Cowlitz people

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Traditional Cowlitz territory
Total population
over 2,000[1]
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( Washington)
English, Cowlitz[2]
traditional tribal religion
Related ethnic groups
Chehalis, Quinault[3]

The term Cowlitz people covers two cultural and by language distinct indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest; the Lower Cowlitz or Cowlitz proper, a southwestern Coast Salish people, which today are enrolled in the federally recognized tribes: Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Quinault Indian Nation,[4] and Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation; and the Upper Cowlitz / Cowlitz Klickitat or Taitnapam, a Northwest Sahaptin speaking people, part of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.

Their traditional homelands are in western Washington state in the United States.

Cowlitz tribal groups or bands[edit]

There is an ongoing dispute over the Cowlitz people, their history, territory, ancestry, ethnicity, and language; which is important for land claims and treaty negotiations with the U.S. government by Cowlitz descendants.[5]

Some scholars believe that they were originally divided into four multi-linguistic tribal bands, and generally spoke two different dialects of Salish, the common language of Western Washington and British Columbia native peoples, and one Sahaptin dialect. Not every band understood the specific dialect of another, however, and bridged the language barrier with an intertribal trade language called Chinook Jargon (See: "History of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe," by Roy I. Wilson, and Dr. Verne F. Ray, Indian Claims Conference, 1966 and 1974). Today, however, the majority is of the opinion that the tribal term "Cowlitz" is a regional collective designation applied by the Europeans to ethnically and linguistic different groups or bands of Indian peoples of the entire Cowlitz River Basin (Eugene Hunn: Anthropological Study of Yakama Tribe: Traditional Resource Harvest Sites West of the Crest of the Cascades Mountains in Washington State and below the Cascades of the Columbia River).

These are the four (or two) Cowlitz tribal groups or bands:


Like in the dispute over the original Cowlitz people there are although argument over the original language of Cowlitz tribes. The commonly called Cowlitz language or Sƛ̕púlmš is placed closer to Upper Chehalis language (than Lower Chehalis to Upper Chehalis) and belong to the Tsamosan (Olympic) branch of the Coast Salish family of Salishan languages and was spoken by the Lower Cowlitz / Cowlitz proper. There is dispute over the original language of the Upper Cowlitz and Lewis River Cowlitz bands - had they adopted the Sahaptin language from east of the Cascade Mountains, ceased to use their original, heritage language, and developed a separate Taitnapam / Upper Cowlitz / Lewis River dialect of Sahaptin or were they Sahaptin-speaking people from east of the Cascade Range and came to occupy the Upper Cowlitz River Basin by conquest and intermarriage?

Modeste Demers reported that the Cowlitz peoples were fluent in Chinook Jargon.[10]


The Cowlitz Indian Tribe were federally recognized on February 14, 2000, and their acknowledgement was reaffirmed in 2002. They are now recognized officially by the United States federal government, and are in the process of establishing federally recognized tribal lands (such as on a reservation) near Longview, Washington. The tribal offices are in Longview, Washington.

The Cowlitz political system evolved:[11]

from a strong system of chiefs, to an elective presidential system in the early 20th century; and a constitutional elective Tribal Council system after 1950. Chief How-How (c. 1815), Chief Kiscox (c. 1850), Chief Umtux (c. 1850), Chief Scanewa (c. 1855), Chief Richard Scanewa (c. 1860) and Chief Antoine Stockum [Atwin Stokum] (1878) led the Cowlitz in the 19th century. Twentieth century figures include Chief Baptiste Kiona (1912), President Dan Plamondon (1921), President John Ike Kinswa (1922), Chairman John B. Sareault (c. 1925), Chairman Jas. E. Sareault (c. 1930), Chairman Manual L. Forrest (1950), Chairman Joseph Cloquet (1959), Chairman Clifford Wilson (1961) and Chairman Roy Wilson (1974).[12]

The current Cowlitz Tribe Chief is William B. Iyall.[13]


The Cowlitz produced fully imbricated, coiled baskets with strong geometric designs. These were made of bear grass, cedar root, horse tail root and cedar bark and were used to gather berries and fruits. The pigments were made from very bright fruits and vegetables like beets or blackberries. Such baskets were often repaired and kept through many generations.


