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Indians, Fire and the Land in the Pacific Northwest

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Book Chapter

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Indians of North America -- Pacific Northwest--Social life and customs, Indians of North America -- Agriculture -- Pacific Northwest, Human ecology -- Pacific Northwest, Fire ecology -- Pacific Northwest, Prescribed burning -- Pacific Northwest -- Social life and customs


This chapter, included in Indians, Fire and the Land in the Pacific Northwest, published by the Oregon State University Press in 1999, explores fires set by the aboriginal inhabitants of the Willamette valley.

In 1971, geographer Carl Johannessen and colleagues at the University of Oregon published an article, "The Vegetation of the Willamette Valley," which proposed that, prior to European contact, the Willamette Valley, though surrounded by dense forests of Douglas-fir, was an open oak.savanna grassland. They also presented historical evidence to show that these prairie grasslands were maintained by annual fires set by the aboriginal inhabitants of the valley, the Kalapuya Indians. In 1979, geographer Jerry Towle, citing Johannessen et al.'s evidence, suggested that archaeologists and cultural anthropologists should incorporate the heretofore neglected historical information on anthropogenic burning and its relationship to Willamette Valley Indian subsistence. Building upon what has been established by previous researchers, the present paper attempts to reconstruct the role of man-made fires in the hunting-gathering practices of the Kalapuya Indians.

This paper is organized in three parts: the first is an overview of pre-contact environment and Kalapuya culture; the second presents extant historical data (1826-1847) on Indian-caused fires in the Willamette Valley; and the third considers the relationships between burning and important aboriginal food sources, utilizing all known data on the Kalapuya as well as kindred and adjacent peoples of native Oregon, and from this suggests a reconstructed Kalapuya burning schedule.


Boyd, Robert T.,ed. Indians, Fire and the Land in the Pacific Northwest. pp. 94-138. © 1999. Reprinted with permission of the Oregon State University Press.

The publisher does not extend permissions to the images included in this chapter, and for that reason the images were redacted.

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