Cowlitz people

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
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 culturally and linguistically 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 tribe was unique among other tribes of Western Washington and Oregon in that they did not typically have access to saltwater or the coast and the Columbia river's resources were of little use to the tribe. Salmon was important to their diet, but not as much as compared to other tribes; as they were accomplished hunters who relied on harvesting roots as diet supplements, and utilizing horses for multiple purposes.

The Cowlitz tribe completed a yearly cycle where they inhabited locations during certain seasons and harvested seasonal crops, in preparation for cold winter months. The season started in spring, when the Cowlitzes left their cedar houses along the river and streams by traveling via canoe and horseback to harvest cama bulbs, roots, barks, and grasses to make mats, fish nets, and basketry. Followed by the arrival of summer, where they would move into the higher country to pick and harvest seasonal berries. Lastly, followed by the return to Fall, where the Cowlitzes would return to their cedar homes along the river to harvest Salmon, for the upcoming season. Generally, hunting and fishing were practiced all year round, but only roots and fruits had to be harvested seasonally.[14]

The Cowlitz, like the Chinookian tribes, practiced the custom of flattening of the head; signifying the mark of freedom and an intellect similar to that of round-head Indian tribes. Indian Mothers typically practice head flattening on newborn infants until they reach eight to twelve months old; when the head has lost its original shape. The process is completed by placing a child onto a wooden board, usually covered with moss or loose fibers of cedar bark, then placing a pad between a piece of smooth bark, strapped on through the holes with leather bands, creating great pressure on the forehead. The result creates a wedge in between the skull, with the front of the skull flat and the skull risen at the crown. These practices were not seen as harmful to the mothers and their children; in fact, some children would cry until they were placed back into the head flattening device.[15]

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 tall in height and structure standing at six feet two inches; as straight as an arrow.[16] 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 Prairie where they bore four children: Sophie, Simon, Jr., Theresa, and Marianne. It is rumored that Plamondon was married many different times and very young; boring close to a total of nearly 100 descendants.[16] 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.[17]

First to implement religious practices, outside of Native spirituality, was Herbert Beaver, an Angelican Christian, who settled with his wife at Fort Vancouver in 1836. The couple set their sights on the Cowlitz tribe, only 50 miles southeast of Fort Vancouver, but growing tensions with John McLoughlin, the head at Fort Vancouver, prevented the couple from having any influence over the tribe; implementing their practices was with great difficulty.[18] When intermittent fever broke out, Beaver was responsible for vaccinating nearly 120 Lewis River Cowlitzes.[19] After conflicts arose with McLoughlin, Beaver and his wife headed home to London in 1838, to continue on their work.[18]

Later that same year in December 1838, Catholic Missionaries began to visit the Cowlitz tribe, including François N. Blanchet, a Roman Catholic Priest, who arrived near Toledo, Washington and established St. Francis Xavier Mission.[19] A once optimistic priest, became discouraged when the Cowlitz tribe did not fully immerse themselves into Catholicism, and instead held onto sediments of Native spirituality. As a response, a replacement, Father Modeste Demers, continued on with Catholic teachings and baptizing, but he continued to remain just as pessimistic as his past predecessor did.[18] 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."[20]

With the arrival of American settlers and conflicts arising over claims to land, the 1846 Oregon treaty gave the US government power back over once owned British lands of the Hudson's Bay Company. With British influence and French-Canadian fur trappers out of the picture, newly appointed Washington governor, Isaac Stevens, drafted four main treaty negotiations including Point Elliot, Point No Point, Neah Bay and Medicine Creek. The Chehalis River Treaty, which included the Cowlitz tribe, was the last negotiation for Isaac Stevens, and as a result his refusal to listen to the tribe leader's negotiations and concerns led to the document being unsigned. The Cowlitz Indians, not coming to a negotiation assumed all previous rights to their land, and assumed Isaac Stevens would return for further negotiations, but he actually did not. Fever struck the Cowlitz people during this time, and after the return of Steven's assistant, George Gibbs, he had determined that, "the Cowlitz, a once numerous and powerful tribe, are now insignificant and fast disappearing." As a consequence, this led to the Indian Wars of 1855–1856, directly after the treaties were signed, where the US army was called to settle disputes with Indian tribes. Although, the Cowlitz tribe had no involvement in the war and remained neutral, because of the US Government's promise of reservation lands if they remained peaceful. But after returning home, the Cowlitz tribe found their land destroyed and property stolen. The promise was long forgotten, just as the Cowlitz tribe, until federal recognition in 2000.[21]

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. ^ Cairns, Ed; Roe, Mícheál D., eds. (2003). The Role of Memory in Ethnic Conflict. doi:10.1057/9781403919823. ISBN 978-1-349-41240-2.
  15. ^ Kane, Paul (1971). Paul Kane's frontier : including Wanderings of an artist among the Indians of North America. Published for the Amon Carter Museum and the National Gallery of Canada by the University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0292701106. OCLC 701742143.
  16. ^ a b "Death of One of the 100 Descendants Of Trapper Who Married 19 Times". The Washington Post. April 9, 1916. ProQuest 145459202.
  17. ^ "The Spirit of the Cowlitz: Simon Plomondon". 2013-03-27. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  18. ^ a b c Rushforth, Brett (Fall 2002). ""The Great Spirit Was Grieved": Religion and Environment among the Cowlitz Indians". The Pacific Northwest Quarterly. 93 (4): 188–198. JSTOR 40492750.
  19. ^ a b Ruby, Robert H. (2014). Guide to the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 9780806140247. OCLC 1020653043.
  20. ^ Blanchet (1878) p. 73.
  21. ^ Wiggins, Eugene A. (September 2007). "That the People May Live: The Cowlitz Tribe's Journey of Peace and Justice". Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology. 1 (2): 44–53. doi:10.1375/prp.1.2.44. ISSN 1834-4909.
  22. ^ "Roblin Roll". National Archives. 2016-08-15. Retrieved 2018-07-27.
  23. ^ Washuta, Elissa (2013-06-09). "How Much Indian Was I?, My Fellow Students Asked". The Chronicle of Higher Education. ISSN 0009-5982. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  24. ^ "Elissa Washuta". Department of English. 2017-10-05. Retrieved 2019-04-14.

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]