The Cowlitz tribe was historically based along the Cowlitz and Lewis Rivers, as well as having a strong presence at Fort Vancouver.

The first white man known to have contacted the Cowlitz was French-Canadian Simon Plamondon of Quebec. Simon was hired as a fur trapper for Fort Astoria at the age of sixteen. In 1818 while making his first trip up the Cowlitz, Simon was captured by Chief Scanewea, of lower Cowlitz. He was then asked to stay with Scanewa's tribe and to prove his loyalties through the exchange of goods for furs. Once he had gained the trust of the tribe, he was rewarded with the marriage of Chief Scanewea's daughter, Thas-e-muth. When Chief Scanewea passed, Plamondon inherited most of his land and settled down with his wife on the Cowlitz Praire where they bore four children: Sophie, Simon, Jr., Theresa, and Marianne. Plamondon was employed with The Hudson's Bay Company until 1837 and in 1838 oversaw the building of Cowlitz Farm under the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, the Hudson's Bay Company agricultural subsidiary.[14]

Several other French-Canadians settled near by Plamondon and also took up farming. Catholic missionaries began to visit the Cowlitz people in late 1838, with the St. Francis Xavier Mission eventually being built there. In December of that year, François N. Blanchet preached from Plamondon's residence to the farmers and several Cowlitz natives. After the priest left, the Cowlitzes reportedly told the French-Canadian farmers that "We want to do something for them, we will work, make fences, and whatever they wish us to do."[15]

Notable Cowlitz people[edit]


  1. ^ "Cowlitz Tribe." Center for World Indigenous Studies. Retrieved 29 Sept 2013.
  2. ^ "Cowlitz." Ethnologue. Retrieved 29 Sept 2013.
  3. ^ "Tsamosan." Ethnologue. Retrieved 29 Sept 2013.
  4. ^ "People of the Quinault." Quinault Indian Nation. Retrieved 24 Sept 2013.
  5. ^ "ALRA: Clark County Indians Were Not Cowlitz".
  6. ^ "The Spirit of the Cowlitz - Their Villages, Part 1". January 2, 2013.
  7. ^ "The Spirit of the Cowlitz: Their villages, part two". January 9, 2013.
  8. ^ a b The other version is: Intermarriage among the tribes was common. Yakama and Klickitat tribes on the eastern side of the Cascades spoke Sahaptin. Over time a new dialect of Sahaptin came into common use by the Upper Cowlitz tribe called Taidnapum — which eventually came into wide use by the Lewis River Cowlitz as well.
  9. ^ Wilson, Roy I. Rochon (2012-07-06). "The Long View: History of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe". The Chronicle. Centralia, WA. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
  10. ^ Blanchet, François N. Historical Sketches of the Catholic Church in Oregon. Portland: 1878. p. 59.
  11. ^ "The Spirit of the Cowlitz: Society and Politics, part 1". January 24, 2013.
  12. ^ "Cowlitz Tribe". Center for World Indigenous Studies. 1994–2013. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
  13. ^ "The Cowlitz Indian Tribe".
  14. ^ "The Spirit of the Cowlitz: Simon Plomondon". 2013-03-27. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  15. ^ Blanchet (1878) p. 73.
  16. ^ "Roblin Roll". National Archives. 2016-08-15. Retrieved 2018-07-27.

Further reading[edit]

  • Fitzpatrick, Darleen Ann. We Are Cowlitz: A Native American Ethnicity. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2004. ISBN 0-7618-2609-2.
  • Ray, Verne F. Handbook of Cowlitz Indians. Seattle: Northwest Copy Company, 1966.

External links[edit]