Tillamook people

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Nehalem (Tillamook)
Total population
50 (1990)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 United States (Oregon Oregon)
English, Tillamook
traditional beliefs
Related ethnic groups

The Nehalem or Tillamook are a Native American tribe from Oregon of the Salish linguistic group. The name "Tillamook" is a Chinook term meaning "people of Nekelim (or Nehalem)."[1]


According to anthropological and archaeological research, the first ancestors of the Tillamook settled in that area in the 15th century, living in an area ranging from Cape Lookout to Cape Meares.[2] NAHDB calculations estimate the population at about 2200 in at the beginning of the 18th century.

The first documented western encounter with the Tillamook was in 1788 by Robert Haswell, second mate on Robert Gray's ship. A second encounter was in late 1805 by the Lewis and Clark Expedition while wintering at Fort Clatsop. A whale was washed ashore near Necost, and the Tillamook quickly stripped it of flesh, saving the blubber as food and saving the oil for later use. After hearing of this, Lewis and Clark led a party to trade for blubber, receiving 300 pounds and some oil in exchange for trade goods.[3] Lewis and Clark described a village of around 1000 people living in about 50 houses,[4] estimating the entire population at around 2200. According to the expedition, The staple food source of the Tillamook was salmon, which they caught during the annual salmon run of April to October and used throughout the year, preserving it by drying it and grinding it into a powder.

1824 and 1829 saw a pair of smallpox epidemics, and combined with the arrival of Oregon Trail settlers in 1841 and the resulting conflicts led to the 1845 estimate by Wilkes showing only 400 Tillamook remaining.[5] This was further reduced, with an 1849 estimate by Lane of only 200.

In 1856 the Tillamook and more than 20 other tribes were placed on the Siletz Reservation, meaning that further population estimates are impossible since they are not separately enumerated. In 1898 the Tillamook became the first tribe to sue the US government for compensation for the lands they had taken, along with the Clatsop. In 1907, along with two other tribes, they were awarded $23,500.


The Tillamook initially spoke Tillamook, a Salishan language, but gradually began to use English in greater amounts. The last fluent speaker of Tillamook died in 1970, rendering the language extinct.[6] However, between 1965 and 1972, in an effort to revitalize the language, a group of researchers from the University of Hawaii interviewed the few remaining Tillamook and created a 120-page dictionary.[7]

Franz Boas writes,[8] "The Tillamook Indians are the most southern branch of the Coast Salish. They live on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, and are separated from their more northern kinsmen by tribes speaking Chinookian languages. Their language is spoken two dialects, the Siletz and the Tillamook proper. It was first described and classified by Horatio Hale in the Publications of the Wilkes Expedition.

The name Tillamook, by which the tribe is best known, is of Chinook origin. It means the people of Nekelim (pronounced Ne-elim) . The latter name means the place Elim, or, in the Cathlamet dialect, the place Kelim. The initial "t" of Tillamook is the plural article, the terminal "ook" the Chinook plural ending — "uks". The dialect differs from the northern dialects in its peculiar phonetics. It has lost almost entirely the labials which, so far as I am aware, occur in a few names of places only. The culture of the Tillamook seems to have differed quite considerably from that of the northern Coast Salish, and has evidently been influenced by the culture of the tribes of northern California." (Note: parenthesis added for emphasis)


According to the work of Franz Boas, the culture of the Tillamook tribe was significantly different from that of their Salish neighbors, evidently influenced by the tribes of northern California.[9]

The Tillamook were skilled basket-weavers,[10] and had a detailed mythology with links to existing events; the Story of the Thunderbird and Whale, for example, reflects the large earthquake in that region in 1700. The Tillamook divided their mythology into three categories; the earliest was the Myth Age, followed by the Age of Transformation, when the "South Wind" remade the land. The third age is the "period of true happenings", or events that happened in what the Tillamook considered recent history. Despite this, stories from the third age were considered just as much of a myth as those from the first or second.


Some Nehalem people are enrolled in either the federally recognized Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon or the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon.[11] Other Nehalem are part of the unrecognized Clatsop Nehalem Confederated Tribes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Barry M. Pritzker, A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000; pg. 207.
  2. ^ Coastal Oregon Native Americans
  3. ^ Lewis and Clark . Native Americans . Tillamook Indians | PBS
  4. ^ National Geographic: Lewis & Clark—Tribes—Tillamook Indians
  5. ^ Tillamook
  6. ^ Ethnologue 14 report for language code:TIL
  7. ^ Official site of Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes
  8. ^ The Journal of American Folk-Lore, Vol.11, No. 40, Pg. 23-28
  9. ^ Indian Tribe History
  10. ^ The Collector’S Guide: Native American Baskets
  11. ^ Pritzker 208

Further reading[edit]

  • Boas, Franz. "Traditions of the Tillamook Indians," Journal of American Folklore, v. 11 (1898), pp. 23–38.
  • Crawford, Ailsa. Tillamook Indian Basketry: Continuity and Change as Seen in The Adams Collection. MA thesis. Portland State University, Department of Anthropology, 1983.
  • Jacobs, Elizabeth Derr. Nehalem Tillamook Tales. Eugene, OR: University of Oregon Books, 1959.
  • Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Sauter, John and Johnson, Bruce. Tillamook Indians of the Oregon Coast. Portland, OR: Binfords and Mort, 1974.
  • Seaburg, William (ed.) The Nehalem Tillamook: An Ethnography. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press, 2003.