Mother was a child,
she and her friends used to race up and down the canyon, looking
at the petroglyphs, and amazed that Tsagagalal* watched them as
they ran past Spedis Owl, Mountain Goat image, and Tchik-i-un,
or river monster. Unfortunately for all of us, The Dalles Dam flooded
and buried thousands and thousands art pieces forever, including
those on the basalt cliffs lining the Columbia river.
In 1855 The Wasco and Wishram Nations signed a Treaty with the
US Government, and were forced away from the Narrows to Reservations.
The Wascos were moved to the Warm Springs Reservation in the arid
central Oregon. The Wishram were forced to the Yakama Reservation
in the semi-arid region of central Washington. This change was tramatic
to be moved from the wealthy status along the Wauna, to the arid
regions to become farmers and Christians.
Fortunately, our leaders saw to it that in the Treaty, we reserved
the right to fish in usual and accustomed fishing sites. Our
People went back to Wauna when the salmon were running, and at other
times for social gatherings.
Wacuqs, Family Village
Our history defines who we are. For generations and generations,
my ancestors lived at the ancient fishing site, Wac-uqs, near the
Long Narrows. Remnants of this site can still be seen near the Shilo
Inn at The Dalles, OR. My Mother tells me stories of the family
fishing at The Narrows. When she was a child, about 7 years old,
her granddad caught a large sturgeon. It was so huge that its head
was the same size as her! Granddad had to hitch up the 2-horse team
to the wagon, and pull the sturgeon up onto the wagon, to take it
to market. My Dad told of a story when he was fishing with an Uncle
near the Narrows. It was just after the Spring run-off, when the
Wauna was at its fullest height. As they took the boat upriver to
fish, they passed a small basalt rock island, where a small rabbit
was hopping around a washed up shrub. Dad was worried about the
rabbits future, but Uncle said the flood waters would go down
soon, and the rabbit then could reach the shore.
Wacuqs was built on basalt rocks, and Aunts house was
built on a basalt bluff. After the Chinook salmon were caught, Aunt
and Mom would clean and butcher the salmon. The kitchen window was
open, overlooking the bluff and Wauna. They would toss the entrails
out the window and before the entrails would land in the sand (or
river), the seagulls or otters would rescue it for their meals.
Even though our family lived at Warm Springs (central Oregon),
during fishing season, we would drive to Wacuqs. If it was
Spring and the Wauna was at flood stage, Wacuqs was surrounded
by water and Uncle Joe would have to come in his boat, to take us
to their House. In the summer and fall, when Wauna was at low
tide, Dad could drive up the rocky road to the house.
In March, 1957, when The Dalles dam was built, it destroyed the
Narrows and our fishing sites. For years afterwards, my mother would
not go to Wacuqs or The Dalles. Her pleasant memories of her
childhood, and of the exciting family gatherings and fishing events
were also lost forever. This was also a great loss to the history
of Oregon, as well.
Construction of The Dalles dam put a priority of study on the archaeologists,
to excavate the Wasco land around the Narrows. The specimens
collected indicate that human use of the Roadcut Site was more or
less continuous throughout the last ten millennia, though the intensity
of occupation may have varied over time. The record for the last
2500 years was quite rich, with artistic and craft items added to
the inventory of utilitarian specimens. Small stone sculptures,
mortars and pestles with carved ornamental designs, carved bone,
nicely shaped charm stones, and ornamental beads of bone and stone,
together illustrated growing social and ceremonial concerns during
the later occupation.
Today, we are keeping our culture alive. We travel from the Reservation
back to Wauna to fish in our usual and accustomed fishing sites.
We still process salmon, some continuing the traditions of drying
salmon, some making the Killuk, and some using the modern method
of pressure canning salmon. We visit the few petroglyphs that have
been rescued and are now on display at the site of Nixluidix.
My family carries on our fishing traditions at our ancient family
village, Wacuqs, where our ancestors lived and fished for
generations. Though the fishing is not as good as it used to be,
we still travel from the Warm Springs Reservation to fish during
the Spring and Fall Chinook runs. Some of the Elders still recall
fishing at The Narrows, and share their memories. Soon, these Elder
will pass on, and the Memories of the Narrows will be forgotten.
How will the next generation evolve and continue our traditions?
The elders have preserved our language, our legends and stories,
and many of our cultural traditions, such as basketry, fish net
making, dances, songs, and regalia. Some artists are doing contemporary
art, using traditional techniques with modern technology to interpret
our culture (clay work, bronze, new weaving materials, filmmaking,
Like many cultures, our future is with the next generation. We must
continue handing down our traditions. The Narrows has been an important
part of our history, and we can carry the importance of the Narrows
in our stories, through Elders, parents, and our Museum.
Archaeology of Oregon, Bureau of Land Management
Portland, OR reprint 1993
Bishop, Ellen Morris
In Search of Ancient Oregon
Timber Press, Portland, OR 2003
The Sandal and the Cave
Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, OR, reprint 1981
Scenic Geology of the Pacific Northwest
Binfords & Mort, Portland, OR 1965
Bridge of the Gods, Mountain of Fire,
Friends of the Earth, New York and San Francisco, CA;
Elephant Mountain Arts, White Salmon, WA and Petaluma, CA. 1980
Restless Northwest, A Geological Story,
Washington State University Press, Pullman, WA. 2002
For Historical Photographs of the Columbia River thanks to:
Oregon Historical Society,
Washington State Historical Society