First Advisor

Virginia L. Butler

Term of Graduation

Summer 2006

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Anthropology






Salmon fishing -- Lower Columbia River Watershed (Or. and Wash.), Sturgeon fishing -- Lower Columbia River Watershed (Or. and Wash.), Fishways -- Lower Columbia River Watershed (Or. and Wash.), Fur trade -- Lower Columbia River Watershed (Or. and Wash.)



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, vi, 207 pages)


The role of fish in the Native American economy of the lower Columbia River has never been considered in detail. My study focused on the Columbia River from its mouth to the Cascades and the Willamette River from its confluence with the Columbia to Willamette Falls. For this study I asked: How was salmon used? What other fish were important? Where and how were these fish taken and used?

To address these questions, I evaluated historical documents, including explorer's accounts and the administrative records of fur companies dating from the late 1700's through the 1850's. I used fishery data, physical descriptions, migratory and spawning habits, and foraging patterns to identify fish in historic accounts. I annotated historic information and provided a synthesis of the historic fisheries.

White sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus), eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) and chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) dominated the trade. Chum (O.keta) and lamprey (Lampetra sp.) were available, although not traded in large numbers. White sturgeon, eulachon, fall chinook, chum and lamprey were smoke cured.

Steel head (O.mykiss) , coho (O.kisutch), perch (Embiotocidae), and resident trout were traded in small numbers indicating that other fish were part of the economy. Sockeye. salmon (O.nerka) was not traded.

Indians captured white sturgeon with: multiple hooks on set-lines and funnel nets to take white sturgeon during the winter; scoop nets and the eulachon rake took eulachon; spring and summer chinook were taken with hoop nets and platforms in the Cascades rapids and at Willamette Falls; gaffs were used to take chinook and sturgeon during the summer in Baker Bay; and hoop nets took fall chinook in streams. Seine nets were noted but not were not discussed except for the chinook fishery of Baker Bay.

Historic information on fishes used and methods of capture contrasts with the archaeological record of the Portland Basin. Resident freshwater fish, minnows (Cyprinidae) and suckers (Catostomus sp.), are abundant in the archaeological faunal record, but are rarely mentioned in historic accounts. Artifacts such as net weights are common in archaeological contexts in contrast with the limited discussions in the historic record. Possible explanations for these discrepancies are reviewed.


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