Pat Courtney Gold - Native American Fiber Artist and Basket Weaver
Artist Biography

Weavings with Plant Fibers

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Wasco History
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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 Badger’s technique, which angered the bad tempered Badger. “Mind your own business, Coyote,” snarled Badger. But, minding other people’s business IS Coyote’s business. “Get Lost, Coyote”, said Badger, as he moved to a new fishing site. Coyote followed, much to Badger’s annoyance. Badger quickly lost his temper, and snapping and snarling attacked Coyote. Coyote is nimble, and quickly maneuvered out of Badger’s way. Badger’s 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. Badger’s huge curved claws caught Coyote’s 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 coyote’s entrails zigging an zagging along Wauna with Badgers claw “scars” in the rocks. That is the Wasco story of the lava formation near the Narrows.

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 place Nixluidix.
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 artifacts—along with their makers. The Wasco People called this place Win’quat.

“Radio-carbon dating indicates that Indians were living at the head of Long Narrows probably 11,000 years ago…..I found a knife made from basalt, washed by the river and rolled in the gravel.”

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, Wac’uqs, 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.

Wac’uqs, 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 rabbit’s future, but Uncle said the flood waters would go down soon, and the rabbit then could reach the shore.

Wac’uqs was built on basalt rocks, and Aunt’s 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 Wac’uqs. If it was Spring and the Wauna was at flood stage, Wac’uqs 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 Wac’uqs 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.”

21st Century
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, Wac’uqs, 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, etc)

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.


Aikens, C.Melvin
Archaeology of Oregon, Bureau of Land Management
Portland, OR reprint 1993

Bishop, Ellen Morris
In Search of Ancient Oregon
Timber Press, Portland, OR 2003

Cressma;n, L.S.
The Sandal and the Cave
Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, OR, reprint 1981

Ekman, Leonard
Scenic Geology of the Pacific Northwest
Binfords & Mort, Portland, OR 1965

Williams, Chuck
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

Williams, Hill
Restless Northwest, A Geological Story,
Washington State University Press, Pullman, WA. 2002

For Historical Photographs of the Columbia River thanks to:
Oregon Historical Society,
Portland, OR

Washington State Historical Society
Olympia, WA